KANSAS CITY, MO. - The British and French influences on the pastry world remain profound.
For instance, the most famous British pastry – if you consider the enormous popularity of The Great British Baking Show – is the Bakewell Tart, a short-crust pastry that enjoys a devout following at supermarket chains like Seattle’s Metropolitan Market.
Laminated dough pastries like the French kouign amann, on the other hand, attract loyal fans because of the intricate flavor and texture created from folding butter into layers of dough, prior to baking. Kouign amann are more challenging to create, making them harder to find, but those who know often refer to kouign amann as heaven on earth.
Explaining the science
In the pastry world, the final step of categorization comes down to non-laminated and laminated doughs, according to Imperial Sugar. These are often not confined by their leavened state, as a non-laminated or laminated dough can be leavened.
Laminated pastry dough is made by folding a piece of pastry onto itself many times. In between each layer is a thin slathering of butter. This creates a multi-layered and flaky finished dough. Unleavened examples of this kind of dough are puff pastry and phyllo dough. A leavened version is a croissant. Non-laminated pastry are pastries that have dough that has not been folded onto itself many times. Unleavened versions of these types of dough include choux (used in profiteroles and eclairs) and pie dough. A leavened version is brioche.
Lamination is a technique of dough preparation that layers butter and dough in a long process of rolling and folding to create alternating layers of fat and dough. Puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) is laminated dough.
Non-laminated dough is when the fat, normally butter, shortening, or lard, is “cut-in” or sometimes rubbed into the flour. Non-laminated doughs are pâte brisée (basic pie dough), pâte à choux (cream puff pastry), pâte Sablée (short dough), and pâte Sucrée (sweet dough).
The Bakewell Tart happens to be one of the most popular examples of non-laminated doughs. The version of this pastry made by Metropolitan Market features a flaky, buttery crust and fresh raspberries on the inside, plus seasonal varieties like cranberry, pumpkin pecan, and blackberry peach. This classic British dessert combines a buttery, tender short-crust pastry with a filling of raspberry jam, frangipane (almond cream), and toasted almond slices, according to King Arthur Flour.
“I can’t imagine a better dessert, it’s the perfect combination of buttery, almondy, and fruity flavors. Sweet, but not too sweet, it’s just right,” says Nancy Lazara, who headed up creative and culinary special projects for Metropolitan Market at the time.
In 2015, Metropolitan Market’s team of global foragers were tasting their way through the English countryside to find the next best thing to bring back to our stores. Waiting for us, in a little shop outside Cheshire, was the Bakewell Tart; a decadent, buttery treat that effortlessly celebrated the long tradition of great British baking. It starts with a flaky pastry crust, which is then filled with raspberry jam followed by an extra-rich frangipane, and then topped with sliced almonds. Baked to perfection, it’s finished with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. The supermarket’s Bakewell Tarts are made with a specially designed mold to get that tall, square shape just right. Besides traditional raspberry, shoppers can find special seasonal flavors throughout the year, including pumpkin-pecan in the fall and blackberry-peach during the summer.
Though not as commercially popular as the croissant, the sweet and flaky kouign amann rivals the delicate texture and delicious flavor of any pastry.
It is a specialty that traces its roots to the French town of Douarnenez in Finis-tère, Brittany, where it originated around 1860. The invention is attributed to Yves-René Scordia. The strict recipe of Douarnenez requires a ratio of 40 percent dough, 30 percent butter, and 30 percent sugar. It contains layers of butter and sugar folded into a yeast dough.
In France kouign amann is often served with fillings of fresh fruit, chocolate, or even coconut. The filling is nestled within the layers of flaky dough. The quality of the butter is extremely important when making kouign amann because the butter will impart a great deal of flavor into the pastry.
Kouign amann is made using a similar method to its more widely known French croissant. Salted butter is used instead of unsalted, and an added layer of sugar is folded in with each layer of butter. The whole creation is baked on a pan that’s brushed with butter and sugar. The 3-inch dough piece will rise to a full inch and a half height during baking.
Customers flock to Jane the Bakery in San Francisco where they concoct unique flavors including the peanut butter and jelly kouign amann. Layers of butter and sugar are folded into a yeast dough; owner Amanda Michael adds a special touch with house-made jam swirled with peanut butter. In every bite, you taste a bit of each delicious flavor. Michael bakes by a simple rule: Never skimp on inclusions.
Education is her mantra for Jane the Bakery (as well as Jane on Fillmore and Jane on Larkin) and her staff of 100, including about 30 full-time bakers. She credits her team’s incredible dedication and passion for excellence. “We constantly work on developing skills in the creative process,” Michael says. “We encourage a lot of creativity because you learn as much from your failures as your successes.”
At Jane the Bakery, Michael opened her first San Francisco location in 2011, starting with pastries, breakfast and lunch items. A second store followed in 2013. Then came their “bursting at the seams” moment.
In late 2016, Jane the Bakery opened on Geary Street in the Lower Fillmore neighborhood, where a diverse community comes for bread, sandwiches, pastries and fresh salads. The 3,000-square-foot bakery offers limited counter seating and outside benches, and there are nearby parks, playgrounds and athletic fields. They bake several dozen breads in-house daily as well as a full line of laminated items and pastries. They make several different rye breads. They rely on Central Milling flour, one of which is a California 100% wheat flour.
“We are stretching ourselves — by breaking down the walls to work in bakery to pastry, and pastry to viennoiserie,” Michael says. “We are working with whole grain lamination, which is a super dynamic change. We have opened up with more savory pastries. We are endlessly putting out new products.”
East Coast influences
While the Cronut is perhaps award-winning pastry chef Dominique Ansel’s most famous item, the DKA remains the most popular seller in New York City, actually outselling the Cronut by almost three times.
Short for “Dominique’s Kouign Amann,” it is best described as a “caramelized croissant” with a crispy sugary crust and tender flaky layers within.
Once the Cronut was born at New York City’s Dominique Ansel Bakery on May 10, 2013, Cronut fans spanned the world from Berlin to Singapore, making it the most virally talked about dessert item of the year. Time magazine proclaimed the Cronut as one of the 25 best innovations of 2013.
“I never thought it was going to go that big,” recalls Ansel, who won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2014. “The second day we made 100 Cronuts and we sold out in one hour. Now, we make a couple hundred every day and still don’t have enough. We open the door at 8 a.m., and we have 100 people waiting outside the door. It’s been amazing.”
In 2015, Ansel opened a Tokyo location, which features many of the same pastries that are famous as his Soho location in New York City; some with a twist. Available only in Japan, the Paris Tokyo, for example, is a twist on the traditional Paris Brest with matcha ganache and a soft passion fruit curd. Another Tokyo exclusive, the Monaka Cookie features a crispy monaka shell and a moist matcha financier cookie. Expect to see similar innovation with popular flavors in London integrated into future desserts at the London location.
Other Ansel inventions, including his Frozen S’more and Magic Soufflé, have fast become popular treats with international fame. He has expanded his bakery’s menu to feature signature cakes and tarts, made exclusively with premium chocolates and the ripest seasonal fruits, including Pink Grapefruit Honey & Lavender Tart and Hazelnut Caramalia Cake. The New York Post dubbed Ansel the “Willy Wonka of NYC” in 2013, quoting Bon Appétit editor Christine Mulhke who stated: “Dominique is definitely the top pastry chef in New York.”
Under the direction of head baker and partner Avery Ruzicka, Manresa Bread in Los Gatos, California, strives to source the best artisanal products available, from grains and cereals to produce and dairy, creating their best interpretation of classic bread and pastries using time-honored techniques, fermentation processes, and baking traditions. Her bakery installed a 48-inch stone mill from New American Stone Mill in Vermont. The majority of the grains used at Manresa Bread are milled in-house. Under the direction of head baker and partner Avery Ruzicka, Manresa Bread in Los Gatos, California, strives to source the best artisanal products available, from grains and cereals to produce and dairy, creating their best interpretation of classic bread and pastries using time-honored techniques, fermentation processes, and baking traditions. Her bakery installed a 48-inch stone mill from New American Stone Mill in Vermont. The majority of the grains used at Manresa Bread are milled in-house.
“We are looking to incorporate more fresh flour. I much prefer that depth of flavor,” says Ruzicka, who has plans to use fresh-milled flour for new products including pasta, pizza and bagels. “We are going into our fifth year, and the big thing we are most excited about is enhancing our menu. We are about to roll out a Detroit-style whole grain pizza to give our customers a fun new experience. That will continue every Wednesday. We are also going to do sourdough bagels once a week.”
At Craftsman and Wolves, a contemporary patisserie located in San Francisco, the bakery dazzles the crowds with one of its signature offerings known as the Rebel Within.
This loaded muffin is created with a special batter with savory additions such as Asiago and Parmesan cheese, green onions, and sausage, and is then stuffed with a yolky, soft-boiled egg prior to baking. This unusual but tasty product comes courtesy of the mind of founder and chef William Werner, a two-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker award.
“I really started thinking about molten chocolate cakes — about that sitting around the table at dessert and cutting it and seeing this chocolate go out,” Werner says. Craftsman and Wolves offers The Rebel Within in two options: The original version and a Kimchi version that substitutes house-made kimchi for the sausage. It also features a vintage hot sauce.
That’s just one of the multiple surprises in this dish. “There’s this reveal, and this anticipation, and the suspense, because when they’re not cut, they’re kind of unassuming. Once you cut it open, now you have a soft-boiled egg and all this savory goodness. It’s a crowd pleaser,” Werner says.
Another of the true gems in San Francisco is b. patisserie, which serves the tastiest kouign amann one can ever imagine. Chef and co-owner Belinda Leong crafted her recipe through years of dedication to perfection. Flaky on the outside. Soft on the inside. A perfect balance of textures.
“I love ingredients that give texture,” Leong says. “Feuilletine, raw sugar, puffed grains, nuts. I bake and create with all my feeling. Baking is up and down due to many factors, so when there are many varying factors, my dough changes or my baking can change. Therefore, I always bake everything with feeling and make changes along the way every day.”
The menu at b. patisserie features a wide variety of creative pastries, ranging from Leong’s Vanilla Cassis Cake (vanilla mascarpone, sable breton, cassis ganache, chiffon cake and vanilla glacage) to the Yuzu Lemon Tart (yuzu custard, lemon cream and lemon confit).
Years of hard work paid off in 2018 when Leong and Michel Suas were announced as recipients of the coveted James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker award. The duo is a multiple-time nominee for the award. Leong began her career as a pastry chef at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco in 1999. After eight successful years, she left the restaurant for Europe to stage at some of the most esteemed restaurants and patisseries in Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen. After two years in Europe, she returned to the Bay Area and became pastry chef at Manresa Restaurant, a three-Michelin star restaurant in Los Gatos, before opening b. patisserie with Suas, founder of the San Francisco Baking Institute.
This story was featured in the August issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Check out the full issue here.