Exceptions Gourmandes by Philippe Conticini

Kouign Amann

Update: The pastry shop mentioned in this post is now closed, but it has been replaced by Conticini’s new pastry shops, called La Pâtisserie des Rêves.

I’m sure there are people out there who step inside a new pastry shop, glance at the display, order what they want, and walk out. I have no idea how they do it.

Take, for instance, Philippe Conticini‘s recently opened boutique, which I visited last month, before I left for Australia. It is a tiny thing, just a small room with stone walls, a wooden door, and a window that looks out onto Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, one of the prettiest squares in Paris (for best effect, visit on a weekday afternoon in early February, when you have the whole place to yourself).

For those of you who went “huh?” when I mentioned Conticini’s name in the previous paragraph, let’s just say he is a prominent French pastry chef who used to work at La Table d’Anvers, at Pétrossian, and at the legendary but sadly defunct Pâtisserie Peltier. He has published a number of books(including one that’s so large it could be used as a tent for hobbits) and has created his own consulting/catering company.


Exceptions Gourmandes is also the name of the shop Conticini has just opened in the Marais. To people who are interested in such things, it is a momentous event, for this is the first time* his stuff is made available to the general public since Peltier closed a few years ago. And it is only the dawn of a new era, as there is talk of him opening another, larger pastry shop this October, which, in Parisian parlance, means sometime before 2012.

But this new boutique is tiny, as we’ve established. It is tastefully sparse — a dark wood counter by the window, a few shelves along each wall, a table at the back — and it holds, all in all, a relatively narrow range of products, from which it would have been easy to choose, you’d think.

There was nougat and pain d’épice, there were individually wrapped caramels and variously flavored pâtes à tartiner (sweet spreads), there were thick sablés (butter cookies) made with Isigny butter, financiers and spéculoos — all goods that can be safely transported from the lab where they’re made (the boutique has no kitchen) and, more importantly, can be eaten out of hand easily, while sitting on a bench beneath the trees, a few steps outside the shop.

And, incredibly enough, those are all things I dearly love. I would have bought one of each if I’d listened to my heart, but that is not a viable strategy in the long run (I currently have six pastry shops on my to-visit list) and the Voice of Reason said, “Thou shalt limit thyself to three items.”

So I got a box of eight macarons (“Hah!” I said to the Voice of Reason), a kouign amann (this butter-rich, flaky, caramelized confection from Brittany**), and a piece of chocolat au marteau (a large slab of chocolate from which a section is broken off with a hammer).

Chocolat au marteau

The macarons came in eight different flavors — that day: vanilla, raspberry, lemon, chocolate, pistachio/caramel, walnut/coffee, salted butter caramel, coconut/caramel — and among those, the lemon and walnut/coffee were the unexpected winners. They were a tad too sweet for my taste, as is often the case with macarons, but technically impeccable. (They were also a bit banged up from my carrying them in and out of fitting rooms and on the bike ride home, but that’s hardly Monsieur Conticini’s fault.)

When the time came to taste the kouign amann, I had a bad feeling. I knew it was bizarrely shaped — it rose very high, whereas the typical kouign amann is a flat disk, like the Earth — and this unusual figure was part of the reason why I’d wanted to give it a try, but I hadn’t expected it to be so light, almost as if it was a hollow shell. I sliced it in two with a bread knife and indeed, the inside had large pockets of air, and looked nothing like the typical kouign amann. My heart sank.

Kouign Amann

My heart sank, but not my appetite; the proof of the kouign is in the eating. I took a bite — I had to open my jaw very very wide to manage a top-to-bottom bite, much like with burgers — and smiled with relief. It was simply a mislabelling issue: this was not a kouign amann at all, but rather an outstanding brioche feuilletée (brioche dough that’s been rolled over itself into several layers, so it becomes flaky like puff pastry), buttery and flavorful, its bottom enameled with a crackly layer of extra thin caramel.

But the real champion was, indubitably, the chocolat au marteau. I am a supporter of unconventional chocolate formats — the thickness and shape of a piece of chocolate has noticeable effects on the taste experience — and anything that requires a hammer to serve gets my vote, but this slab was really something: very thick, very dark, and very studded with roasted and caramelized nuts, it offered a superb mix of smooth and crunchy, of sweet and aromatic and nutty, and just enough bitter to keep you on your toes.

Take a look at what Pierre and David sampled on their visits. The offerings seem to vary slightly from one day to the next, so repeat visits are in order, and I’ve read the plan is to sell ice cream as well, later in the spring, I imagine (the French eat ice cream only when it’s warm; odd, I know).

* Not counting the few special events he’s been involved with since then, such as La Table Nutella in 2005.

** In the Breton language, kouign means cake or brioche, amann means butter, and you can probably get away with pronouncing it queen-ah-man. I’ve never made kouign amann myself, but David offers a recipe.

Exceptions Gourmandes / map it!
4 place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, 75004 Paris
Mon-Sat 11am-1pm and 2pm-7pm
01 42 77 16 50

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  • Oh Clotilde! You know not what you do. Remember, oh so long ago, when you blogged about canneles? I had never had one. They’re very difficult to find in the U.S. But I said to myself, I must have one!

    At last I found them at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco (where I live).

    Now I will be searching the city for Kouign Amann. Have it I must!

  • Rachel

    Oh no! You mean I spent the better part of a day the other week wandering around the Marais in total ignorance of this place’s existence?? Ah well, something to put on the list for next time… (Although I must admit I had the same thought as you when I saw the photo and the caption. That doesn’t look like any kouign-amann I’ve ever seen!)

  • You’re better than I to actually impose some limits on what you can buy. We’ll turn our heads that the box of macarons was 8 somethings :) I’d be curious about the caramels – I can’t get enough of french caramel.

  • paperbackwriter

    The voice of reason is very overrated. I just told mine “hah!” as well and had ice cream for lunch. Wonderful honey-lavender ice cream from Ici in Berkeley. The voice of reason has no place there.

  • Lilia

    I was buying a kouign amman every couple of days from Pierre Hermé when in Paris in November and really got addicted to it. I tried a flatter one bought at the Marché Richard Lenoir. I wish that it can be found in San Francisco. Windowseat, please post here at C&Z if you are successful in locating them!

    When you wrote about canneles, I looked for it as well. Every Thursday at the Farmer’s Market at the Galleria (between Post and Sutter), The Bay Bread Company sells them and other french goodies.

    It’s good to know about Conticini – will definitely go there the next time I’m in Paris (if the dollar ever stops going down).

  • Katie

    About those flashed-out sites that immediately make you jump for the “mute” button? Word.

  • Sara

    Wonderful and saliva inducing post as usual :) I have a question: how much is not speaking French a barrier between me and all those delicious things in the shop?

  • Everything sounds delicious Clotilde but the chocolat au marteau sounds intriguing. I think it would be my favourite too.

  • Joan

    seems I’ve actually tasted the paragraph beginning: But the real champion was…sara, language is no barrier when it comes to pastry!

  • marie

    ooh le chocolat au marteau! miam!
    encore merci ;)

  • Mackenzie

    Since I live in Michigan I figure it will be pretty hard for me to find a bakery that sells kougin amann. Is it easy to make at home?

  • OK, now I’m hungry. And longing for Paris.

    Ditto on the all-Flash sites. They’re not entertaining and certainly not useful. They’re very much akin to companies that make you go through 20 different phone menus with annoying music just to find out some simple piece of information.

  • I’ve never heard of a kouign amann but it looks pretty good, but I want some chocolat au marteau! That looks delightful. My mouth literally just wet itself.

    I want some chocolat au marteau! That looks awesome.

  • Voice of reason? Hah! Hammers are good for other things than serving up good chocolate ;)

  • Sara – As long as you use the basic phrases of politeness (bonjour, s’il vous plait, merci, au revoir), the rest of the dialogue can be all pointing and nodding!

    Mackenzie – Making kouign amann is a rather involved process (that’s probably why bakeries outside of Brittany are not tripping over themselves to sell it) but if you’d like to give it a try, David has a recipe. (Note that the quality of the butter you use is instrumental.)

  • Voilà une adresse à ne pas manquer lors de mon prochain passage à Paris!

  • It never occurred to me to eat pain d’épices for breakfast. I buy little heartshaped ones from my local lady and serve floating on custard/crème anglaise.
    If only I’d noticed on the weekend you have a recipe for speculoos – would have gone perfectly with my champagne rhubarb and blood orange syllabub.
    Those macarons are very pretty and much less luridly coloured than many you see.
    Sara – I would second that you don’t need much French in a pâtissier – smiling and pointing are pretty standard ways of communicating in such places. A few politenesses as Clothilde suggests and if you are feeling game, that ever useful phrase ‘je voudrais’ (then point) or if you feel the need to go the extra mile ‘puis-je avoir’ (then smile and point).

  • I adore Kouign Amann. If I could, I would eat one every single day until I die.

  • Great post! Thanks for the link to David’s recipe for Kouign Amann. Since I don’t see myself getting to Paris any time soon (sigh), I’ll be making this at home.


  • Miam, miam, je sais où je vais aller me promener le week-end prochain!! Merci pour cette bonne adresse!

    Bravo pour tes apparitions dans Elle à Table et Elle! ;-)

  • Elizabeth

    Are you sure this patisserie is mistaken in what it’s calling a kouign amann? I’d be interested were you to investigate further and report back.

    I followed David Lebovitiz’s recipe last winter with mixed results and have yet to try again. However, when image-googling the name of the pastry, the majority of photos are show a multi-layered, or tiered, buttery, caramelized cake vs. the kind of lovely, coiled pastry you documented during a trip to St.-Malou. Online recipes differ radically, especially since some can be made lickety-split. However, my research suggests that Lebovitz and Martha Stewart both are rather faithful to French tradition in time-consuming recipes that essentially require you to make a “rough” puff pastry with lots and lots of granulated sugar folded into the dough. Martha Stewart’s small, individual cakes resemble the item you photograph here whereas the coiled, flaky pastry you link seems to be shaped from something closer to a true puff-pastry dough.

  • Liz

    I can never make a decision in a pastry shop either. Politics, yes. Shoes, yes.

    Never, ever with pastries. And what’s the harm in that?

  • Elizabeth – David’s recipe is indeed faithful to the classic style, as pictured here. The coiled shape I shot in Saint-Malo is less frequent, but I’ve seen it done that way in other places in Brittany.

    My point was that the traditional kouign amann is always flat and galette-shaped, and it never ever is a leavened dough with air pockets in it, unlike a brioches feuilletées or this pastry.

  • I used to work at a Belgian Patisserie and two of my all time favourite things to indulge on were kouign amman and speculoos. I’d forgotten how much I loved k.a. until I read this! Yum!

  • I am quite blessed that there are no good pastry shops here in Baltimore as pastry is my passion and I would be as fat as a house if I had unlimited access to fine quality pastries such as those you mention!

  • Yummm. I would buy the place out! I have an awful decision maker about everything in life. But when it comes to pastry, it’s not too hard. Just take one of each!


  • Félicitations pour Elle!
    Top la classe une page dans ELLE!
    Et toutes ces petites adresses à recommander j’ai bien apprécié!

  • Danni

    Hey Clotilde! I don’t know if you’ve heard, but your blog is #38 on the list of the world’s 50 most powerful blogs. Congrats!

  • Thank you for David’s recipe.
    Chocolat of Cookinginrome

  • Sara, I taught my husband how to order pastries and sent him on his way. The woman at the shop was very kind as he bungled it all up. He tried, I think that was worth more than anything.

    Wonderful post as usual! I’m almost there.

  • I love Kouigh Aman, and it is the only pastry, thank you for reminding me to have one next time I am in Bretagne, this weekend! tell you about it!

    Congratulations for being number 38 of the 50 most powerful blogs.

  • Let me tell you something: I am a Kouign Amann lover. Years ago; i confess to my friend how fond i was of This wonderful cake from Bretagne.

    Few months later she paid me a visit with 5 Kouign Amann in her luggage.

    I ate the cake for days and weeks until i got sick.

    I couldn’t help stealing in the fridge like a thief late at night.

    Kouign Amann what should i do with you?

    Same for Macaron….

  • Just to jump in here, after reading this delicious write-up, I think I need to get back over there myself. And to the person inquiring, yes, they speak English in the shop. Although not as good as Clotilde!

    Regarding the Kouign Amann recipe, although I provided step-by-step photos, and successfully made the recipe numerous times, people reported either it was too hard, or, curiously, too soft. (The difference is kinda interesting!) My suspicion is the difference between French and American butter and flour may be the culprit.

    I’m having someone in the US test the recipe using ingredients there and will report back. And if anyone made, or is making it, and has a photo and wants to send it my way, I’m interested in seeing it.

  • shelli

    Thanks for the link to les mangues italiennes; I’ve bookmarked it, it’s great!

    And Philippe Conticini’s place will get a visit very early in our next Paris idyll.

  • Thanks, Clotilde. Like Shelli I’ll make a beeline for the Kouign Amann…maybe right from Roissy airport.

  • How lucky am I to live around the corner from this tiny shop? I went two days ago to try the kouign amann, and it was heavenly, as were the macarons. Today I went back to sample more and was surprised to see that they had no pastries, just macarons and the nougat, etc. Everything there is so wonderful, I hope for the best -it’s just so tucked away there, maybe hard for people to see and so they might not carry the pastries every day? A good enough excuse as any to keep going every day until I find out. ;)

  • C’est une adresse à se damner, et je ne sais jamais, non plus, entrer dans un endroit pareil sans hésiter pendant quelques minutes…

  • TARA

    Chocolat au marteau!

    You’ve renewed my resolve to save up for another trip to Paris.

    And did I notice someone say you have a recipe for speculoos around here? I’m off to search… I spent 18 months as a misionary in Belgium and northern France, and I miss speculoos!

  • Not only do the French not eat ice cream in odd seasons, but you don’t eat it at odd times, either! When I was living in Montpellier, I once sat down at an outdoor cafe at eleven in the morning and saw ice cream on the menu (which for some reason, I wanted). The server gave me an odd look and informed me that “on ne doit pas commander la glace à onze heures”… then I asked if I could order a glass of Muscat so early and he said “Certainly!” (with another odd look). À chacun son goût, I suppose ;-)

  • Oh, I’m not even going to look at the recipes, I eat too much already. Such nice looking, and divine tasting, by all accounts, pastries would never survive long in my house.

  • Nikki

    Mackenzie, if you are anywhere near Ann Arbor in Michigan, you can certainly buy it at one of the shops in downtown.

    I am sincerely impressed by the 8 flavors of macaroons… and inspired!

  • So happy you went! I love, love, love Conticini’s work – and really hope his October 08 opening does not translate to 2012. I want one of his buche de noel this year! At Peltier he made these very sleek, futuristic, cream and silver, bullet-train-shaped buches.

  • This looks very similar to a cinnamon crunch bagel I tried last week. Of course the bagel was nothing like this on the inside. Sounds delicious!

  • oh, wonderful-I am there! If anyone knows of a place in Denver to get any decent Frnech pastries, would they give a shout? My mouth is just watering with these descriptions!

  • Recently given your book from a dear friend and friend of yours, Taina. I love it!
    My husband grew up in France and he will really appreciate all the recipes!

  • For anyone in the Boston area, you can find a great pain d’epice at the High Rise Bakeries in Cambridge or at their booths at the local farmer’s markets in season. At least I think it’s great – it’s the only one I’ve ever had.

  • Sarah

    I decided to find this place on Saturday and see if it’s as good as you claim. I got lost in the Marais, which isn’t at all a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and finally found it right before closing. Thank you! I got one of each of the eight flavors of macaron, pain d’epice, and of course a kouign amman. Never again will I eat one of those questionably colorful macarons from other stores. I wouldn’t have normally tried a kouign amman since it doesn’t have any chocolate. But that caramelized sugar crust on the bottom took it from good to great! I only wish I had had the will power to save it to eat with tea instead of on the spot in the place. Merci bien encore!

  • Love your opening line about pastry shops. As a hugely indecisive person myself, I don’t know how they do it either!

  • Sounds like not only a delicious experience but a visual feast.

  • Mmm, lucky I am in Australia and can’t pop in to sample everything, I’m sure I would have to buy a bigger size in clothes! The flash website has gone, domain not renewed, what does that say? I am a webdesigner, I create all-Flash websites but ony when I have been unsuccessful at talking the client out of it.

  • Mark

    That kouign amann you describe sounds like the way they are in Tokyo at Lenotre and other bakeries. I like them, whatever they are. But if you get them right out of the oven, they are a bit custardy inside and are even better. Since the bakers let them cool off in the pans before putting them out, you need to ask then when they will be done and then request that they give you a hot one. They collapse on themselves if not allowed to cool, which is why they don’t sell them that way, but they taste wonderful.

    For cannele I recommend the same thing: Get one from the baker half-raw right out of the pan.

  • My response to the indecision is to buy far more than I should and go home and spend the afternoon slowly tasting each delicious morsel.

    The Kouign Amann at Chez Michel was the cap on a delightful meal back in January.

  • Goodness, this is *so* close to my work… are you telling me that from now on I’ll have to resist to both Mulot and Conticini ? – sigh – :-)

  • Alice

    Kouigh Aman….I found them in a tiny little bakery in Montreal. Yeah!

  • yves

    le Kouign amann (gateau au beurre et au sucre) est un gateau qui a été créé par un patissier de Concarneau il y a environ 110 ans on en trouve de très bons à Quiberon dans le Morbihan (BRETAGNE). C’était autrefois un gateau de fête que l’on servait dans lse mariages il faut le manger tiède et frais du jour

  • artichokey

    they have amazing Kouign amann at a restaurant in Los Angeles called BLD – they serve them warmed. The ultimate treat any time of day.

  • I’ve made it and result was very good. I used David Lebovitz recipe and followed the step by step carefully. Not o forget, his tips on this recipe was really helpful too. Thanks David!

  • Karalee

    Drool. The butter, the sugar, the layers of pastry. The butter!!! I had forgotten how much I love kouign amann. A few years back, I did a stage at Fauchon and almost daily went home with a ‘misfit’ kouign amann that wasn’t fit for the shop. Sigh. And, I do remember them being much flatter and more dense (less airy) than what was pictured here.

  • Mary Braaten

    I have been using Madeleine Kamman’s Kouign Aman recipe. I have had the ka at Pierre Herme’s bakery in Paris, but never anywhere else. Could you take a look at my ka pictures and tell me if that is what it should look like? http://www.flickr.com/photos/marybraaten

    I heard you speak at the Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. Thank you for your great site!

  • Moi non plus je n’ai jamais fais de kouign amman, mais comme j’ai grandi en Bretagne, c’est sure que j’en ai mangé. C’est carrément lourd, mais tellement bon. J’adore ton blog, et je viens d’acheter ton livre de cuisine, qui est sublime!

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