Six weeks from today my fiancée and I will be married and on our way to France for 3 weeks. Among many other things we will no doubt treat ourselves to the bounty of delicious bread and pastry the country has to offer. One thing I don’t expect to find there? Cronuts. For those of you who have not heard about the latest baking/foodie craze, cronuts are the brainchild of New York Chef Dominique Ansel. They are at a basic level, as the name implies, a croissant doughnut hybrid, wherein you shape and fry croissant dough as if it were a doughnut. Ansel’s bakery has exploded in popularity the past several month, but he still only makes a small number each day and sells them for the same price of $5 each. This has led to daily lines forming as early at 5 AM and a secondary market on Craigslist. Cronuts even appeared in Ann Arbor last summer.
Imitations of course have sprouted up quickly but because Ansel has trademarked Cronut they are going by names like fauxnut and doughsant. So why are people going crazy for these? Crisp fried outside, buttery croissant layers, custard filling…ok maybe it’s not such a mystery. And now, like everyone else on the planet, you want one. Why let Ansel and everyone else have all the fun when you can make your own! Last weekend I made about 3 dozen cronuts and below have documented my thoughts on their taste (INCREDIBLE), the recipe, and the cronut craze.
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with these. They are truly unlike anything I’ve ever had. The taste most closely resembles the cinnamon sugar doughnuts we get at local cider mills in the fall, but the texture and sensation of biting into one is so different. The ones we get at cider mills have a very slight crunch to them, but are soft and cake-like on the inside. These have an incredibly crisp and flaky outer layer that results from the frying process. It is thicker than you would normally find, likely because of the higher amount of butter in the dough. The intensely satisfying crunch is so wonderful and I knew my words wouldn’t do it justice, so I recorded the sound of cutting into one. Listen to this, look at the pictures, and just try to not make these yourself.
Moving to the inside of the cronut, because of the laminated layers of butter and flour you get an airy inside that looks and tastes like a croissant rather than a dense doughnut. Now Dominique Ansel is very open about the fact that his cronuts are not just fried croissant dough. His site discusses the many iterations of recipes and testing that occurred before he arrived at the current formula. However for the purpose of recreating them at home most people I found online had simply used regular croissant dough. That’s what I did and if you were testing out cronut recipes it would provide a valid control to start with.
If you look at pictures of Ansel’s cronuts versus mine you’ll notice that the layering on his is more pronounced. They are also significantly taller, filled with custard and iced. I decided to make shorter cronuts so that it wasn’t necessary to unhinge your jaw when eating. I’m not a huge fan of custard and given that I was deep frying croissants, I didn’t see much need for anything beyond a dusting of sugar. But if you’re going to bother making cronuts, why not go all the way?
Going back to those layers, you can see from the above cross-section that mine definitely had the croissant style layers, though they were not as defined on the outside edges. And in some parts of them (top left of the above picture) a more traditional doughnut texture did develop. I think there are two variables responsible for these differences that, if altered, would give you a cronut more like Ansel’s. I think that layering in less butter, perhaps 1 or 1 1/4 cups instead of 1 1/2, would result in layers that are more defined. During the final rise the butter may absorb into the dough, resulting in a more cake-like structure than defined layers. Using less butter would make this less of a problem.
Another way to prevent this from happening would be to do a cold final rise. Instead of letting the shaped cronuts sit at room temperature for 3 hours, having them rise in the refrigerator overnight would ensure that the butter stays cold and better keep intact the layers you worked so hard to create. When it comes to actually shaping your cronuts, how thick you make them is up to you. I rolled my dough out to roughly 1/4 inch thickness, but the finished products were about 1 1/2 inches thick. As you’re cutting out shapes try to make them as close together as possible. If you ball up and re-roll excess dough you really lose the butter layers, and so your subsequent cronuts will not be the same. I made about 3 dozen and only the first 18 or so had perfect layers inside (but the others were still just as tasty!).
So as you can see while a basic croissant recipe is a good place to start, there is room for variation based on what you want and what you’re willing to try. Though I identified several things I could test in future batches, I will not be making cronuts again for the simple fact that, while pretty damn tasty, having these more then once every 24 years seems like overkill. They freeze well but upon reheating in a toaster oven won’t fully regain that crust that shatters so nicely. I’d recommend loading some up on a plate and sharing! I gave about half away within 1 hour of making them by knocking on doors in my apartment building. However you decide to make, fill, and decorate them, enjoy your cronuts!
- 4⅔ C pastry, bread, or AP flour
- 2½ tsp salt
- ¼ C sugar
- 1 Tbsp instant yeast
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 C cold water
- ¾ C cold milk
- Canola oil for frying (40-48 oz)
- 1½ C cold unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp AP flour
- The night before you plan to make your cronuts cut the butter for the butter block into slices and using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (or with a fork in a large bowl) combine it with the flour.
- Continue to mix, scraping the sides as needed, to make sure everything is incorporated. Transfer the butter to a large piece of plastic wrap. Cover the butter with the plastic wrap and shape into a 6 inch square. Once finished wrap again in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.
- The night before you also want to make your dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, salt, yeast, sugar, and butter. Gradually add in the water and milk.
- Mix it on low speed until everything is combined, and then increase the speed briefly until a solid dough has formed. It should take 5-6 minutes. Add additional flour if needed so that the dough clears the sides of the bowl.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
- The following morning remove your dough from the refrigerator and on a lightly floured surface roll it out to a rectangular shape. It should be about 12″x7″ which should allow for you to place the butter block on it and still have dough on either side. Create neat and straight edges on the dough and maintain them while rolling and shaping.
- Place your butter block in the center of the rolled out dough. It should have 3 or so inches of dough above and below it, and roughly ½ inch on either side.
- Fold in the longer edges to completely cover the butter and then seal it in the dough by pinching each side.
- Using your rolling pin, start from the center of your newly encased dough and roll it into a 9″x16″ rectangle. I found it easiest to simply press it out using the rolling pin first before using a rolling motion. Do your best to ensure an even thickness throughout.
- Once you’ve rolled out the dough, fold it in thirds (letter style). You want to make sure the edges line up nicely and are as straight as possible. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
- After allowing the butter to cool, remove it and roll it out once more to 9″x16″ and fold letter style again.
- Place in the refrigerator for 30 more minutes, and after repeat this process of rolling and refrigerating once more. In total you will have laminated the dough three times. Because you are folding each existing layer three times with each lamination, you will have 81 layers of dough and butter at this point.
- Roll your dough out to 21″x12″. Make sure to keep your surface floured so that the dough does not stick. If you would like the cronuts to be thicker do not roll the dough out this large.
- Using a pastry cutter or cup that is about 3" wide, cut out circles of dough and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a baking mat. Place about ½" apart. Do this until you cannot make any new cutouts.
- Using a smaller, roughly 1" cutter or cup (I used the top of a spice jar), cut out holes from the center of each piece. Set aside on a baking sheet or other parchment lined flat surface.
- Re roll any excess dough and repeat this process until you have used up all the dough. Cover each set of cronuts with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 3 hours (or in the refrigerator overnight).
- About 20 minutes before you are ready to fry the cronuts pour oil into a wide but sufficiently tall (5" or higher) pot. You will want at least 2" of oil. Place a candy thermometer on the side and turn the heat to medium-high. You want the oil to reach 340 F, however once you place the cronuts in the temperature will rise, so preheating to 325 F is fine.
- When the oil has heated gently drop as many cronuts or cronut holes as will comfortably fit in the pot. Let cook for 60-90 seconds, depending on how thick your cronuts are. The side in oil should reach a dark golden brown, but not burn. When ready flip them over and let cook another 60-90 seconds.
- Using a slotted spoon or large utensil remove finished cronuts and place on a cooling rack lined with paper towels.
- Repeat the frying process until all cronuts have been fried. Keep an eye on the oil temperature as it will rise and fall throughout the cooking process. Try and keep it as close to 340 F as possible.
- Once cooled for 5-10 minutes, roll cronuts in cinnamon sugar and set aside. If desired pipe with custard or top with icing. Serve warm.
Cronut inspiration courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery.