Lately Fort Worth’s favorite Central European-inspired bakery, Swiss Pastry Shop, has been buzzing.
This month they've partnered with Martin House Brewing Co. to create a brew that pays homage to the baker’s famed Black Forest Cake, which will certainly attract a frothing crowd. As it should. (Party note: The due date for this guy got pushed back to Dec. 9 because of a brewing mishap. No one said cake beer would be easy.)
However, another interesting note scrolled up my screen recently: Chef Hans Muller has secretly been baking the cult-worthy pastry kouign-amann. (Not really a secret.)
Muller’s Swiss-born father opened the Swiss Pastry Shop in Fort Worth in 1972. He grew up watching his father work diligently to make the restaurant a local icon. Now he continues to build on what his father created and is stretching it where he can.
He was introduced to the kouign-amann in Europe.
“I spent a lot of summers in Switzerland as a kid,” Muller says. “My aunt would go to the local bakery every morning and get croissants and pastries for breakfast and treats.”
The delicate, buttery kouign-amann is actually a regional specialty of Brittany, France, where bakers whisper sweet nothings into them until, voilà, layers of sunshine and bliss are brought forth from an oven.
Bisous Bisous Pâtisserie's owner and chef, Andrea Meyer, even made a special trip to France to track down a kouign-amann cart and its owner after having purchased them on a previous trip. (He’d retired, but she found another baker.)
So, see. They’re kind of a big deal. But, not so much around here. (We’re working on that, though. I am, anyway.)
In true Fort Worth panache, Muller’s pastries are bigger than usual, with waves of golden pastry cresting over the top. There's a generous dollop of a fig and walnut mixture inside. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to call these the big hair version of the kouign-amann. Because that’s what happens in baking, right?
Regions put their own spin on things. In Dallas, Meyer rolls the dough, just like she found in street carts in Brittany; it's the same as attributing the Muller-like configuration to Paris chefs putting their spin on it. To each his own.
“I’ve tried to introduce kouign-amann and other viennoiserie* to Fort Worth for years and years with very little luck. It's the whole, ‘Shut-up-and-give-us-Black-Forest’ thing. They thought I was burning the bread,” Muller says.
This particular pastry is cooked within a mere centimeter of its life; the timing in the oven is part of the art. So, yes, the tops may seem dark brownish.
“I guess I'm thankful to people like Dominique Ansel, who have a bigger platform for popularizing some of the more European pastries. I saw kouign-amanns on his Instagram feed a few years ago and thought, ‘That ain’t hard! I can do that.'"
Sure ain’t! (Yeah, it is.)
When asked about technique, Muller downplays it in his humble fashion.
“There's not much technique,” Muller says. “The key is resting the dough, keeping it in the right temperature range and being patient. The only times I’ve screwed it up is when I was in a hurry. Dough temperature is the key to success, kind of like serving red wine, you want it cool but not cold.”
For now, Muller says he only makes these particular pastries in the cooler months, because the equipment melts the butter in a warm bakery.
“I have about 25 years of experience with laminated doughs, so it wasn’t hard to make good ones,” Muller says.
Muller is experimenting with different flavors. Currently, he’s baking fig and walnut: And they are fantastic.
“When I think something is perfect, I usually get bored and do something else,” Muller says. “We do sell out most weekends, but it took a year to get enough people to try them.”
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These are only available on the weekend. Muller has recently increased production from two dozen to four. And listen — it’s hard to stay focused when you walk into the bakery and see not only amazing food being served out of the kitchen, but also the display cases full of pastries and breads of all flavors and sorts.
But stay focused, my friend. Get a couple of kouign-amanns and get out. Don't dawdle. You'll get overwhelmed, and who knows what will happen.
(*AP Baking footnote: Cordon Bleu has this to say about viennoiserie: “[It] is the 'bridge' between pâtisserie and French bread. These goods are typically made with white flour and active yeast cultures, which causes the dough to rise quickly and achieve the perfect flakiness. Some are instead made using an enriched puff pastry.”)
Swiss Pastry Shop, 3936 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth. Bakery open 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sunday-Monday.