It was pouring buckets, and my umbrella was nearly swept away like Mary Poppins as I exited the Spring Street subway station. Water licked every cobblestone on the street, the variegated fall leaves were already yellow orange from the season.
I was running late to an appointment, but because I had not eaten a crumb for breakfast, the sign?DOMINIQUE ANSEL?BAKERY sounded even more appealing.
Clean as a whistle, the small SoHo store proudly boasted a board in front, with the compelling words ?Try our world famous Kouign Amann.?
Don?t mind if I do, I thought, without having the foggiest notion as to what a Kouign Amann (also known affectionately in the shop by the acronym DKA) would taste like. I silently hoped that it would be vegetarian. As it turns out,?the pastry is made out of dough fit for a croissant, with the addition of sugar.??Famous in Brittany, it wasn?t really popular in New York until a slew of pastry chefs, starting with Dominique, decided that it deserved some better attention.
The Kouign Amann with its exterior caramelized crackly crust and a soft core, is very similar to the croissant
Ansel?s version is slightly different from the norm. The caramelized, crispy crust has a flaky core but the traditional Breton version is slightly heavier. Think of this version as the New Yorker?s best friend: light, airy and oh so sweet that stays well clear of saccharine.
I eye the other baked goods and pastries carefully, realizing that that moment was not dissimilar to a Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory experience. There were tiny brown canneles that looked nice and sticky, like toffee pudding. And those giant elephant-ear like Arlettes, which are similar to palmiers, are South of France specialties. ?These are rolled by hand to four times the size of the beginning dough,? says Ansel. ?It is covered with a mix of sugar and cinnamon, and makes for one mighty cookie.?
Mighty, but?light. This is what is ideal about Ansel?s bakery: from the multi-colored macarons to the miniature meringues, the offerings are both eye and mouth candy.
?In France, every village or town has its own specialty item. If you go to Bordeaux, you?ll see canneles in all the bakeries there. If you go to Brittany, it?s the Kouign Amann. In the south of France, you?ll find the Arlette,? continues Ansel.
After plunking down the change for a delicious soy latte and a Kouign Amann (pronounced KWEEN AH-MAHN), I took a plastic fork, looked at the caramelized delicious and crispy exterior and hoped that it would live up to the expectation. I wondered if this moment was going to be similar to my reaction at the recent Oscar Awards, when I had heard that?Hugo?swept away most of the Academy Awards. I was not doubting the technical mastery of the movie?I just wasn?t sold.
But thankfully, Ansel?s recipe exceeded my?Hugo?moment.
The Garden at the back of the cafe ?is a cozy dining area
Dominique Ansel at work in the kitchen (left)
New York Magazine voted the bakery?s DKA as one of the best bets of 2012
With one bite, I could feel the crackly crust of the Amann, and caramelized sugar that melted on my lips. I was hooked, line and sinker, for life. There?s also a tender flaky core that is as light as the most buttery croissant that just begs you to pair this sweet breakfast treat with a mug of coffee.
?We?ve sold out of DKAs on most days since opening,? says Ansel.
I?m not surprised in the least bit to hear this ? these crispy treats are so addicting I wanted to jump on a subway and come and get another after an hour. ?The open-mindedness of the people here in New York and the curiosity for good food is unbelievable here? Ansel adds.
This is a delicious resurrection that won?t be going out of style anytime soon.
Dominique Ansel?Bakery 189 Spring Street (between Sullivan and Thompson)
New York, NY 10012
8am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday) 9am to 6pm (Sunday)