Last week, I did something I try to avoid at all costs; I waited in line. Wait, let me rephrase that, I waited a long time in a very long line for a pop up bakery at a San Francisco restaurant, Flour + Water, thanks to the inside scoop from my friend, Adrienne, aka Gastroantropology. Her friend, Belinda Leong a fellow pastry chef from her time at Gary Danko had gone on to expand her skills and culinary horizons with stints at Manreasa and Noma. She also eyed this as an opportunity to test the waters for San Francisco’s interest in these sorts of goodies. Judging by the lines, I’d say she is on to something.
Some of her offerings were new to me, and upon sampling, everything she offered made me want to know more about these tasty treats. The French pastries Belinda made do not often show in bakeries and pastry shops in the United States, and having a chance to sample made it all the more special (and well worth the wait):
Kouign-Amann is one of many specialty regional cakes from Brittany, France, specifically around Douarnenez. According to Culinaria France by André Dominé, one of appeals of this regional baking is the use of salted butter. Now a more famous treat, and easier to find as no self respecting Breton baker would miss showing off his or her skills in the making of this pastry. The name is not the most original when you consider kouign is Breton for cake and amann is their word for butter. However don’t let that fool you, as the resulting combination makes one appreciate just how good the simple things in life are. To get a sense of what kouign-amann is, its been described as a butter and caramelized sugar layered pastry, but again that description falls short of doing this cake justice, or touch on its great appeal.
Kouglhoff or kougelhopf or guglbuph are various versions of this Alsatian yeast ring cake made with raisins and almonds. While everyone in Alsace agrees this cake makes for a good breakfast or coffee break, broad disagreement exists on how to spell it. According to André Dominé in Culinaria France, “when a glass of Tokay Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer is offered, a piece of cake should be offered too.” (I am not about to disagree). Often a savory version of this cake made to be consumed with wine, is made by replacing the raisins or currents with diced bacon. Kouglhoff’s traditional shape is the result of the use of a high-walled ring cake mold that fired in terra cotta and are tiled red. As you may have guessed, the name is German, although it originated in Austria and was brought to France by Marie Antoinette.
While the focus is on French pastries, it should be noted that this pastry is equally popular in Germany and Austria. One story suggest that when the Hapsburg forces defeated the Turks at Vienna’s city gates, the cities bakers made a cake in the shape of a sultan’s turban to celebrate. This article from the New York times offers up a nice history on a pastry that people can only seem to agree is darn tasty; history. Its history, the spelling of its name, the proportions of its ingredients, now that’s another story, and are subjects much debated.
Bostock is the French version of French toast, if that makes any sense. This is how the French treat day old brioche, and believe me, one taste and there’s no going back. Belinda’s bostock was made of twice baked, brioche soaked in a simple syrup with almond frangipane and passion fruit.
This sampling should whet your whistle. The diversity of options and the stories behind these tasty treats, make for a wonderful way to while away a Sunday morning. Unfortunately I do not have access to the recipes that Belinda used, but I can only hope that a cookbook is somewhere in her future plans.