Fabiola and Melissa Baptiste schlepped down from Harlem at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning to stand in line at a swanky Soho bakery run by Chef Dominique Ansel. Their objective: one of his freshly baked Cronuts.
“I was like, what the heck is a Cronut?” says Fabiola, a Soho designer and manager at Mulberry, a leather goods fashion company with a store down the street. “So I looked online and thought, ‘wow’ – and mind you, I’m a food junkie, dessert junkie, sugar junkie – so, I was like, I need to try this once in my life.”
“So, today is my day off, and I said, ‘Ok, Melissa, don’t go to sleep tonight, we’re gonna’ go straight there,’ Ms. Baptiste continues. “So we came, and now today’s going to be our first time trying it, so I’m excited.” They got in line a little after 6 a.m., and at about 8:40, they still have about 50 people in front of them. The bakery opened at 8.
So what the heck is a Cronut? Well, as the name implies, its sort of a croissant and donut hybrid that has, in just 3-1/2 months, become a worldwide sweet-tooth sensation. And though there are knockoffs springing up all over now, Chef Ansel has applied to trademark the name, and his recipe remains the most talked-about pastry from Berlin to Singapore.
Already recognized as one of the sweetest pastry chefs in the city – the New York Post has called him the Willy Wonka of NYC – Chef Ansel spent two months and 10 tries coming up with the recipe.
Made with a laminated dough that is similar to a croissant (but not the same, he says), the pastry is proofed and fried in grapeseed oil, then rolled in sugar, filled with cream, and topped with a glaze. He makes only one flavor a month, however. The first flavor when it debuted May 10 was rose sugar with a Tahitian vanilla ganache, topped with a light rose glaze and crystallized rose petals – these sell at $5 a piece. Try ordering that at your local donut shop.
“It surprises me everyday,” e-mails Ansel, who was previously the executive pastry chef at Daniel, one of the few Michelin 3-star restaurants in Manhattan. “I hope it brings a little more attention to the pastry world, and inspires other chefs to be creative. The creativity – that's the most important part – has to continue. And that's the future of not just the Cronut, but of everything.”
His namesake Soho bakery is surrounded by some of the most expensive boutiques and restaurants in all Manhattan, and his other creations include guava lime and almond bourbon macarons, strawberry frasier pastries, and chocolate caviar tarts. Local resident celebs have been clamoring for Cronuts, as well.
Model Heidi Klum waited 2 weeks for her first taste, and then tweeted her Cronuts proudly – twice. Singer and actress Emma Roberts reportedly tried cutting the line for a Cronut, but was rebuffed by the bakery’s hired security.
Kidded about the incident on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Ms. Roberts said, innocently, that she just didn’t know where the line started. Fallon then presented her with a covered silver mini tray, which contained one of the rare flaky treats.
Thursday morning, Greg Harris, a customer service representative from San Diego, had been waiting in line since about quarter to 8 – much later than the 120 or so in front of him, and he still had a ways to go. He arrived in New York at 10 p.m. from San Diego on Wednesday, and by the time he got to his sister’s apartment in Brooklyn, it was nearly midnight. Still, he and his sister hopped on the subway around 7 to make the trip into the city.
“I wouldn’t call myself a ‘foodie,’ but I’m interested in food,” says Mr. Harris. “My friend told me she read about it, and she knows me, so I’ve been interested in it ever since I heard about it – so I thought this should be the first thing I do in New York.” His New Yorker sister rolled her eyes, however, giving a good-natured sneer.
For now, there are three ways to score a Cronut. You can stand in line for a couple of hours, but the bakery only allows two per person. You can also try to pre-order a six-pack by phone every other Monday for pick up some time in the following two weeks. But good luck with that – two-week blocks of pre-orders sell out in an hour or so. If you want a batch of 50 or more, you have to order at least a month in advance via e-mail.
The Cronut took off literally overnight. The day before its May 10 debut, there were more than 100,000 links to a small article in Grubstreet, a food blog for New York Magazine. There were lines of 20 the first two days, and in two weeks this escalated to more than 100, according to the bakery’s spokeswoman. Currently, about 250 people wait for as many as 3-1/2 hours for one of the 400 fresh Cronuts they bake every morning. They are usually sold out by 10 a.m.
And if you don’t want to stand in line, and you have money to bake, there’s a growing Cronut black market taking shape, with scalpers on Craigslist charging as much as $55 a pop.
But Chef Ansel cautions that his Cronuts must be eaten immediately, since they have a very short shelf life. They should never be refrigerated, since this will cause them to go stale and soggy. And they shouldn’t be reheated, either, since this would ruin the delicate ganache filling.
Michael Lee, a teacher’s assistant in Brooklyn, came up with two friends from Brooklyn, getting in line at 6 a.m. – two hours before the bakery opens. He says he came because a friend suggested a Cronut excursion as a way to spend time together – their busy city-that-never-sleeps lifestyles give them precious little time to get together otherwise.
Now it’s almost 9, and they’re finally about to enter the bakery.
“I’ve had one before – I mean, it’s not the sort of thing where you can just walk in and enjoy it,” Mr. Lee says. “It’s sort of this whole effort – you sort of set your expectations high. But it’s not mind-blowing.”