Breakfasts of New York: Dominique Ansel Bakery
189 Spring Street
+1 212 219 2773
Posted in the run-up to the US release, on 28 May, of The Breakfast Bible.
Whither the cupcake? At almost eight years since the craze started, it is on the verge of becoming an Age. Punk, by comparison, was a potent force for merely seven years. Isn't that depressing? One generation got to be excited about blue mohicans and Anarchy in the UK; ours is in a permanent hooha over something whose Wikipedia entry begins "a small cake designed to serve one person," and continues, "which may be baked in a small thin paper or aluminium cup".
Recently, however, there has been an increase in what you might call 'cupdeath chatter', defined as the rate of cupcake obituaries uploaded onto news and snark websites. It started when the cupcake chain Crumbs Bake Shop saw its share price (yes, there are cupcakes on Nasdaq) plummet after announcing that sales were down by 22%. ("FORGET GOLD," said the Wall Street Journal's headline, "THE GOURMET-CUPCAKE MARKET IS CRASHING").
Then Dominique Ansel Bakery unveiled their cupcake killer: a new breakfast-friendly pastry called a 'cronut', combining the texture of a croissant with the shape and fried-ness of a donut. For a couple of mornings it sold out really quickly. 'Are cronuts the new cupcakes?' hooted the international media.
I happened to be in Manhattan just three days after the launch of the cronut; it seemed churlish not to pop in. We arrived late in the morning. Too late – not only had they sold out of cronuts, but all of the waiting lists were full. It was as if I was trying to secure a good apartment in 1970s Moscow. Nevertheless, after a conversation with their press handler they agreed they would hold one back for me the next day. So back we went.
The interior of Dominique Ansel Bakery (there is pleasant outdoor seating) almost entirely consists of a counter and a queue. Strangely, a leather-jacketed man was lurking near the doorway, trying to persuade people to take business cards for his hairdressing shop. On the counter were gift packages of cookies and macarons. Early Belle & Sebastian was playing on the stereo. When I reached the front of the line I was handed a golden box containing a cronut ($5) plus another treasure: a kouign amann ($5.25), the traditional pastry of Brittany (it is pronounced "queen, a man"). Also, for the hell of it, I ordered their 'perfect little egg sandwich' ($5).
I liked the cronut more than I like a donut. Biting through layers of fried croissant pastry rather than the conventional dense dough, you are surprised by its overall lightness. It feels delicate, and not too gimmicky, and like a distinct item in its own right, rather than a Frankenstein-esque hybrid. You can imagine – if Ansel's secret method ever gets out – a cronut tradition emerging, and mass-produced cronuts becoming standard fare at Dunkin' Donuts (Crunkin' Cronuts?), and people in a hundred years saying "did you know the word 'cronut' is a combination of the words 'donut' and 'croissant'?". Although it had a light pink rose glaze on top and vanilla cream in the middle, the sweetness had been kept just low-volume enough for a breakfast 'nut. But it was still very sweet (did it really need that cream?), which is one reason that I don't like Ansel's cronut as much as I like a good croissant, by which I mean the heavenly, slightly oily kind you get in Paris and not the bready muck you get at most places in London (apart, curiously, from Pret a Manger).
And are cronuts the new cupcakes? Yes, OK, alright, cronuts are the new cupcakes. Happy now?
I was most grateful to them, however, for leading me to the 'DKA' or 'Dominique's kouign amann', which I would go as far as saying was the flakiest, stickiest, butteriest and altogether best kouign amann I have ever tasted. And the egg sandwich? Into a weeny brioche bun (the kind they use for burgers) was wedged a thick square of hot omelette, coated in melted gruyere. You probably wouldn't serve it in a building site canteen, but it was pretty good.
When we left, the queue was the same length as it was when we arrived. The people in it looked to be from a wide range of different professions and backgrounds; they could have played a cross-section of citizens in a disaster movie, and if you're in town, you should join them.