Friday 19 July 2013

Cronuts in New York

I can't believe I'm queuing in the rain with another hundred plus people to buy a ‘cronut’ at Dominique Ansel bakery in Spring Street in New York. This cronut which has been sending New Yorkers into a frenzy is a hybrid of a deep-fried croissant and doughnut.

Standing in line at Dominique Ansel bakery
It is 7. 35am and it's pelting rain. Beside me there is a Japanese lady from Boston and a chap from UBS who has just come off a night shift, the line now stretches all along Sullivan Street, and it’s made up of mostly young people, hipster types - “They'll be onto something new next week - that’s New York for you, everyone’s looking out for the next big thing,” says the cool lycra clad girl in a baseball hat beside me. She 'in wine' and has run from the other side of Central Park but her work doesn’t start till 11.30.  At the edge of the side walk a white van from the Avon Foundation for Women, emblazoned with “God’s Love We Deliver” is collecting food parcels to deliver to the needy. The irony is not lost on us, here are we standing in line for extra calories we don't need!

The sleepy guy beside me tells me he's a student doing an MBA in business and he's only doing this because he's in the ‘dog house’ with his girlfriend, he’s hoping to get two cronuts as a surprise for her, I don't like to ask why. Some people are playing on their phones others are swapping “how crazy am I” stories. Some enterprising dudes have been queuing in line since 6am to buy the allocated two ‘cronuts’ per person, then they plan to sell the five dollar pastries for 20 dollars each to supplement their welfare, it's mad.

Dominique Ansel has trademarked the cronut, the demand is insane and so the challenge of copying it and coming up with a new name is exercising bakers all over New York and beyond. There are already some knock offs called ‘doissants’ and ‘croughnuts’.

A TV camera has just passed along and there's a second, they are wanting to try to understand what the heck all the fuss is about, obviously a grey haired lady stands out from all the cool young things so they want to know why I'm there, when they hear I come from Ireland they are even more incredulous and want to know what flavour I'm queuing for, I didn't even know there were different flavours!

My cronut!
At 8am the line starts to move around the corner, the door of the bakery on Spring Street has obviously opened, and then it moves ever so slowly. It’s still pouring rain and everyone in the queue has bonded and are having convivial chats. It's now 8.15am and we are around the corner on to Spring Street. By now, passers-by going to work are bemused as they survey the long line. It’s after 8:30am we're up to the door, they let in about 15 people at a time and then we queue along the counter. There are lots of other options, little boxes of madeleines are cooked to order, burnished canelles are being turned out of their copper moulds, a woman baker is dipping long slim éclairs in coffee fondant icing, six or seven people are serving behind the counter and they haven’t taken a breath since 8am. At 9.20am the queue outside finishes but people are still coming in in dribs and drabs so the queue at the counter never ends, it's now quarter to 11 and there are still people in line, and of course disappointed because the ‘cronuts’ have been sold out since just before 9am but there are still lots of other beautiful patisserie to choose from.

Two Japanese girls recording their magic cronut moment - there was a lot of this going on! 
I’ve been sitting at a little table by the window watching the action for several hours now; I ate my precious ‘cronut’ with a cup of coffee, it turned out to be a deep fried doughnut shaped ring tender yet light and crunchy, with a circle of lemon maple icing. It was definitely good but certainly on the sweet side, the DKA (Dominique's Kouign Amann) is also delicious.

When I met Dominique he was so kind and gracious despite the queue of food writers and TV crews wanting a piece of him. The baker who has suddenly found himself the hottest thing on the Big Apple food scene seems shy and slightly shell shocked by all the attention. When he was 18 he landed a job at Fauchon in Paris, where he spent eight years and then went on to open all the bakeries for Fauchon around the world.

He caught the attention of Daniel Boulud who invited him to New York. While he was pastry chef at Daniel they were awarded three Michelin stars and four stars in the New York Times.

Myself and Dominique
Just a year and half ago he started his own bakery on a small budget, in a tiny premises on Spring Street, and even painted the walls himself. When I enquired how the cronut came about, it was almost accidental – apparently he had been experimenting with various versions and when they got an A from their Health Inspector, he made this confection and celebrated with his staff. They loved it and thought it should be the new fun summer item. Someone posted a photo online, and it had 140,000 ‘likes’ within 24 hours – whoaaa!

It’s all happening for Dominique Ansel at present, he was recently presented with a James Beard Award, well deserved.