Regarding the Cronut Craze

crazy cronut line in NYC

I've come to realize that there is good reason for Dominique Ansel to patent the name "cronut". I am now of the opinion that his creation is probably worthy of its glorified, trendy status of late, whereas the knockoff creations appearing around the world and Sacramento are, for the most part, third rate.

For the uninitiated, a cronut is a hybrid croissant doughnut wherein croissant dough is cut into doughnut form and deep fried, then glazed and filled. Dominique Ansel is a pastry chef in New York City and the creator of this delight that has become the latest darling of the foodie world. At his bakery in NYC the cronut line wraps around city blocks with an average wait of three hours.

Zagat tastes the cronut

It is no wonder that shops around the world are trying to cash in by copying it. Last week Chris Macias wrote about the trend in the Sacramento Bee and about where one could find the copycats in Sacramento. In it I was quoted about it being overhyped and the latest thing for foodies to be the first to experience and try - my friends included. Doughbot Donuts also chimed in saying they had no interest in making them, despite the begging of their customers.

My other problem with the knockoffs (and even my prior skeptism of the original) has to do with the fact that I do tend to be a food snob when it comes to pastries. I've traveled the world and there's something to be said about European bakeries. I've had really good pastries and REAL croissants. People don't realize that there are a lot of shortcut, poor quality croissants in the world.

So I had intended to just make my own after seeing the video posted on the internet. The video showed a shortcut method of using frozen croissant dough, which I was willing to try. You see, back in 2011 I tried making croissant dough as part of Daring Bakers. Been there. Done that. Don't need to do it again. Making croissant dough is a very time consuming process and a big pain in the ass. Why bother unless you are an actual pastry chef? And if you look at the croissant recipe in that post, you'll see it has 57 steps!!!

So I started calling around looking for the frozen dough. No one has it. I even called La Bou, but they get all their croissants pre-formed from the factory and just pop them in the oven. Bryan at Doughbot told me today that I could get sheets of puff pastry at Restaurant Depot and cheat that way. 

The problem with that, as he and I know, is that puff pastry is not the same as croissant dough, even though people often cheat and use it for croissants. I also made puff pastry for Daring Bakers back in 2009. Although the procedure of folding the dough and butter over and over to create layers is similar, croissant dough has yeast, puff pastry does not. Oh, and by the way, Ansel even says in the video above that his cronut dough is slightly different than croissant dough.

So I gave in and just went and bought some cronuts from the Croissant Factory on Riverside Boulevard and took them over to Doughbot for a taste test. I figured the best place to pick up a knockoff would be at least to pick them up from a place making croissants. The problem is, Croissant Factory croissants are nice, but they aren't REAL croissants. They are texturally different. Anyway, I ordered three with custard filling and chocolate glazed and headed over to Doughbot.

It's after tasting these copycat cronuts that I had my realization. Yes, there was a nice crunch on the outside and then a buttery, chewy texture as I ate it, but it was still nothing special. And as Bryan and I talked about it, it came to me why people stand in three hour lines and why these copycats will never compare. 

You can just see it in pictures.

The real cronut is TALL. The fakes are not. Real cronuts have beautiful separated layers. The fakes are not of the same quality.

Most copycat cronuts are not making real croissant dough from scratch. I doubt any of the ones in Sacramento are, although I don't know for sure. In fact, the only cronut I'll trust to be close to the original here in Sacramento is if Estelle's Patisserie makes them. (Estelle's is making them every Sunday. Sadly, they still don't come close to Ansel's. Was there buying a regular croissant since I was so disappointed at the croixnut.  It was 10:30 and they hadn't sold out yet. (Tip: they actually open at 8am so even tho they say croixnuts at 9, you can get them at 8).  Anyway, I was looking at them and they vary greatly in height. So my suggestion is that IF you are going to get a croixnut, be picky and point to the tallest one. You'll are much more likely to get it the way it should be, with lifted layers.)

Estelle's croixnut - still disappointing

So thus came my realization. Maybe I would stand in line for three hours to try Ansel's cronut if I ever go to NYC. After all, he's the originator, he's a pastry chef, and his do look beautiful in the pictures and videos I've seen. But these knockoffs in Sacramento?  I'll pass.