A Brief History of Kouign-amann, Brittany's Beloved Cake

Delicious Breton Kouign-amann cake
Delicious Breton Kouign-amann cake | © Merle ja Joonas / Flickr
In the Breton language, kouign means ‘brioche’ or ‘cake’ and amann translates to ‘butter’. Since the mid-1800s, this buttery, flaky, too-good-for-only-one-bite cake has been a staple in the bakeries of Brittany.

A recipe by chance

Go back to around 1860 in Brittany, specifically, the town of Douarnenez in Finistère, where flour for baking was scarce. Butter, however, was abundant, and that is how a baker named Yves-René Scordia invented a recipe for a cake that used a lower flour to butter ratio – 400 grams of flour to 300 grams of butter and 300 grams of sugar, to be exact.

Kouign Amann building sign in Brittany © Pascal Terjan / Flickr

This chance recipe quickly became a hit and cemented itself as a Brittany classic. An increase in tourists during the 20th century to Brittany meant that the Kouign-amann travelled quickly to Paris, followed by the big French cities and then, around the world. Traditionally, Kouign-amann is baked as one large cake and then sliced, however, you’ll also find individual smaller cakes both in France and abroad. The texture and taste will be the same though, that of a slightly crunchy and more cake-like croissant.

Kouign amann at a Brittany Bakery © Sylvain Naudin / Flickr

Since 2002, the Federation of Brittany Pastry Chefs partners up with the Regional Chamber of Trades and Crafts of Brittany to organise a regional contest for local artisan pastry chefs and bakers for the title of Best Kouign-amann of Brittany. Between 50 and 60 chefs participate in this big event on National Kouign-amann Day.