Cronuts were the hottest (and probably only) pastry trend of 2013. There were crazy lines, media attention, and many articles. In short the world went crazy for Cronuts–even though other bakeries had done similar things before.
It was the end of 2016, and the Cronut craze was (amazingly) still going strong. I wanted to resist, but, as a tourist in New York City, I had to try one out.
I’ve never actually had a plain Cronut before—but I did have a fake. In 2014 I had a “New York Croissant Donut” at a Dunkin Donuts in South Korea. (The foreigners are stealing our jobs—and our Cronuts!)
As you can see from this closeup, it was roughly donut-shaped, and sugared on the outside, but made with layered croissant dough. It was actually pretty good. Given that the fake was that tasty, I had high expectations for the real thing.
We arrived around 11 and there was a huge line outside. Probably 25-40 people. My sister had the prescience to suggest one of us go inside to see if this was just a line for Cronuts, or a line to get into the store. It was just a line for Cronuts, so we went into the bakery—where we were greeted with a comparatively short line.
Still it took us 15 minutes to get to the cashier. We got a selection of items; a croissant, a hot chocolate, a gingerbread croissant, and a DKA, which is a Kouign-amann. I asked the cashier when I should come back to snag a Cronut. She gave a vague and unhelpful answer suggesting I should come back as early as possible. I paid for our food, then sat down.
The hot chocolate is worth mentioning because it has a notable gimmick–a blossoming marshmallow that, when placed into the hot liquid, expands to look like a flower.
It looked great, but the taste was mediocre and it cost $7. It was also served in a gigantic cup which would be difficult for anyone but the most die-hard hot chocolate guzzling fans to finish. Maybe he felt that the only way to charge $7 for hot chocolate was to put it in a huge cup, or maybe Ansel is just appealing to the basest instincts of the American consumer, but I would’ve been much happier to pay $7 for a small but exceptional cup of hot chocolate than a large but unremarkable cup.
I think we need to Make Cronuts Great Again.
Then, just as we were about to leave, the line for Cronuts was merged with the regular line. The manager announced that anyone could buy a Cronut. On the one hand, I was happy that I could not get what I came for without waiting in a 50 person line. On the other hand, the cashier who I had just asked for advice had never mentioned the possibility that, sometimes, you can just walk into the store and buy a Cronut. Maybe I was exceptionally lucky. Or maybe the employees are in on the game of keeping up the appearance of the Cronut as an item that needs to be waited in line for. It feels like the latter.
It was now or never, so I got back in line, waited another 10 minutes, and bought two Cronuts.
The Moment of Truth
There’s something important we should note here: To keep interest high, the flavor changes by the month. When I visited in December there was a Christmas themed “White Chocolate Peppermint with Cherry.” January’s better-sounding flavor is “Golden Honey Vanilla with Lemon Sugar.”
This was a shrewd marketing decision since it makes each flavor a limited-time opportunity and encourages people to come back. (Perhaps Jonah Berger will write about this someday.) But each month’s flavor is a bit over the top and polarizing. In both December and January they are mixing together three flavors at once, to decidedly mixed results.
We realized this firsthand when we bit into our Cronuts. My sister’s smile quickly turned to a frown as she boldly said, “That Cronut was so bad I hated it.”
I roughly felt the same way. There was just too much going on, and the cherry honestly didn’t mix well with the peppermint. It was also way too sweet.
I carefully ripped off pieces of the Cronut that were untouched by white chocolate, peppermint, or cherry filling, and I really liked it. Fundamentally the Cronut is a sound–if simple–invention. But all of these over-the-top flavors are not doing it any favors. I wish there were the option to buy a plain, unadultered Cronut instead of having to put up with these flavor-of-the-month choices. That’s the long way of saying I think we need to Make Cronuts Great Again.
We talked to some other tourists from Florida, sitting right next to us. They too were disappointed and surprised Ansel mixed so many flavors all at once.
Overall, Cronuts are a good product that has lost its way. The underlying foundation is solid, but mixing together three flavors at once is a recipe for disaster. Even my New York Croissant Donut was better than this. Let’s get back to basics, then maybe we can make Cronuts great again.