At 7:15 a.m., the tiny, packed counter in Manhattan’s Soho district roars to life.
Pastry chefs whiz by with trays of freshly molded croissant dough, small works of art brushed with egg white glaze, ready to be quick-fired in the oven as if clay for the kiln. Rows of brightly colored macaroons in watercolor hues line display cases, along with slices of mousse cakes and shining dark chocolate eclairs. A baker walks by, smiling shyly while she balances two Mother’s Day cakes covered in lavender glaze.
But the bakery’s trademark is hidden from view, so famous that it doesn’t even need to be on display. Exactly five years ago, Chef Dominique Ansel invented the “Cronut” — a fluffy, croissant / donut pastry hybrid filled with cream that inspired record-breaking lines, a marriage proposal, and countless imitations.
‘Today’s the Cronut’s birthday,” said Kirsten Aldrich, a pastry sous chef at the Dominique Ansel bakery on Spring Street, smiling. Her chef’s uniform is starch white — not a crumb to be seen. In her hands, she holds aloft a white plate with a single “Cronut” — the flavor, she said, is strawberry fior de latte. “It’s laminated the way a croissant would be, and it’s a three-day process from start to finish.”
For anyone who has ever tried making a croissant, the process is laborious — laminating dough means that small pats of butter have to be folded in between layers, which are then folded into an envelope shape and pressed down, only for the process to be repeated again. This lends the finished pastry its trademark buttery flakiness. Ansel’s bakery has its own laminator — a machine that creates buttery layers in the dough, but the bakery’s “Cronuts” are still made by hand.
By the counter, Chris Johnson, a pastry cook, slowly begins to glaze a row of the coveted pastries, making slow, concentric circles. The “Cronut” is still baked in top secret, and the popularity of the dessert item prompted Ansel to trademark the dessert creation, though countless imitations have still been spawned. On the website, a disclaimer warns customers to beware of “Cronut imitators.”
At 7:50 a.m., someone runs out to distribute cookie shots to waiting customers.
“Ten minutes till opening!” someone calls across the counter.
Then, a small line of customers pads in, some getting lattes, some ordering lattes, and some picking up the trademark yellow boxes, Cronuts tucked inside. A woman leaves with a large box, smiling in satisfaction.