The Cronut Chronicles - Part 1

The Cronut Chronicles - Part 1
First tests and attempts to conquer the cronut...

The cronut, it seems, is taking the pastry world by storm. Created by celebrated pastry chef Dominique Ansel at his eponymous bakery in New York (Soho) this May, the lines have been astronomical as demand for the cronut reaches a near frenzy. The bakery sells out just minutes after opening, limits the amount a customer can buy, and bakeries around the country and the world are desperately trying to copy the product to cash in on the fad (Ansel has even copyrighted the cronut name to stop knockoffs from cashing in on his pastry genius.). Now, while I was in NYC this July, I had no desire to wait hours in line for a cronut, so I visited the bakery later in the day, ate some delectable treats while I was there, and thought it would be a fun challenge to see if I could create the cronut at home. It took Dominique Ansel (professional pastry God) 10 recipe attempts before he perfected the cronut, so I knew this wouldn't be a one time attempt, but rather, a series of tests, and a chance to sharpen my own pastry skills and knowledge.

The cronut has its name because it is a hybrid croissant and donut. So I figured test one would be to simply cut and fry croissant dough. I make croissants enough (check out my croissant recipe here) that I knew I had a reliable dough for this first test. I wasn't expecting success, I knew it couldn't be as easy as simply frying croissant cutouts, but I figured it was good to see the starting point so I'd know which factors I wanted to mess with. 

Fried croissant dough plain...
And covered in powdered sugar.

The first thing I noticed was the severe lack of puff, and that my cut edges browned way faster than the exposed dough. This gave me my first proof that the laminated fat in the cronut dough shouldn't be all butter. With butter's low burning point, it seemed to seal the edges. Nevertheless, the pastry was still delicious, albeit rather dense. This density also made me question whether or not the starting dough should be regular croissant dough. I had seen knock-off recipes that were getting decent results laminating yeast donut dough. I thought there might be something to playing with the base dough as well.

My next attempt happened in Philadelphia. I was visiting my friend Steph for a cooking weekend and we decided to bust into these cronuts together, testing 2 doughs and two fat combos for 4 different versions. We used her base croissant dough (similar to mine, but without the wheat flour and always using malt syrup) and a yeast donut dough, and laminated half of each with a butter/shortening blend and a margarine/shortening blend.

Our test butter/margarine blocks
Donut dough on left, croissant on right

Our four test versions

We got all the combos working, and started our tests. We made the doughs, laminated them, cut the rounds, then placed on trays to proof for a few hours before we fried. We froze some and fried them the next day as well. In the end results, we liked both donut dough batches better than the croissant dough, but there were some missteps in our attempt.

First, as we worked and laminated our doughs, we had a lot of seepage issues, the longer we worked the warmer our cooking space got. The donut dough, being softer than the croissant dough, was by far easier to laminate as the fat heated up, we were both more successful at handling that dough, even though we are both experienced croissant makers. Also, during the frying, as the butter seeped and burned into the oil, we were probably frying too hot. And lastly, even our best results had a cakey interior, rather than flaky layers.

We were close, and again the results were absolutely delicious (how bad can fried dough be?) but we weren't there yet. I was determined to get this right.

4 test versions fried. The 2 on the right were both the donut doughs.

Glazed and filled with pastry cream. Looking pretty good. We were definitely on the right track.

I returned home ready to kick the cronut's butt, but as I worked, I saw some trends emerging....

Following the same procedure of making dough, laminating, cutting, proofing, then frying, I was consistently getting a cakey interior.

They also weren't puffing they way I wanted.
Also, after proofing, the cronuts were very delicate and would get squashed, rise sideways, or dented from even the gentlest handling.

This was going on with both dough types.

So I pulled an unproofed cronut out of the freezer and dropped it directly into the hot oil.
It was a revelation! Cue the angelic singing, slow-motion close-up and begin cheering. The cronuts were finally puffing, rising straight up, the laminated layers were holding better, and I got my best looking results so far.

Pulled directly from the freezer into the fryer.

Top view, how pretty!
My excitement was short lived though. While I had made a gorgeous cronut, when I cut into it, I found the interiors were still raw. You couldn't fry a cronut from frozen stage and get the insides completely cooked before it burned.

So, two steps forward and one step back, but at least I had learned. "Next time," I told myself, "I'll have the cronut conquered."

To be continued....

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