LAS VEGAS — It was madness, sweet madness, those mornings in May, a decade ago, on Spring Street in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.
Chef Dominique Ansel had just introduced the Cronut, his pastry (now famous worldwide) made from croissant-style dough formed into doughnuts, then fried and filled with flavored cream. A blogger posted about the pastry, in an early example of food going viral (Instagram was less than 3 years old in May 2013).
Outside Dominique Ansel Bakery, people began lining up in the wee hours, 150 or more, for a shot at the Cronuts, which were produced in limited amounts because of the involved technique and quality control.
“People were cutting in line, getting in fights. The neighbors were upset by the noise, calling the police. It was crazy out there,” Ansel recalled Wednesday at Dominique Ansel Las Vegas, the bakery he opened in October 2022 in CaesarsPalace.
The man dubbed the world’s greatest pastry chef was in town to mark the 10th anniversary of the Cronut. In Vegas, that milestone features Cronut holes with fillings from Ansel shops around the world and pastry-case confections celebrating memories of summer ice cream trucks.
The Cronut holes are available Friday through Sunday or while supplies last. The seven summer ice cream pastries, debuting in May, range from strawberry kakigori (Japanese shave ice) and almond biscuit to an ice cream sandwich made with flourless chocolate chip cookies to a chiffon cake, yuzu curd and orange marmalade sicle.
The Cronut was born of love and marital duty. In early 2013, Ansel’s wife asked him to fashion a special doughnut for Mother’s Day weekend.
“I thought, ‘I’m French. I don’t have any recipe for doughnuts,’” said Ansel, referring to the fact the French don’t really eat doughnuts. “But she insisted, and she insisted enough that I did it.”
Beyond their flavor and popularity, Cronuts are a feat of pastry engineering. For one, without the proper oil, temperature, timing and exact ingredient adjustments, croissant dough comes apart in the fryer. It took Ansel three months of testing before getting the recipe right, and Cronuts still take three days to make.
The first Cronut flavor? Rose water and vanilla, perfect for Mother’s Day.
From baked goods to body creams
The Cronut was also born of good lawyering. As the lines stretched along Spring Street, Ansel’s attorney offered some advice: Trademark the name of the pastry.
“Very few chefs and people from the food industry know about trademarks,” Ansel said. “My lawyer insisted. She said, ‘It’s not just a pastry; it’s a phenomenon.’ This was so overwhelming for me. I was sleeping two to three hours a night. All the problems these pastries created for us.”
In the early days, Cronut imitators and outright infringers flourished. Cease-and-desist letters had to be sent (something required by U.S. law to maintain the potentcy of the trademark). A decade in, rip-offs are rare, Ansel said. “Everybody knows the Cronut is us.”
Today, Cronut is federally trademarked for baked goods and for beauty creams, jewelry and carryall bags. A registration for a Cronut NFT is pending.
The hunt for flavors
Since introducing the Cronut, Ansel has created other pastries that have enjoyed wide online attention, including his frozen s’mores and his chocolate cookie shot glasses filled with vanilla milk. But the Cronut remains the marquee performer.
“It’s like asking the singer to sing the same song. People will always go back and ask you to do your biggest hits,” Ansel said. And he’s fine with that. “It’s still fun.”
Every month, the fun brings an increasing challenge because Cronut flavors are distinct to each of Ansel’s bakeries; there’s no overlap among the shops. After 10 years and more than 250 iterations, the search for flavors has gone global.
“I like exotic ingredients, herbs, teas, something more intricate,” Ansel said. “I have been playing with ube lately. I like Asian ingredients, pandan. I like exotic fruits, but not everything is good inside a Cronut.”
Case in point: pineapple. The ingredient has occasionally been used, but its acid must be tightly managed so it doesn’t interfere with the yeast in the dough.
Sometimes, Cronuts surprise the chef. The pear and sage version, an offbeat flavor combination? Customers loved them. But not so much the classic holiday pairing of chocolate and peppermint. That one still puzzles Ansel.
French vs. Americans
On Tuesday in New York, Ansel tasted six months of new Cronut flavors for his bakeries there, he said. He flew into Vegas and promptly tasted six months of new flavors for the Caesars Palace shop. He lamented the disappearance of pastry chefs from American restaurants, praised the skills of the Caesars pastry team and reflected on his fellow French.
“French people don’t want to try Cronuts. They don’t see the complexity of what the Cronut is. Once they test it, they appreciate it. But French people are not the most adventurous.”
So thank goodness, for the Cronut, that Americans never met a doughnut they didn’t like.
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