A kouign-amann is 'all about crunch and sugar' at this Kitchener bakery
Ambrosia Corner Bakery is located at 324 Frederick St. in Kitchener
In the world of French baking, the kouign-amann is often lauded as the most luxurious pastry. If you love a good croissant, with all its buttery, flaky and honeycomb show, think of the kouign-amann as a distant cousin, one that you don't frequently visit, but where each encounter leaves an indelible mark.
"It's all about crunch and sugar," Aura Hertzog, owner of Ambrosia Corner Bakery, said as I took my first bite of one.
Hertzog runs the small community-driven bakery and café in the Central Frederick neighbourhood, near downtown Kitchener.
Ambrosia has a menu of savoury and sweet pastry items. There is also a coffee program and a bean-to-bar chocolate program there. The café acts as a food incubator of sorts, with Hertzog bringing in other items from a variety of independent producers in Kitchener. She makes her own line of chocolates too.
"Whether it's barbecue or pies, we want to try and support our local community whenever possible," Hertzog said.
The café has quickly become a community hub for long-time pastry fans and those who want to support local businesses.
I first met Hertzog a few years ago when she was operating in a different space in a residential neighbourhood, slinging some of the best French pastries I've had. In a tiny kitchen she was able to pull off an impressive menu of buttery croissants, custard cannelés and even Liège waffles. The most impressive of all the puff pastry items for me was the kouign-amann.
It's somewhat similar to a croissant. The Breton cake is a detailed layering of dough, butter and sugar.
"If you want to compare it to a croissant, the kouign-amann is slightly denser and it's a lot sweeter — and also has more butter," Hertzog said.
In its classic form, Hertzog encountered the kouign-amann as a large cake encrusted in a thin sugar caramelized dome, served in thick slices.
"The modern variations are the ones we normally see in bakeries in New York and Paris. They're single serving sizes, which is what we do," she said.
Today we're spoiled with a selection of great croissants in the GTA, but as hard as kouign-amanns are to come by, they are notoriously difficult to make. There are maybe a handful of places in Toronto that regularly have kouign-amanns on the menu. I find that the ones you get at Ambrosia are superlative.
The pastry is denser and has more weight than your average croissant, and you'll immediately notice the caramelized dome that surrounds the flower-shaped pastry.
A thick crunchy shell immediately pops with sweetness. And as you tear into the kouign-amann, you're greeted with waves of delicate and richly buttery pastry.
"The process really takes multiple days, which is why we can't have it on the menu every day," Hertzog explained.
Like the croissant, the dough can be very temperamental — it needs to be formed properly, rested, proofed and then laminated with cold sheets of butter.
Which is why Hertzog only features the kouign-amanns on the menu from Thursday to Saturday at Ambrosia Corner Bakery.