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Crazy For Cronuts: Picking Apart The Tasty Trend
Originally published on Sat July 13, 2013 11:13 pm
You have probably never tasted it, but you have likely heard of it: the cronut.
It rolled out in May at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City. Since then, it has taken off. A black market has sprung up, with scalpers selling them for up to $100 a pop. Social and traditional media have lit up with coverage, and imitators around the world are trying to tap in on the success.
Chef-owner Dominique Ansel only makes about 300 cronuts a day. Some customers camp out overnight to get their hands on one. And some leave disappointed: Cronuts always sells out.
Lee Hatch didn't let that dissuade her. She and her husband were visiting Manhattan from Sydney, Australia, where they'd first hear about the cronut.
"This is our third attempt of lining up here," Hatch says. "And we thought, well, we're on holiday, we're here for a month, so we'll give it a go if it's the last thing we do before we go home."
Ansel worked on the recipe for two months, trying to perfect a dough that would hold up in the fryer and could be filled with cream, without becoming too soft.
He finally hit on a winning recipe, "something that people have not seen before," he says. "It's something that has a doughnut shape, it's flaky like a croissant, and that's why it's called a 'cronut.' "
So why has it caught on?
Irma Zandl is president of the consumer trends company Zandl Group. "There are parts of the brain that become super active when a fad idea is heard, and people want to pass it on," she says.
Then there is the nostalgia factor.
Allison Carruth is author of the new book, Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature in Food. She says Americans get wrapped up in foods that are tied up with a longing, "for the stuff of childhood and the stuff of our past, or at least our imagined past."
You can trace food trends back to the Renaissance, she says, when chocolate and spices took off. And in a way, it's not complicated: We like things that taste good.
"There is a kind of fundamental and even primal impulse in the human brain for food to also be pleasurable and to be communal and shared and delicious," Carruth says.
But a big difference between the Renaissance and today? Technology.
"One of the things that we've seen with the advent of all these blogs and social media is that people's desire to be tapped in and to be perceived to be somebody who is in the know is much greater," Zandl says.
The New York Magazine food blog Grub Street wrote about the cronut when Ansel first made them.
"And on the same night," Ansel says, "they called us and told us that their traffic on the website increased 300 percent, and they had over 140,000 links to the website."
It was then, Ansel says, he knew he had a hit. And the long lines outside the bakery are, in fact, part of it.
"The waiting itself is a huge part of the pleasure," Carruth says. "Not only because we feel we're participating in something that's fashionable or trendy, but because we're sort of signalling that we value a certain kind of experience."
And for those who can't make it to New York City to wait in a line, imitations have sprung up all over.
Ansel has trademarked the name "cronut," but in Washington, D.C., you can buy a doissant; in Vancouver, a frissant; and in the Philippines, Dunkin' Donuts has introduced the Donut Croissant. A Dunkin' Donuts spokesman says they have no plans to sell it in the United States at this time.
So how long can the cronut buzz last? As with everything else, there is a shelf life.
"We can only sustain so long one product, one brand, one entrepreneur having the spotlight," Carruth says. "So I would be surprised if a year from now there are still 10,000 tweets a month about the cronut."
Zandl says "it's going to wear off," but he says that's not necessarily a bad thing for Ansel.
"It's put him on the map in a way that he could not have imagined," Zandl says. "I think he will be able to parlay it into something more for his business."
Ansel says he won't forsake his other pastries for the cronut.
"Before the cronut, we were very, very busy at the bakery," he says. "If the cronut is not here tomorrow, we'll still be very busy."
And despite the current frenzy, Ansel says, he is not interested in mass-producing the cronut or jacking up the price. For now, he is still charging the original $5 per cronut and limiting customers to two each.
The flavors change each month — July's is blackberry lime. Ansel says he hasn't yet decided on August's flavor, but is considering coconut and passion fruit.
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
And if you're just joining us, it's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.
OK. You've probably never tasted this, but you may have heard of it, the cronut, that deep-fried cross between a donut and a croissant. Pastry chef Dominique Ansel invented it in May at his small bakery in New York City. And since then, it's taken off. Scalpers are selling them at a huge markup, and imitators around the world are trying to tap in on the success. NPR's Amy Held has the story.
AMY HELD, BYLINE: Dominique Ansel only makes about 300 cronuts a day. Some customers camp out overnight to get their hands on one. And some leave disappointed. The cronut always sells out. Still on a recent hot morning, the sidewalks of New York City hosted hopeful and intrepid customers from far and wide.
LEE HATCH: We actually heard it on the radio in Sydney, Australia.
AMIR BORENSTEIN: From my wife, actually. She saw it on German TV. And then we are by chance here in a hotel nearby, and we saw the line, and then we decided to queue up.
JEFF LEPLANTE: I'm on vacation from Montreal. I read it about it, so I want to try it.
AMY HELD BYLINE: Lee Hatch, Amir Borenstein and Jeff LaPlante.
HATCH: This is our third attempt of lining up here. And we thought, well, we're on holiday. So we're here for a month, so we'll give it a go if it's the last thing we do before we go home.
BYLINE: So what is this thing?
DOMINIQUE ANSEL: Something that has a donut shape. It's flaky like a croissant, that's why it's called a cronut. It's like somewhere between a croissant and a donut.
BYLINE: That's the mastermind behind it, Dominique Ansel, chef-owner of the Dominique Ansel Bakery.
ANSEL: I worked on the recipe for about two months before coming up with a recipe that could fry up easily with a dough that could like be filled with cream and glaze and still have nice consistency and not being too chewy or too soft.
BYLINE: Obviously, a winning formula. It sounds good. But a lot of pastries are good. There's got to be more to the cronut craze. I asked Irma Zandl about it. She's an expert on consumer behavior and trends.
IRMA ZANDL: There's parts of the brain that become super active when a fad idea is heard. And people want to pass it on.
BYLINE: Allison Carruth is author of the new book "Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature in Food." She says you can trace food trends back to the renaissance when chocolate and spices took off. In a way, it's not complicated. We like things that taste good.
ALLISON CARRUTH: We need to indulge. There's a kind of fundamental and even primal impulse in the human brain for food to also be pleasurable and to be communal and shared and delicious.
BYLINE: But a big difference between the renaissance and today, technology.
ZANDL: One of the things that we've seen with the advent of all these blogs and social media is that people's desire to be tapped in and to be perceived to be somebody who's in the know is much greater.
BYLINE: The food blog Grub Street wrote about the cronut when Dominique Ansel first made just a couple dozen. He says that same day, they told him traffic went up 300 percent with more than 140,000 links to their website. And it was then Ansel knew he had a hit. And those long lines? Turns out it's all part of it.
MEGAN BYRD: It's all about the experience. You have to come wait in line, get excited. You can smell the sugar coming out of the bakery.
BYLINE: That's Megan Byrd. But for those who can't make it to New York City and smell that sugar, imitations have sprung up all over. Ansel has trademarked the name cronut, but in Washington, D.C., you can buy a doissant. In Vancouver, a frissant, and in the Philippines, Dunkin' Donuts has introduced the donut croissant. A Dunkin' Donut spokesman says they don't have any plans to sell it in the United States at this time.
But is the media glare and all the copycats overkill setting up the cronut for a collapse? Allison Carruth.
CARRUTH: We can only sustain so long one product, one brand, one entrepreneur having the spotlight. And so I would be surprised if a year from now there are still 10,000 tweets a month about the cronut.
BYLINE: Dominique Ansel says he's not interested in mass-producing the cronut or jacking up the price. For now, he's still charging the original $5 per cronut and limiting customers to just two. It's Ann Duckett's reward for her two-hour wait.
ANN DUCKETT: It's a little on the small side. Nice color. The blackberry looks pretty. I'm going to take a bite. Mm. Totally worth it. Totally worth it.
BYLINE: Amy Held, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.