At last! We’ve reached part two of my honeymoon recap. (Part one was all about Paris.) Since our wedding anniversary recently just passed (and therefore our honeymoon-iversary as well), we’ve been reliving those moments a lot. If you’re currently planning your wedding, take a look at Jettly to see how you could upgrade to a luxury flight experience. Plus I was also recipe-testing for the kouign amann recipe (which you’ll find below), so that made us miss our precious honeymoon days that much more, filled with French pastries, cocktails and lazy wanderings.
St. Malo was a totally different beast than Paris. Our five days in Paris were super fast-paced as we tried to cram in as much as possible. It’s a fairly large city, and I’m sure you could spend a few years there and never take in all it has to offer. By comparison, St. Malo is so small that you could walk from one end of the city to the other in ten minutes (and at a leisurely pace). It’s a tiny walled-in port city on the coast of Brittany, so it played an important role in war times as a fort. It’s also the setting of the popular book All the Light We Cannot See, along with Paris.
There were no cars in the town, as most of the streets were quite narrow and some were even staircases. One of the best ways to view the city and the nearby area was to walk around the top of the wall encircling it. We did that a few times during our visit.
One of our favorite aspects of the area was the beach surrounding St. Malo. When the tide was all the way out, it created a pleasant beach for visitors. At some point people had built a natural swimming pool complete with a high diving board, which was super awesome. There was a stone wall built into the ocean floor, designed to catch the water as the tide went out. It created a perfect swimming pool for the beach-goers to enjoy. How genius is that? When the tide was all the way in the water came right up to the city walls, turning the nearby Fort National into an island. Sadly it was a bit too chilly while we were there to just sit on the beach and soak up the sun, as we had hoped. But we had a great time anyway.
Also, I should mention (although you’ve probably figured it out by now): St. Malo is gorgeous. The walled-in stone city set against the backdrop of the blue ocean, with the steeple sticking out from the center of it all … It’s just breathtaking. We kept saying how it felt like Disneyland or Epcot, except it’s a real place.
Since the town was so small, we were able to take it all in very slowly. We would only plan out a few minor events for each day, and otherwise we mostly wandered around. We also fully embraced happy hour while in St. Malo. This wasn’t hard, as St. Malo actually has the highest concentration of restaurants of any city in the world. It has a shopping scene, but otherwise it’s mostly restaurants, pastry shops and bars. (Can I live there?) The trick here is picking the right places to eat. Like the sidewalk cafes in Paris, they are not all worth a visit.
We didn’t even know about this place before booking our trip. We knew we wanted to hit up a quieter part of France after Paris, preferably by the ocean. We considered going to Nice, but our travel agent had St. Malo in their network as well and it ended up being a lot cheaper. So we ultimately decided to go there, and figured that it might be nice to go to a smaller town off the beaten path that wouldn’t be overrun with partying tourists. Plus, the Brittany area is known for their pastries, so … yeah. It got my vote.
In fact, St. Malo has become a summer resort town for the French and British. It was much harder to find English-speaking people here, and many people were surprised that we ended up there as Americans. Robert’s French-speaking skills came in handy here many times. My French is so bad that the French couldn’t even understand me when I spoke French instead of English. I did a lot of smiling and nodding.
We didn’t actually stay in the walled-in city itself, but our hotel was right down the road outside of the gates. It was just a short walk along the water to get there, so we were never more than a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel when we were in the city. That was also a nice change of pace – In Paris we were usually away from our hotel from about 9am to 9pm or later. I’m sure there were somewhere, The Best Hotel In Paris but we enjoyed where we were. In St. Malo we could go to breakfast, come back, change for the beach and go hang out there for a bit, come back to change and then go out for lunch or drinks, etc. It felt much more like a true vacation than our trip to Paris.
We had a lovely time in St. Malo, and I’d highly recommend a visit if you can make it, even if only for a day. Here’s a play-by-play of what we did during our four-day stay there:
We ate breakfast at our cute little hotel in Paris before heading to the train station and embarking on our journey to St. Malo. Part of the reason why we chose our Paris hotel was that the train station was only a few blocks away. It was an easy walk, even with our suitcases. The trip to St. Malo was only a couple hours (maybe two hours tops?). Sadly, it was raining heavily when we arrived. We had purchased precautionary ponchos during our bike tour of Versailles, so those kind of saved our lives. From the train station in St. Malo it was a short cab ride to our hotel.
Our hotel in St. Malo (the Mercure St. Malo Front de Mer) was totally satisfactory, but not quite as “posh” as our hotel in Paris. But it was affordable and in great proximity to the walled city, we had a view of the ocean from our room, and the staff was extremely helpful when we asked for advice. Can’t really complain.
WANDERING IN THE RAIN + LUNCH
Even though it was raining when we arrived, we wanted to go explore and find lunch. It was a bit intimidating trying to find a spot to eat because, like I said, it’s basically a city of restaurants. We were hoping to find some place authentic serving crepes. Since the region of Brittany is known for crepes, we felt like we should start our visit by eating some of those. We landed at Creperie Grand-mere Augustine, mostly because we were tired of walking in the rain. We each got savory crepes, made with buckwheat flour and technically called “galettes” – mine with ham, swiss cheese, egg and mushrooms; Robert’s with tuna, cheese and tomatoes. Robert also ordered a beer and I got one of the local “ciders.” Honestly, this place wasn’t that great. I think we hit a dud with this one. But don’t worry – we made up for this decision later in the trip.
I think it’s safe to say that St. Malo was all about sweets and cocktails (both of which are heavy themes on this blog). Dessert was an obvious choice after lunch, what with all of the pastry shops around us. On our stroll earlier we had eyed up a place called Maison Hector with beignet Nutella sandwiches. We split one of those and probably consumed more than enough calories for the day.
EXPLORING + DINNER + BRITISH ACCENTS
After waiting out the rain for a bit at the hotel, we headed back into town. At this point we were finally able to take it in, casually exploring without hiding under our ponchos with rain assaulting us. We walked around the top of the city wall and mainly just wondered how the heck we ended up at this place. What a treasure!
Then it was time for dinner. We ate at one of the higher-rated, more popular restaurants right near the gates of the city, called Le Lion d’Or. We kicked it off with me ordering a strawberry mojito (SO GOOD – going strong with the mojito theme I started in Paris) and Robert ordering a beer. They automatically brought out some little crackers with a tuna tartare (I think?). For dinner I had a fantastic gratin with salted cod and potatoes, and Robert had salmon with potatoes. I tried their regular mojito as well (also very good). We were at this restaurant for a VERY long time (seated outside, by the way). We literally had nowhere else to be, and we were intent on savoring our first evening in St. Malo, so we also ordered dessert here (plus – #yoloitsourhoneymoon): an apple tart with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce. NAILED IT.
But do you know what really made this dinner special? The British trio that sat next to us. There was a woman with two men. If I had to guess, I’d say one was a boyfriend or husband, and the other was her father or father-in-law. And oh boy, was she a talker. We were cracking up because this lady was talking a mile a minute while her two companions hardly said anything and barely acknowledged her. (I think they were just used to her; she seemed like someone who needs to think out loud.) She ran through almost the entire menu with them, trying to decide what to get. “Oh look, they have cod! Or maybe I should get the salmon … or the burger! Should I get the burger? Is that too much? I’m not MASSIVELY hungry. No, I’m too scared I’m too scared.” (“Sure … get whatever you want.” Oh my goodness. We were losing it. We ended up quoting her to each other throughout the rest of our trip, and we still do to this day. “I’MTOOSCARED I’MTOOSCARED”
Breakfast at our hotel wasn’t really a thing for us in St. Malo. When you’re only about 5 minutes from some of the best pastries and crepes in the world, you don’t eat breakfast at your hotel, am I right? It wasn’t like Paris where I needed some fuel to last me until our first destination. The St. Malo city gates were a few minutes down the road from our hotel on foot, and the whole city is legit only half a mile wide. I think all but one or two of the things I had bookmarked for us to check out in St. Malo were food spots, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do in between each one except chill.
So for breakfast on our first morning there, we hit up one of the places I had bookmarked that supposedly had some of the best crepes (Les Delices du Gouverneur). I had a sweet one with a chestnut spread in it, and Robert had a galette with ham, egg and cheese.
After walking on the beach for a little bit, we ventured out to Fort National. This piece of land becomes an island when the tide is all the way in to the city wall. Since the tide was out at the time, we jumped on the opportunity to walk out there. I think there was a museum to check out, but we didn’t care enough to pay the fee so we passed on that. It was interesting enough to just walk out there, take some photos and view St. Malo from the sea. So lovely.
The weather was pretty nice, so we did a mini photo shoot together on the beach. Robert had brought his nice camera so we thought it would be fun, and we also figured it might be nice to have some more professional-looking shots of ourselves from our honeymoon. Nothing too fancy – It was very casual.
We walked through town again, taking different turns and going down different alleyways. You can reach the top of the wall from multiple places in the city, so we walked up that again and then went down to the beach on the other side of it (near the swimming pool). Near Fort National is another small hump of land that is essentially just a mini island (when the tide is in). I think it was also a fort back in the day. It was reachable on foot at the time, so we gave that a visit. Once again, it was an experience just to get out there and view St. Malo from another angle.
Okay, so many of you are probably wondering what the heck is a kouign amann? Good question. Let’s start off with how to pronounce it: Until I finally asked the sweet French lady at one of the kouign amann counters how to say it, Robert and I were calling it everything from “koon-a-mah-kahn” to “kweeg-mah-kahn” to “koog-a-nah-man,” etc. According to the nice French lady, it’s pronounced more like “KWEEN-a-mahn.” (Although sometimes we still like to refer to it as our pet names.)
Kouign Amann basically translates to “butter cake” or “butter pastry.” It’s the most glorious combination of layers of a risen dough, folded over and over, wrapped around layers of butter and sugar. You can’t go wrong here, people. (And you can find my recipe for them below.) I knew going into our trip that this area in particular was known for this specific pastry. So obviously I knew we would try some, and I bookmarked a few places that served them. But once we had one and the lights of heaven shone down upon us, we vowed to have at least one a day for the rest of our trip. AT LEAST one every day. (We kept that promise.)
The first place we had one was at the same place we had breakfast. This little sidewalk stop had all kinds of kouign amann, with apples baked into them and special toppings on them like salted caramel or Nutella. We started off with a basic one so we could get our footing with them. As you can imagine, this was not our final visit to Les Delices du Gouverneur.
This was seriously one of the most relaxing and lazy trips we have ever been on. Just to recap, here’s how the day went so far: crepes, wandering, photo shoot, wandering, kouign amann, some more wandering, afternoon drinks. This became our daily schedule for the most part. The bar where we stopped on this first afternoon became one of our regular haunts. It was called Les Comptoirs du Sud, and it was an Irish pub. Very friendly and cozy. We each got a strawberry mojito (big surprise).
One of the stores that immediately caught my eye was this place called Real Chocolat that had tons of different kinds of chocolate spreads. (Like Nutella, but lots of different flavors.) We popped in there for me to poke around and pick up some goodies. They had some kind of sale for buying more than one kind, so I got the chocolate salted caramel, speculoos, cappuccino and crunchy hazelnut. Don’t they all sound so good? Well, grab some tissues, because you’re going to need them. THEY DIDN’T MAKE IT HOME WITH ME. On our way home I was stopped going through airport security. They went through everything in my suitcase (without really telling me what was going on), and then proceeded to take out all of my chocolate spreads and confiscate them. Apparently they’re considered a liquid?!?!?! Ugh, it makes me so sad. I cried at the airport after this humiliating and devastating experience. Just ask Robert. (And then I bought myself macarons with the last few euros I had to my name to console myself.)
WANDERING, A PANINI + ANOTHER KOUIGN AMANN
After some more wandering we were feeling peckish, so we shared a chicken, tomato and mozzarella panini from …. somewhere I don’t remember. I think it was just a little bakery place across the street from where we had the kouign amann. And then we had our second kouign amann of the day, but we got one with apples in it (kouign amann aux pommes). THEY’RE SO GOOD.
I wish we could live this lifestyle every day. Happy Hour #2 of the day was at the Hotel L’Univers bar. I had a “margarita fraise” (tequila, cointreau, lemon juice, strawberry puree) and Robert had a “Jamaican Fever” (white rum, cognac, pineapple juice, lemon juice and mango syrup). This place also provided little snacks for you – They brought out a plate for us with tuna tartare, toasted bread, olives, chips and peanuts. In other words, they pumped us with salt so we would want more drinks. Bring it on! (But we each only had one drink there.)
One of the places on my list was Chez Marcel, a kebab joint. This place was gooood and CHEAP. For only 6 euro you get a huge kebab with sauce and fries on the side. Our plan had been to split one, but we had a really hard time communicating with the people in there and we ended up with two. Oh well. Anyway, it was delicious, and we enjoyed it right outside the place in a little courtyard area with benches near the church.
ICE CREAM + BEESWING
After the kebabs we explored another area of the city wall we hadn’t been to yet while enjoying the sunset. Then it was time for dessert so we got some ice cream at Sanchez L’Artisan Glacerie. Our flavors were pistachio and “amour de glacé,” which if I remember correctly was some kind of caramel-cookie flavor.
Another neat thing about St. Malo was the live music. At any given point in the day you could probably find someone playing music around a corner. But they weren’t just people trying to make a buck by playing on the street – These were musicians hired by someone probably in charge of tourism for St. Malo. There were a few key areas where people would play, and you’d often see the same person on different days and at different spots. Since they were legit musicians, the music was always really good.
So as we walked around eating our ice cream, we caught wind of an Irish guy singing and playing guitar. It sounded wonderful, and then I realized I recognized the song: It was “Beeswing,” originally by Richard Thompson. I pulled Robert over and we joined the crowd around him. We just sat there with our ice cream cones, enjoying the music and the pleasant evening. I remember at that particular moment in time I had this amazing sense of calm and peace wash over me, like I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in that moment. Not a bad way to end the day.
A BIKING ADVENTURE
We were really bummed in Paris that we were never able to rent bikes from the kiosks and just explore the area in that way. There wasn’t as much to do in St. Malo in the way of activities, so we decided to rent bikes for a good portion of one day and just head out into the countryside. There was supposedly some kind of “greenway” for biking along the coast, and I was pretty sure from my research that it went through St. Malo.
Our hotel concierge was able to point us to a bike rental place just a few blocks away from the hotel. We had trouble communicating with the man at the rental place, but he seemed to understand me when I asked about the “greenway.” He pointed us in the direction of where he thought it was, and it sounded fairly easy to find. Well …. we never found it. I’m not really sure what happened, or if there ever really was one in the first place.
We biked along the coast for a while (which was gorgeous), and then veered off into the countryside. Our hopes were to find someone who could point us in the right direction. We were really in the middle of nowhere, so we only encountered one or two people. They were either not from the area or didn’t know what we were talking about. At this point we started to get a little worried because we were really lost.
Things have a way of working themselves out. We stumbled upon a small town, turned a corner and came upon a center for tourism. Thank goodness – I was starting to lose it. I remember Robert was being really picky about who he talked to, and I told him if he didn’t ask the next human we saw for help then I was going to divorce him. (Jk – but you get the picture.) The lady at the tourism place was able to explain to Robert where we were and how to get back, and even gave him a map. She also recommended a fun coastal town nearby we could visit for lunch before heading back to St. Malo.
LUNCH IN CANCALE
The town was called Cancale, and it had a nice row of shops and restaurants right along the water. (We really should have taken way more pictures during this part of our trip, but I guess we were just taking it all in as memories.) It kind of reminded me of Inner Harbor in Baltimore. We chose a cafe called Au Rocher de Cancale and had a lovely little meal. I remember Robert had this AMAZING beer (I swear I can still taste it) – on the menu they called it “beer of the season,” and it was a summer white. It tasted like lemonade beer. I ordered a hot chocolate and we both got sandwiches: Robert had a panini with tomato, mozzarella, parmesan and pesto; I had a simple jambon comte sandwich (ham and cheese). It was so good, and tasted especially wonderful after a two hour bike ride of getting lost in the French countryside. We also really enjoyed the music playlist they had going there: it was a mix of fun stuff like Bob Marley, Coldplay and U2.
Obviously dessert was a must. We stopped at an outdoor crepe stand and got one to share. This place had a bunch of those Real Chocolat spreads (like the ones I bought the day before in St. Malo), so we got a crepe with the chocolate salted caramel flavor in it. We ate it while sitting on the sidewalk near our bikes, with chocolate dripping all over our hands. It was delicious.
BIKING IN THE RAIN
It was clearly about to storm, so we chose to take the most straightforward way back to St. Malo. Unfortunately this meant we were biking on a highway rather than a back country road. We were not lucky enough to beat the rain. It actually started raining as soon as we got on our bikes. We had no choice but to bike through it. On our way to Cancale we had done a weird loop of about 2 hours of leisurely riding. Going back this way was a straight shot, so it only took us an hour to get to St. Malo. So yes, we rode our bikes for an hour in the rain. Thankfully we just laughed about it most of the time. It was kind of a disaster of a trip but also really fun. It felt SO GOOD to get back to our hotel room and warm up from the cold, wet bike ride.
After we recovered from our bike ride and the rain subsided, we headed out for our daily wandering and some shopping. We got a kouign amann with apple and salted butter caramel from Chocolatier Galland. (We had to reach our quota for the day.) I went into the book shop in town hoping to find a cookbook with a kouign amann recipe in it. I found one! The recipe I have below for kouigna amann is adapted from that cookbook. (I had to translate it and make sense of it – thanks Google!)
You know how this goes by now. We went back to our favorite afternoon bar, Les Comptoirs du Sud. I had a plain mojito this time (to switch things up a little), and Robert ordered a Guiness. And of course there were also little toasts with tuna to snack on.
Ah, this dinner. I think we had tried to go to this restaurant, Le Bistro de Jean, earlier in our trip with no luck. They close between lunch and dinner, and we had previously stopped by during their in-between off hours. This night we knew to arrive between 7 and 7:30 when they opened for dinner. This restaurant was on my original list, so I knew it was supposed to be good. Well it wasn’t just good; it was amazing. Word to the wise: if you’re going to eat here, show up as soon as they open for dinner. It’s a small place and it fills up quickly. I believe they also take reservations.
Le Bistro de Jean is a real mom-and-pop restaurant with a husband and wife team. The husband was the chef, and the wife was the hostess. Most of the people who came in seemed to know them personally, and they were both very visible throughout the restaurant. They had a very small menu that was written on a small chalkboard they would set up on your table. If they had something special on the menu and they ran out, then that was it. Leftovers were worked into the next night’s meal. This place was an absolute treasure.
As soon as we were settled at our tables, the server brought us each the tiniest little bowl of tomato-watermelon gazpacho. I didn’t think I would like that because cold soups freak me out a little and I don’t love watermelon, but it was delicious. For dinner we both ordered the specials. I had the fish soup with mustard aioli, served with croutons, cheese and bread. It was really good, but not quite as good as Robert’s meal. He had this “tiny chicken” (as he called it) with an amazing sauce that we think was some kind of red wine reduction, plus onions, mushrooms, and roasted fingerling potatoes. Oh. My. God. It was out of this world good. It was one of those meals where a small moan escapes from you with every bite you take, like you forgot how good it was between mouthfuls. Robert would say that’s one of the best meals he’s ever had.
When we came out of dinner, our favorite guy was playing the song “Beeswing” again. We decided to get a little snack for dessert and bring it back to the square to listen to him play. A place called Maison Larnicol had mini kouign amanns, called “kouignettes.” We got an assortment of those, with pistachio, chocolate and raspberry-flavored ones. We snacked on them for a while, sitting on a stoop and listening to our guy sing.
After that it was still relatively early, so we finished out the evening by getting drinks at the restaurant from the first night, Le Lion d’Or. I ordered the mango mojito (the waiter had no idea what I was asking for until Robert ordered for me ???), and Robert had a strawberry one. Another fantastic day – why can’t we be on a honeymoon all the time?
There was a place we wanted to go for crepes, but they didn’t open right away. To tide us over in the meantime, we got an apple tart with walnuts and honey from Chocolatier Galland. We sat on a stone wall for some people-watching in an area we hadn’t spent much time in yet while we ate it. When we got up to leave I discovered I had sat in some bird poop. (#honeymoonfail) Thankfully I was able to wipe most of it off. Ugh. Then we did some window shopping until the crepe place opened up.
This crepe place was one of the last things on my list that we needed to try. I wish we had discovered it sooner, because they were by far the best crepes (and galettes) we had during our whole stay. I had one with smoked duck, pear and roquefort cheese, topped with lettuce and a balsamic reduction. Robert had one with smoked salmon, leeks, sprouts and lemon, topped with lettuce and a cream sauce. They were so crispy and delicious. Absolutely amazing. They were so good that we even ordered a dessert one there. It had salted butter caramel, chocolate, cookie pieces and cookie ice cream. This place is a MUST for crepes/galettes if you end up in St. Malo.
There was a small town across the water from St. Malo called Dinard, and there was a ferry you could take from one to the other. We had pretty much tapped out St. Malo at this point, so we hopped over there to explore for the afternoon. We were hoping to visit a farmers market over there, but unfortunately we were too late and missed it. It was a cute town though, and we had a good time just walking around. I ordered the most perfect buttery croissant from a bakery (Maison Moreaux) all in French by myself, and I was quite proud of that accomplishment. We didn’t stay too long in Dinard before heading back. So really all we did there was walk around and order a croissant. But how often do you get to wander around a cute French coastal town and order a croissant from a real French bakery?
KOUIGN AMANN WITH NUTELLA
When we returned to St. Malo we wanted to chill on the beach, but it started to rain. Eventually we returned to town for the dinner portion of the day. As a bit of an appetizer we got our kouign amann of the day, again from Les Delices du Gouverneur. Since it was our last day in St. Malo, we decided to go big or go home, so we got one covered in Nutella. DANGEROUS. Whoa. Everyone should do that at least once.
LE BISTRO DE JEAN, PART 2
We considered eating at one of the other fancier restaurants in town for our last night, but ultimately decided that our dinner the night before was SO GOOD that we wanted to just go there again. We made the right choice. They brought us the gazpacho again when we sat down. Since we were celebrating our last night, we ordered a bottle of wine (Tremoine Muscat Sec, a drier Muscat). Also, I should note that this place was probably our favorite restaurant we visited in all of France, AND it was definitely the cheapest. I’m pretty sure our meal this last night wasn’t even as expensive as the meal we had in Paris of burgers, fries and a cocktail pitcher.
As the writer of a blog called Cake Over Steak, I did something totally crazy that night and ordered a steak. It came with roquefort sauce, roasted potatoes and a green salad. It was amazing. That roquefort sauce with the steak and potatoes! Seriously so good. Robert had sea bass with anise sauce and a puree of carrot, fennel and potato that was crazy good. For dessert we had a rich chocolate cake with caramel in the middle. It was all fantastic.
What made this meal even more memorable were our accidental dinner companions. (Shout out to Sheldon and Charlene!) The night before when we were in there we noticed an elderly couple walk in after us. They greeted the owners like old friends before sitting down. They were really cute, but we also noticed them because they spoke English. Well, on this second night, they came in again and were seated next to us. The tables in French restaurants are so close together, we were practically all sitting at the same table. They recognized us from the night before as well, so they struck up a conversation with us. It seemed odd not to chat, especially since we had both been there two nights in a row.
It turns out they were a sweet couple from Los Angeles. The man, Sheldon, has been retired since his 40s (he was a finance lawyer). For the last 30-odd years they’ve been traveling for 150 days out of the year. They were currently spending six weeks in France. They’ve been to St. Malo many times, and they eat at Le Bistro de Jean every night they’re in town. They were surprised and very impressed that we ended up there for dinner. (This just goes to show how wonderful this restaurant is.) After spending 10 days of mostly talking to each other, it was a breath of fresh air to enjoy this wonderful meal with another English-speaking couple. We talked mostly about travel and the places they’ve been. They were a delight, and that final meal in St. Malo is one of our favorite memories from the trip.
ST. PATRICK IRISH PUB
To end the evening we went to an Irish pub around the corner from the restaurant for one last drink in St. Malo. Robert had a Leffe beer and I had a ….. yep, you guessed it: a mojito.
THE JOURNEY HOME
I’ll tell you what: Traveling abroad is an amazing experience and a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. Getting from St. Malo back to the states was roughly an 18-hour journey.
First we had to take two trains from St. Malo to get back to Paris. This was a nightmare. On French trains you have assigned seats with your ticket. The problem is that each train car has the same seat numbers in it, so not only do you need to have the right seat number, but it has to be in the correct car. We had a lot of trouble figuring out which car number we were in, so we had to change seats a few times, ended up kicking an old lady out of our seats who was in the wrong place, and then ended up behind a cat in a cat carrier who wouldn’t stop crying. Ugh, it was the worst.
DRIVING THROUGH PARIS
When we arrived at the Paris train station we were so agitated. We got off the train and Robert had just finished saying “Now we need to figure out how to get our private car to take us to the airport” when we saw a man holding a sign that said “Lenton Cornelius.” That was one of the happiest sights we’ve ever seen. He took us around a corner and straight into a posh Mercedez-Benz. That was definitely the easiest part of our whole journey. He drove us to the airport, which involved driving us through the city of Paris. This felt like a small gift, being able to take in Paris again in this way. Our stay in Paris felt like a blur, so seeing it again with fresh eyes after being in St. Malo just made me appreciate it that much more.
Like I mentioned earlier, my Real Chocolat spreads were taken from me at the airport. This was devastating, so I treated myself with some more Ladurée macarons at the airport. It used up the last of my euros, so I was doing myself a favor anyway.
ASBURY PARK, NJ
Once we landed in NY we had to drive to Asbury Park, NJ. We chose to do this because we landed back in the US on a Friday night, so we wanted to extend our honeymoon by finishing out the weekend with a relaxing beach visit. We also knew we’d be exhausted when we landed (we were), so driving to the Jersey shore was shorter than driving all the way home. We barely made it there before falling asleep. (Well, I did fall asleep. Robert was driving. I tried SO HARD to stay awake but I was delirious). When we got to our hotel we went to sleep as fast as possible.
The next morning we had a nice brunch at a place called Toast. We tried sitting on the beach after that but it was getting windy, cloudy and cold. In other words, this was not what we had in mind for our trip. We headed to the boardwalk for lunch, hoping the clouds would subside by the time we were done and we could head back to our beach chairs. We obviously did some day drinking (our lunch included beer, mojitos and a pizza with goat cheese, grapes, brussels sprouts and a basil cream sauce), and then we took some really silly drunk photos in a photo booth. Why not, right?
Our hotel turned out to be a bust. We had to switch rooms after we woke up because we were next to a really loud air vent that startled us awake at 7am, and then our tub didn’t drain. They only had one other room available for us, and it was a downgrade from a king bed to two queens. We didn’t really care about that, but then this room had a broken window, so the wind was just howling through it in a really annoying way. Between all of that and the fact that the weather wasn’t what we had hoped, we just wanted to go home. I channeled the inner powers of my mom, and I convinced them to let us leave without paying for our second night. So we went home early and headed back to my parents’ house to catch up with them after all of our adventures and to pick up our dog. It felt great to spend the rest of the weekend at home.
I think it goes without saying – we had a lovely trip! If you can make it out to that region of France, you should definitely stop by St. Malo and say hello for us.
After this visit, I knew that I needed to acquire the skills for making kouign amann at home. I’m happy to say that between translating the recipe from my French book, consulting some cookbooks and some recipes online, and testing it out in my kitchen, I’ve put together a recipe that is relatively easy to make and tastes like the kouign amann we remember.
It seems like a bear of a recipe, but it’s really not that hard. It requires a lot of time because of the intervals of chilling and rolling out the dough, but none of it is actually hard to do. Most of it is hands-off, with a few minutes of hands-on time required between chilling sessions. This is best started the day before, and preferably on a day when you will be having a leisurely day at home. I did it on a relaxing Saturday where I was able to clean the apartment and work on other projects in between attending to the dough. If you have to spread it out over several days, that should work fine too.
I did the last bit of chilling overnight, so then on Sunday morning I just portioned out the dough and baked them. These would be great if you’re having people over for brunch. They require a long time in the oven as well (about an hour and a half). But it’s that low and slow baking that turns the butter and sugar mixture into a gooey caramel on the bottom of the kouign amann. Once you try one of these, you’ll discover that it’s definitely worth your time to make them, at least once a year or so. They’ll keep for a few days at room temperature, but they’re best eaten within the first day or two. I would suggest sharing them with friends or at the office, and you’ll become quite popular.
About half of these photos are by Robert, the other half taken from our Instagram accounts (@sara_cornelius_ and @robert.cornelius), and the final kouign amann photos were taken by myself.
Illustration at top created with Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations are available in my Etsy shop, and you can find prints + other fun products with my work on them in my Society6 shop.
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp (15 g) active dry yeast
- pinch of sugar
- lukewarm water
- 4.75 cups (625 g) all purpose flour
- 2 tsp coarse kosher salt
- ¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
- 1.5 cups water
- 65 g salted butter, room temperature
- 550 g salted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- raw sugar
- Combine the yeast and sugar with about 1-2 tbsp of lukewarm water in a small bowl to make a paste. Let it rest about 5 minutes until bubbly.
- Stir together the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast and mix with the dough hook on low, adding a little water at a time until it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. It will still look really messy. Add the butter and continue to mix on low until it forms a nice dough - soft but holds together. Add more water as needed (it might need more or less than the 1.5 cups), and stop and scrape down the bowl once or twice.
- Move the dough to a larger bowl, cover with a clean towel and let it rise for an hour or so until it has doubled in size.
- For the butter filling, combine the butter and sugar in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until smooth and spreadable. Cover and set aside.
- After the dough is done rising, divide it into two equal pieces. On a floured surface, roll each half out into a rectangle that is about 8x12 inches. Cover one rectangle with ¼ of the butter/sugar mixture. (An offset spatula makes this job easier.) Place the other rectangle of dough on top of that one with the butter/sugar mixture in the middle. Crimp the edges shut to hold in the butter.
- Take another ¼ of the butter/sugar mixture and cover the bottom ⅔ of the dough rectangle (with the long edges at the side and the short edges at the top and bottom). Fold down the top ⅓ of dough, then fold up the bottom ⅓ (like a letter). Wrap that up and refrigerate it for 1 hour.
- Rotate the dough 90 degrees from how you folded it (so the folds should be going vertically). Roll it out to a larger rectangle again. Place another ¼ of the butter/sugar mixture on the bottom ⅔ of that rectangle, and repeat the folding process. Refrigerate for another hour.
- Repeat that whole process again (rotate, roll out, cover ⅔ with last of the butter mixture, fold up like a letter). If you have butter oozing out anywhere, just scrape off the excess. Trust me - there's more than enough in there. Chill again for another hour.
- Rotate one last time and roll out to a larger rectangle again. It should be about 9x11 inches. Cut in half, so you have two 4.5 x 11 inch rectangles. Roll each one into a log, "hot dog style," rolling from the long edges. You won't have much to roll up, but if you do it tightly it should make one decent spiral. Chill again for one hour, or overnight if you want to bake them the next morning.
- Heat the oven to 300°F.
- Cut each log into twelve slices, about ½-1 inch thick. Place each slice into a greased muffin tin. You might have to squeeze them in there a little bit, but that's okay. Sprinkle the tops with raw sugar. Place the muffin tins on sheet pans to catch any butter drippings. (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT - otherwise you'll have butter burning on the bottom of your oven.)
- Bake for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until nicely browned on the top edges, rotating the pans every twenty minutes or so.
- Let them cool for 10-15 minutes in the pan before removing them to cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.