Brittany. It’s a magic land. I just returned from a few days respite in Concarneau, in the Finistere, a bustling sea port of 20,000 settled around its crown jewel, the Bay of Concarneau. City planners long ago knew the beauty they held in their hands, and specified that houses on the coast could be of any design, but they couldn’t be too wide, nor too tall. The result is harmony, and a sense that Concarneau has kept its soul intact.
I followed the advice of my Concarnais friends and planned nothing more than long, invigorating walks along the “sentier de la côte”, the lush path that traces the coast, winding in and out of “anses,” shallow bays that seemed to crop up around every turn. We had picnics in sheltered corners of the beach, protected from the wind and open to the tourmaline waters, and laughed over giant “pebbles” on the beach that looked as if they were about to tumble into the ocean from whence, perhaps, they came. We marveled at algae so red it turned the beach crimson, and wondered how a group of hearty swimmers stood the cold.
Brittany is synonymous with buckwheat pancakes, in Concarneau called crêpes, in the rest of Brittany referred to as galettes. Here, they are thinner than in other parts of the region and are so tender and crisp they shatter and almost dissolve, despite being rich with butter, eggs, cheese and – in my case – fresh, creamed spinach. There was Kouign Aman, a hearty pastry where the borders among caramelized sugar, butter, and dough are blurred; creamy baguettes with salted Breton butter; freshly steamed langoustines right from the bay; brut apple cider that quenched and refreshed; and a warm and feisty whiskey called Eddu, a Breton creation and the only whiskey in the world made exclusively from buckwheat.
And then there were the friendly Concarnais. Whether we sat at a bar basking in the sun as we sipped cider, dug into our buttery crêpes with gusto, or took the quick electric boat that links the Ville Close to Passage Lanriec with its long, hidden beaches, people were engaging in a most refreshing way. Perhaps its the famed “iode” or iodine, in the air, or the Celtic nature which is naturally welcoming, or maybe it was just a couple of northerners experiencing some western charm. Whatever the reason, I heartily recommend it!
I developed this recipe for Kouign Aman (published on epicurious and copied directly from the site) some years ago. I heartily recommend it!
- 2/3 recipe for Bread Dough
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 8 ounces (16 tablespoons) lightly salted butter, softened
- For the egg glaze:
- 1 small egg
- 1 teaspoon water
- For the topping:
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Prepare Bread Dough . Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Roll out the bread dough to an 11-inch circle. In a mixer or food processor, thoroughly blend the sugar with the butter. Pat the mixture into a rectangle that measures about 7 x 4 inches, and place it in the center of the dough. Fold the dough over the butter mixture on all four sides, as if you were forming an envelope. Brush any excess flour from the dough, gently press the seams together, and roll the dough and butter/sugar packet out to a rectangle that measures about 11 x 6-inch rectangle. Brush any excess flour off the dough and fold it from the short end into thirds, like a business letter, brushing flour off each surface as you fold. Repeat this process two more times, rolling very gently so you don’t push the butter and sugar through the dough. The third turn is the trickiest — do it carefully, dusting the dough lightly with flour if necessary, to keep the rolling pin from sticking to any spots where the butter might peek through (an inevitability with this dough…).
- Roll out the dough to a rectangle that is about 11 x 6 inches, and a shy 1/2-inch thick. Whisk together the egg and water, and brush it lightly on the dough. Sprinkle it with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, then score the top of the it into large squares with a sharp knife. Transfer it to a baking dish or sheet with edges, so the butter and sugar that runs from the dough as it bakes won’t drip on the bottom of the oven and burn. It is best to use a baking sheet or dish that is just slightly larger than the dough.
- Bake in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden and crisp on top, and the sugar and butter that has run from it is deeply caramelized at the edges, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes, then cut it into serving pieces and transfer these to a serving dish or platter.