Behold, the best mood elevator known to mankind. Well, to Vanessa-kind anyway. Kouing aman (koo-ing ah-mon) doesn't look like anything special sitting in the case. But this unassuming dense pastry puck is a lesson in glorious simplicity. Fellow kouing aman lovers and I call it "crack." Endearingly.
You can count the ingredients on one hand—yeast, flour, sugar, fleur de sel, and LOTS OF BUTTER. And it's prepared similarly to a croissant dough. The fleur de sel dough is turned frequently with butter. And on the last step it gets a liberal sprinkling of granulated sugar.
The result is a compact package of several fleur de sel-spiked and butter saturated layers, shelled in a caramel lacquer. God, I love it when sugar plays with heat. In one bite, it's like cake, custard, and candy. Nothing you should eat on a daily basis. (Though I'd like to try.) I always smell it before I start eating. And then I turn it over and tap its underside, smooth with its amber armor, like I would a creme brulee.
One bite cures daily woes. Even the perpetual ones. Like the stress of deadlines, the common cold, and never-ending technical problems. (NOTE: I am stoked to discover that my NEW LAPTOP's warranty does cover everything. I just didn't expect to try it out TWO WEEKS after I got it.) Better than going for runs. Better than beating the shit out of a boxing bag. It's edible therapy. A security blanket that you can eat.
My friend Romina is its harbinger. She owns a patisserie, Les Madeleines, that I consider a god-send in this town of over-sweetened and under-baked monstrosities. She trained at FCI. And she's completely OCD and a perfectionist. Which makes for the best pastry chefs. She makes pretty, delicious things. Looking at them all lined up nicely in the pastry case honestly brightens your day. But it's even better to eat as many as you can. Her customers, the full-time Salt Lakers, and the seasonal Park City crowd tell her she should do these mail order. I think they would be a hit. Apart from a few NYC bakeries, I haven't encountered any other kouing aman stateside. And of those I have encountered, I have yet to come across something that surpasses hers.
Kouing aman is the most popular thing in the bakery right now. I have to get there early to ensure my weekly ration. It's not unusual to walk through Les Madeleines' door and see another regular at the counter. She'll turn round, look at you and declare, "too late, I've got the last one." Damn.
Skeptical folks who look at the unassuming package of baked dough don't know what to initially make of the French pastry with a Celtic name (it's from Brittany). But if they're pondering next to me during one of my daily pastry runs, I usually give them the enthusiastic spiel. At which point they eye it suspiciously and look back at me. "Is it really that good?"
I nod. IT'S. SO. GOOD.