I have yet to consume a Cronut, but my friend Wendy Chan did, and she was kind enough to file this dispatch from the front lines of food faddery in Soho. Take it away Wendy . . .
While grocery shopping at Stew Leonard’s this summer, I walked past the bakery where samples were passed out for a taste of their new product, a croissant donut. The bakery team there claimed this new hybrid is made from 162 layers of butter and dough, deep-fried to golden perfection. I knew this “Cro Do” was a copycat product, but I would not miss a chance to try it.
It did taste pretty good, still piping hot. I was sold. Frankly, butter makes everything taste good! Deep fried? Darn it! Irresistible! It’s retailed at $3.99 for two. I bought half a dozen to share with friends that evening. No line, no fuss.
My daughter ,Veronica, had already introduced me to the original Cronut, created by Dominique Ansel, but it didn’t impress me. But then, it was frozen overnight, as a thoughtful gift of love, (well, she had to get up early to stand in line for it) so it was not a fair verdict.
On a foggy, misty fall Sunday morning, my husband and I decided to eat out for breakfast, and to discover what the Cronut craze is all about. We wisely went to Mille-feuille Bakery-Café on Laguardia first, where we were among the few customers ordering the normal coffee and baked goods. We decided to try their French Donut, which is offered in three varieties: chocolate, vanilla bean, and raspberry.I devoured the vanilla bean one, which actually surpassed my expectations. Soft and buttery, with the right amount of sugariness, I felt it was well-balanced, and didn’t mind giving up some of my caloric quota. My husband absolutely loved the chocolate version.
Since Dominique Ansel was just a few minutes walk from Mille-Feuille, we figured we’d pick up a couple to compare and contrast. It would also be a study of what makes something ordinary turn into something extraordinary, and even legendary. And, at least we wouldn’t be starving when standing in line.
The sight of this long line as we approached the bakery told us that the Cronut (a trade-marked moniker) craze was still in full swing. We hesitated, but decided to tough it out. An orderly line of Cronut fans stood under some gorgeous mature gingko trees. In front were two visiting Israeli young guys, who quickly befriended the girl who kept her place in line after her friend decided to bail and headed home. Further up front was someone still with luggage in tow, just touched down in Newark. Two elderly women with a printed Google map patiently joined the legion of fans forming the line that coiled around the park, “for an experience,not so much the taste,” they confessed.
There was a fellow doing crowd/line management, to keep peace and order, like a bouncer outside a hot night club. Every so often a woman in an apron came out to admit a dozen or so people. She then would hand out a small baguette, as her way of keeping count and breaking people into batches. The two Korean girls who were handed the baguette almost refused the bread, thinking it was the bakery feeding starving customers!
Once inside, the alluring aroma of baked goods smell spiked up everyone’s desire and appetite. We had to go all the way to the back of the same line to wait for someone to take our order. Every person can only buy two, but there was a separate cash register for customers eating in (Cronuts excluded) or ordering other things. The flavor of the month is apple. Almost everyone snapped photos inside with their smart phones, taking in the climactic moment of meeting the “legend.” It was a giddy scene like being backstage of a rock concert.
We picked up 20 pieces of Madeleine ($6.50) on top of the four Cronuts allowed, at $5 a piece. We had officially become members of the herd. Big branded shopping bag in hand, we walked out to the envy of those still waiting.
I joked with my husband that perhaps some fitness guru should promote their business by offering free exercise moves for those in line. Burn some calories before adding them back later. One visiting Californian tourist laughed and declared, “I could not believe I am doing this!” Ditto, and I’m not even a tourist.
Back home, while it was still fresh (brought home gingerly to ensure they would arrive in perfect condition), we offered to share with our daughters. In comparison to Mille-feuille’s, this American invention was a bit more chewy and dense. Flavor and texture wise, I have to give it to Mille-Feuille’s, as this French cousin was sliced open for the filling while the Cronut’s filling was piped in by poking through the pastry bag like a conventional donut. Both at $5 each, I think the French one scores higher.
So, hate me if you must, but I would return to Mille-Feuille as I would patronize Lady M, for a leisurely cup of coffee with an occasional guilty pleasure, but unlikely to stand in line for an hour plus, especially in cold temperatures early in the morning just for the “legend!”
Mille-feuille Bakery-Café, 552 Laguardia Pl.,212-533-4698
Dominique Ansel Bakery,189 Spring St., 212-219-2773
Wendy Chan is the president of New York-based Definity Marketing, a marketing consulting firm. She produced Asian Feastival and co-authored “New Asian Cuisine,” and is an influencer, passionate about sustainability. She serves on the Certification Commission of the American Culinary Federation and the Diversity Council of The Specialty Food Association.