The Guilty Pleasure: Frozen kouign amann, caramelized buttery Breton pastries Where to Get It: Trader Joe's, locations everywhere Price: $3.99 for a pack of four What it Really Costs: 340 calories each, 50 more than an Egg McMuffin.
The Cronut is so last year. Yes, I know I haven't had a real Cronut (tee-em) unless it comes from Dominique Ansel's bakery in New York. I know the knockoff versions (known by several names, usually doughssant or dossant) available everywhere from chichi patisseries to Safeway are apparently not even close to the real thing.
Unless you're going to fly me a few from New York (or fly me there all expenses paid to write about the experience), I don't want to hear it. All we have around here are the dossant me-toos, so I'm stuck with them for now.
See also: Dominique Ansel Cronut Bakery in New York Closed Due to Mouse Infestation What experience I've had with dossants has left me wondering about the fuss. It's brilliant in theory, but frying laminated dough like a croissant takes away from the charms of both croissants and fried dough.
For a better twist on the croissant, you have to go in a different direction: Sugar. Preferably, flavorful caramelized sugar. It turns out the Brittany region of France has had it figured out for well over a century.
If you visit Brittany, you'll encounter an amazing pastry called kouign amann (pronounced something like "queen yamman" if you're a very nasal French speaker), Breton for "butter cake". The name doesn't do it justice. A kouign amann is a dough similar to croissants or puff pastry, but with sugar added to the butter layers when folding the dough.
The sugar caramelizes in the oven, making a kouign amann super-crispy and amazingly delicious. One taste is almost enough to make you swear off plain croissants forevermore.
There's just one problem. They're enough of a pain in the ass to make that few pastry shops in town bother. I'm very grateful that someone at Trader Joe's found a source for frozen kouigns amann, and that said pastries are utterly terrific.
The prep couldn't be easier. The night before you want to eat them, you pull them out of the freezer, grease the included paper cups, and then cover them to let them thaw and rise overnight. Then in the morning you pop them in the oven for 25 minutes, and let them cool for a couple of minutes so you don't burn your mouth on lava-hot caramelized sugar.
Halfway through baking, your whole house fills with the aromas of butter and yeast, like you just walked into a terrific pastry shop right at opening time. Biting into one is even better. It's flaky, and quite rich from the butter and sugar, but not so rich that a second one is out of the question. While they aren't as good as a locally made kouign amann (trust me, there are few things in life better than a well-made kouign amann), they're loads better than any mass-produced excuse for a croissant that I've seen.
And at $3.99 for a pack of four of them? That's enough of a deal that I'm probably going to keep a pack of them in my freezer just in case I want to impress the hell out of any spontaneous overnight guests I may have.