What was it that Shakespeare said about the cronut? “What’s in a name? A cronut by any other name would taste as sweet.” At least that’s how I like to think he’d approach America’s newest gustatory obsession and its rather unfortunate name.
Not that he’d even have to. As the past few weeks have proven, Americans (or perhaps, more specifically, New Yorkers) have no problem waiting in line for a chance to gobble a creation that sounds more like something you’d find under the hood of a car (as in, “pass me the wrench so I can tighten this loose cronut”) than a sweet and flaky treat. At Dominique Ansel Bakery, the birthplace of the “half croissant, half donut” phenomenon, lines start forming more than two hours before the bakery opens, and staff members have been known to comb the lines in search of cronut “scalpers.”
Like many others I know, the New York cronut craze drove me to disgust, eye rolling and above all, jealousy. That Manhattan should receive this pastry hybrid before Chicago seemed to me a grave injustice. How could New York, the land of fashion models, of starving actors, of Brooklyn hipsters, ever really appreciate a thing as magical as a cronut? As I tossed and turned at night, unable to shake the phantom image of croissant-y, donut-y goodness, I was forced to comfort myself the only way I knew how. “They don’t even have a Dairy Queen,” I whispered to the understanding darkness.
It appears the pastry gods heard my bedtime prayer. Last Saturday, the Logan Square bakery, La Boulangerie, launched its own version of the cronut, the “crognet” (as in a cross between a croissant and a beignet). If anyone can class up a cronut, it’s the French.
My heart soared. Not just because La Boulangerie is located down the street from my apartment, but also because I genuinely love the place. I rejoiced when I moved to the neighborhood, imagining the Sunday afternoons I’d spend over crepes and pain au raisin. I despaired when, due to a non-compete clause with a neighboring coffee shop, the bakery was forced to sell its signature croissants in bulk, instead of individually. And I rejoiced again when I realized this gave me a perfectly valid reason for ordering eight croissants at once (hey, it’s the law!). Yes, this crognet thing was going to be great…I could feel it.
I arrived at the bakery at approximately 8:45 am, not quite an hour after it opened, and found the inside nearly empty. Good, I thought to myself, convinced word of the crognets hadn’t yet reached the masses. More for me. My eyes scanned the pastry cases, the piles of fresh croissants and the neat shelves of baguettes, but I could find no sign of the heavenly rings. Panic began to set in.
Then, suddenly, I spotted them: four tiny circlets residing on a plate near the register. They were unmistakable. There was the telltale donut shape and the neatly scalloped edges showing off dozens and dozens of tender, croissant-like layers…like a short stack of paper-thin pancakes with a hole in the middle. I eyed the woman in front of me in line suspiciously, prepared to bodycheck her if it came to it.
Force, thankfully, proved unnecessary, and as my would-be foe left with her order, I threw myself on the counter and gesticulated wildly at the crognets. “Are these them?” I asked.
They were, and they were all that was left of the day’s supply. Apparently I hadn’t beaten the crognet rush…I had missed it. I ordered three––one plain, one fruit jam filled and one topped with white crème––and left the last (another jam filled) behind so that some other late-rising cronut-seeker could benefit from my self-restraint. Lucky bastard.
I practically skipped home. I had no qualms about devouring all three; in size they were far smaller than the average donut. I carefully cut each one open to examine the flaky inner layers, noticing, almost immediately how much grease glistened from the crisp outer edges, but being too far gone to care.
Sadly, my stomach was less forgiving. From the first bite I knew I was in trouble. By my third half I was sick. Not a satisfied kind of sick, not a stuffed kind of sick but a green-in-the-face kind of sick. Donuts are sweet, but crognets (at least the plain ones) tasted of little more than fried air. Croissants are buttery, but crognets are…oily. The plain version was by far the worst offender — its flavor more comparable to a plate of fried dough from a carnival concession stand than that of a croissant or a donut. Or, more accurately, a plate of fried dough that has emerged from the fryer only to be re-dipped in oil, spritzed with oil and finished with a drizzle of oil.
The frosted crème would prove far more palatable with the sweet and light icing––which was actually quite good––providing a bit of a distraction from the overly greasy pastry. The same can be said for the jam-filled, which bore a fresh-tasting and perfectly tart layer of raspberry preserves. If I had started with either of these, my initial impression of the crognet may have been different, but by the time I made it there, my cronut enthusiasm had already burst like a great big grease-filled balloon.
As I clutched my stomach and curled up into a fetal position on the floor, I found myself recalling other food fantasies that had gone from dream to nightmare somewhere between the first and last bites. The tur-duck-ens, the bacon sausages, the fast-food sandwiches with pieces of fried chicken in place of bread. Each one the culinary equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, begging the question, “Just because you can cook it, does that mean you should?”
When I came to several hours later, my stomach cramps had subsided. I checked my email to find a friend had emailed me about the newest sweets trend sweeping London, a brownie-tart combination known as the “townie.”
How much for a plane ticket?