What has New Yorkers queuing for hours, launching a crazy black-market, and food-blogging so hard? Cronuts, of course. The croissant-doughnut hybrid baked up by Soho pastry chef Dominique Ansel is a certified sensation. So coveted are they, in fact, that CNN’s Anderson Cooper couldn’t get one, even for his birthday. Brendan visited Dominique Ansel Bakery to learn all about the buttery treats – but that doesn’t mean he got to taste one.
Dominique Ansel: The cronut was just, in the beginning, an addition to replace some of the items which was a pistachio sticky bun. It was just to replace it.
I didn’t know it was going to take off like this and people were going to go crazy, literally, for it. I like to come up with new ideas, new things to do, new things to try. I think that donut meets a croissant was a good idea.
Brendan Francis Newnam: The croissant is a classic viennoiserie, right?
Dominique Ansel: Viennoiserie.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Viennoiserie, OK. Thanks for you help. And what does that mean? A viennoiserie, what defines that sort of pastry?
Dominique Ansel: So the word viennoiserie is coming from vienn, which is vienna. So what defines viennoiserie is really breaded items, some layers. So it’s kind of a bread but a little lighter, flakier.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And then what would a donut, what would that be considered in pastry?
Dominique Ansel: I would say a donut would be in the viennoiserie family if it was French.
Brendan Francis Newnam: You are a celebrated pasty chef, classically trained. You’ve been doing this for quite a long time. Since you were 16, right?
Dominique Ansel: Since I was 16. So I’ve been working in the kitchen for more than 20 years now.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Would any of your old masters in pastry be offended by the idea of the cronut?
Dominique Ansel: I think they’ll be questioning me about, “why? Why do you do that?” It’s very unusual. I don’t think any French person will even go there and try to fry a croissant because it’s not appropriate.
But I like to be open-minded, to see different things and try different things. Why not? I tried it and it tasted good. People think it’s amazing so why not?
Brendan Francis Newnam: You tried 11 different recipes, correct?
Dominique Ansel: I tried a lot of different recipes. If you take a classic croissant dough you might find a lot of issues. The butter will melt when trying to fry it. The layers will slide off. The foundation will not be right.
There are many, many different technical aspects that might occur to this dough when you try to fry it. So it’s actually not exactly croissant dough but it’s very similar.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Did you know when you had it? When you got to that 11th time were you like, “voila”?
Dominique Ansel: I was not like “voila” but…
Brendan Francis Newnam: What would you say when you were excited about something?
Dominique Ansel: There we go. We’re here. We’re here, baby.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright so when did you say “we’re here baby, we got it”?
Dominique Ansel:I worked the recipes time after time until I had what I wanted to have. So I wanted to have, the layers inside were so important to me. I wanted to still have the effect of a croissant which was many, many layers.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So I’ve also read that these cronuts only have a shelf-life of six hours. Is that true?
Dominique Ansel: That’s true. It’s actually a matter of fact for most of the viennoiserie items and bread as well. So growing up in France you quickly learned that any bread, any croissant, has a shelf-life that is very short. I’ll say six hours because I think that’s reasonable for me. Most people will keep a croissant for a day or two. I don’t suggest it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But with a cronut you have not had that problem because they have no even stuck around for—you sell out within fifteen minutes, is that true?
Dominique Ansel: We sell out between 20 and 30 minutes now. Before we open the doors we have about 100 to 200 people that are all outside.
Rico Gagliano: How does it feel to see people outside your door?
Dominique Ansel: It feels amazing. To me that satisfaction of being a chef is really to give pleasure to people, to excite them, to give them something they’ve never had. To see the expression in the eyes or in the face, the smile, when they eat something and they really feel like it’s something they haven’t had before.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But the people aren’t always smiling satisfied. They’re also grumbling when you ran out of cronuts. There’s been cronut rage.
Dominique Ansel: Yes, that’s true. I think a lot of people get emotional because they really want it. They see it everywhere, they read about it, they hear about it, and they get so, so excited. To me, food is based on memory.
A lot of people rely on what they were eating when they were little. So they think something that people know, like a croissant or donut, and fusion it together make it exciting because they know both tastes. So people get very emotional when they cannot get it.A lot of people are asking “Why don’t you make more and why don’t you hire more staff?”
The think is we’re not a cronut shop. We’re a French bakery. We have lots of great items on the menu and I don’t want to compromise all of those items. I want to make it enough to satisfy people that come early in the morning that really wants it. But I want to keep the quality over the quantity. So I want to keep the integrity of the bakery.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Usually I end a food segment by tasting the food item, but the cronut is so popular that we are cronut-less. Is that true?
Dominique Ansel: We are cronut-less for today.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m not even a journalist. I’m just a crazy guy that pretended to be one to get a cronut and it didn’t work for me.
Dominique Ansel: I’ll try to save one for you.