Time in the pastry world can be divided into two distinct periods: Before the Cronut and In the Cronut Era.
Before the Cronut, a hybrid treat created this past May by New York City-based patissier Dominique Ansel, consumers had to settle for the pedestrian doughnut, or the highfalutin’-but-somehow-unsatisfying croissant. By marrying these two standards, Ansel created something that many believe is greater than the sum of its parts. Such a commotion has sprung up around the pastry that people wait hours in line for it at the Dominique Ansel Bakery (because they are made by hand, there is a limited supply of Cronuts, and they sell out early.). It’s spawned a cottage industry of copycats and launched a thousand news stories and food blog entries.
Ansel did not foresee the amazing success of his creation.
“I was very surprised in the beginning,” he said. “We launched the Cronut just to have a new addition to the menu, something fun and exciting to eat, something original.”
The day before the Cronut launched, Ansel was satisfied that he had added simply another pastry to his roster of treats.
“I just went to bed,” he said.
When he woke up, everything had changed – and the Era of the Cronut had begun.
“The following days were busier and busier and busier, and the lines were forming outside of the shop very quickly.”
Customers were drawn to the novelty of the pastry, and its unique structure. The dough is, in Ansel’s words, “flaky and very light, fluffy. It is similar to croissant dough. It is filled with crème inside, a warm sugar, and glaze on top. And it is very fun to eat.”
According to Ansel, “People cut it in half and see all the layers, and maybe peel them off. Or, they just bite into it.”
Though this Franken-pastry’s success happened almost literally overnight, it took Ansel about two months to develop the recipe.
“I had tried about 10 different recipes in order to find the right ratio, the right proportion of the dough, the flakiness, something that we want to be able to fry easily, not too greasy, something you could fill with creme.”
Ansel, whose slender frame belies his profession, is no culinary newcomer. He knew he wanted to be a chef “since I was little, since I was maybe 12. I loved to cook at home and I always loved and enjoyed being in the kitchen to cook and prepare food for my parents.”
He worked for the French bakery Fauchon for several years, and then for famed restaurateur Daniel Boulud, before opening his own bakery in 2011.
For Ansel, being a pastry chef at the top of his class “is a lifetime commitment. The hours that go into it, a lot of hard work, there is no more weekend, no more family or friends that you can hang out with. You dedicate your life to cooking, and you must love it if you do it, you really must love it.”
Ansel’s approach to his craft is “very, very scientific. You have to be very precise and everything has to be measured. You have to scale everything, you have to take the temperature for everything and time everything. Pastry is science. You cannot change it. You have to respect all the formulas and all the recipes.”
Despite the Cronut’s popularity, Ansel has no plans to increase output.
For one thing, his bakery has “a very, very tiny kitchen. We only have one table to work, and we have a large selection of beautiful pastries that I want to keep doing.”
Ansel doesn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder. “I don’t want to turn this shop into a Cronut shop,” he said. “I’m constantly working on something new, something fun. I think a good chef should never stop creating something and I like always to push myself to make something new.”
Ansel has a message for all his bakery visitors at the end of the Cronut line: do not despair.
“If you don’t get a Cronut, it’s okay, we have a lot of other good things. Try the kouign-amann, which is my favorite, actually. It’s like this very flaky, caramelized croissant. It’s delicious, it’s very special and it is still my favorite.”
ABC's Mary-Rose Abraham, Andrew Lampard, Beryl Shereshewsky, Dave Kovenetsky, and Stephanie Beach contributed to this episode.