The Cronut™(henceforth known as “the hybrid” for ease of typing). I don’t need to link to a description or spend time telling you what it is. After it’s introduction almost two and a half years ago, anyone who has a mild interest in eating pastries will have brushed up against a facsimile or been unable to avoid the PR and baking juggernaut that is its creator Dominique Ansel. I am someone who is more often than not indifferent to both croissants and doughnuts, so while completely intrigued by the arrival of the hybrid, I was not going to line up at 5 a.m. for one. And since the introduction, I’ve never gotten the impression that it was worth that level of crazy. Fun, interesting, novel. But not OMG-so-delicious-I-want-that-in-my-mouth-always. I resigned to make do with Dominique’s very good and easy to acquire kouign ammans and trying a new creation when it doesn’t require me to get up in the middle of the night, like the burrata soft serve.
But knowing that there were a limited number of hybrids that could be pre-ordered two weeks in advance and picked up without having to wait in line, I never ignored the hybrid. Just like with Shake Shack’s Custard Calendar, I pay attention to the new monthly flavour that the bakery creates. And again like with custard, I’m always much more interested in the fall and winter concoctions as warmly spiced, holiday-like combinations are my jam. It must have been fate for October’s flavour of horchata to occur when a doughnut-loving friend and colleague would be leaving NYC for greener pastures. A send-off with one of the city’s biggest contributions to the contemporary pastry canon seemed appropriate. And anything reminiscent of that ubiquitous cinnamon and rice-based Mexican beverage would work for me. Most especially because Instagrammers I follow who tried one suggested that it was one of the best hybrid flavours to date. I set an alarm to make the online pre-order, and my heart skipped a beat when my order for the max per person (six) made it to the checkout page.
The hybrid would be mine at last. And it would be mine for the novelty and to judge. Getting up an hour earlier to add the trip downtown to my commute was the effort I made in honour of my departing friend; getting the hybrids was my moment at last to gauge the hype. Based on my preferences, I’ve always expected to dislike it. I’ve read it’s greasy, too rich, and too sweet. All reasons that, if given a choice, I would go to a boulangerie over a pastisserie. I was happy that I was going to share the moment among friendly colleagues, but I was fearful that my displeasure might sour it.
To my great surprise, my reaction to the horchata hybrid was pretty much, “OMG-so-delicious-I-want-that-in-my-mouth-always.”
It was, amazing. As it’s taller than a normal doughnut, I opened wide and went in. The creamy cinnamon custard that was barely being held by the hybrid’s layers swiftly oozed out all over my cheeks and chin. I then deconstructed it, pinching off pieces of the crisp outer ring and then the doughy middle, all the while getting the custard and cinnamon sugar all over every bit and every fingertip. The little rice krispie adornment looked good, but was gone too quickly to add to the experience. The icing was the too-sweet element for me, but there wasn’t enough to cause a toothache. I didn’t get much more than cinnamon and maybe some vanilla in the custard, but that was fine by me. Because in the end, the fried buttery mass became more than simply a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. With the just-rich-enough custard, it became a party between those two pastries plus a cinnamon bun. The texture pushed all the crave-inducing cinnamon bun buttons: the firm, browned bun top, the doughy middle, the richness from the butter, the dairy fat mouthfeel from the cream cheese icing. I was shocked. In love. And so satisfied.
But… my skepticism warns that it was only this flavour of hybrid that would make me happy. Possibly. My critic was not dormant. I won’t complain about the sweetness of the caramel icing again because it’s personal. I don’t like glazes, frostings, and icings, and I know they should be on the sweeter side. But the texture was not ideal and revealed just how important it is to eat a hybrid while fresh. I think that Dominique has said that the shelf life is something like four to six hours. We ate ours about two hours after they came out of the fryer, and I don’t think I’d have wanted to push it to three. The icing hardens quickly, forming the tell-tale skin that cracks upon touching. Just like a croissant, the sheer amount of butter used to make the layers can make the pastry, well, greasier than you’d like as it ages, as well as wreaking havoc with the textural contrast between the outside and inside. The same as with a doughnut. And also like a doughnut, the moisture from a cream filling can start to soak through, ruining the height, layers, and integrity of the pastry. Eating it fresh is not a criticism, because I wouldn’t want to eat a croissant or doughnut after more than four hours either, just an observation that until the hybrid begins to be produced around the clock, it is firmly an early morning treat.
I’ve written way too many words about something I never imagined I would actually get to eat and never imagined I would actually like. Hip hip hooray for the picky eater who lives in one of the greatest eating cities in the world, I suppose.
I saw today that December’s flavour is milk chocolate-pear-gingerbread. Buttons are lighting up. Do I dare push them?