Apparently there is no gentle easing into this Alpha Bakers group. The first stained pages in The Baking Bible are for the Kouign Amann. If it hadn't been the first, I think I probably would have worked on a convincing excuse why I had to sit out whatever week this recipe washed up in... That Marie is very clever. Begin as you mean to go on.
Up until Saturday November 22, I had never made puff pastry. Lamination was where heat brought together the holy matrimony of plastic and paper. Business letter folds were, well, for business letters. Envelopes never ever contained butter: butter money, yes, but butter never. When we first moved from New Zealand to Australia, my great grandmother would often send my mother money through the mail to buy butter - hence the butter money. These letters always came with strong words forbidding it to be spent on beer for my father ... or margarine. Parallel evils in the mind of a displaced Scottish Presbyterian.
The Great British Bake Off has recently finished its 2014 season, and in the pastry round, these were the technical challenge. I was feeling rather smug even though I had never baked them; I knew what they were because I had skim read Rose's beta recipe. Ah, so easy to be smug when sitting in front of the television with a cup of tea. So I donned my metaphorical pinny this morning and set about. Those Great British Bake Off contestants had three and a half hours to get them plated ready for judging. I started about 8.30 this morning and we had our first still warm sample at about 5.30pm. To be fair, I did have to stall the final rise after shaping for two and a half hours whilst we nipped out to a four year old's birthday party. Nothing like navigating a soft play area on your hands and knees to take your mind off worrying about whether the pastry is going to be laminated or no.
So, to the method. First stumbling block - what is the difference between Dried Active Yeast and Easy Bake Yeast? Well, given that I spilled a good proportion of the Dried Active Yeast as I opened the container, I can tell you quite a lot. The Dried Active Yeast is not pleasant underfoot - think 100's of teeny tiny marbles. And you need to add water to get it to activate - so the teeny tiny marbles were mostly swept up and I moved onto the Easy Bake Yeast. Sometimes I wish that branding didn't get in the way of truth. The Easy Bake Yeast was much finer and activates within the mix - magic.
As Rose says in the preface to this recipe, time does most of the work. In all honesty, if you can read, own a ruler and have a timer, you can definitely have these in your life.
The first proof before rolling is for half an hour. Which is enough time to form your big pat of butter.
Or forty five minutes if you don't hear the alarm and your husband switches it off without telling you. The dough was pretty spongy at this time, so I worried for about one minute that my dough would be overproved.
Then it is a case of rolling and placing
and then rolling
and then folding
a couple of times until you get to the third and final and add the sugar
and then the cutting and forming
I thought it had all gone horribly wrong at this stage. I could clearly see the butter melting through my pastry. I thought my fifteen minutes of overproving had brought me undone. I cursed UK extra strong bread flour for not being as strong as the US King Arthur Bread Flour. And then I shoved the formed KA's into the fridge, wrapped presents and bundled the little boys into the car for a two hour party at the local soft play. When we returned I let the shaped KA's sit out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before sticking them in the oven at 200 degrees celsius.
Surprisingly they came out looking like this... with the added bonus that there wasn't a pool of butter scorching in the bottom of the oven.
I didn't get as much height as Rose and Woody - but that is usually the case. We ate the first "sample" a bit too early, they are definitely better on the cool side of warm rather than the hot side of warm. One of the comments was that they tasted like croissants dipped in honey, maple syrup and that industrial stuff you like (aka golden syrup). Closely followed by "And, why can't you make croissants?" Maybe because they cost £2.00 for eight at the supermarket - that's why. And one swallow does not a summer make. As they cooled, the crisp became crispier and the sugar became more syrupy and the butter less buttery. All round better.
My verdict (based on Paul Holyrood feedback to the Great British Bakeoffers) was that they had good lamination, an okay rise, maybe another couple of minutes of bake (but with foil on the top to prevent scorching). All in all they were about 75 times better than the Marks and Spencer version.
So, if you are an insomniac you can while away the wee hours and have these on the table for your loved ones breakfast. If you aren't, then there won't be any complaints as they eat them at 5.30pm. Or at 10.30pm. There definitely won't be any left to trial the KA version of bread and butter pudding. There won't even be enough left to take to the office!
Can I just finish by saying it is great to be back with my virtual baking buddies. Next week - English Fruit Cake.