He created a little pastry that changed the baking world. We caught up with cronut inventor and modern-day Willy Wonka, Dominique Ansel
Dominique Ansel is like the rock star of the pastry world.
His amazingly popular croissant-doughnut mashup, the cronut, was voted one of Time’s 25 best inventions of 2013, while Business Insider named him in their list of the most innovative people under 40. And, yes, hundreds of people still queue outside his bakery at 8 o'clock every morning, even in the snow.
Don’t be fooled into thinking he’s a one-trick pastry pony though, he’s more the modern-day Willy Wonka of NYC. Classically trained in Paris, he’s worked at the French bakery Fauchon and as executive pastry chef at Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Daniel.
With his first cookbook Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes released this month, those cake-covered pages are going to be as close as you’ll get to knowing how he does it.
We caught up with the French chef about that cronut, his new bakery concept and eating lots of gummy bears.
Your name is almost synonymous with the word cronut. Do you ever get sick of it?
“No, it’s a wonderful creation. We believe in creation and innovation at the bakery and we push ourselves to do new things and create new things constantly."
"We change the menu at the bakery every 6-8 weeks according to the season and local ingredients. We understand our food and we work like a restaurant. All pastries have a story, an emotion."
You trademarked the cronut, was that important?
"It was a very important decision that we took from the beginning. It’s important for small businesses to protect themselves."
Have you had offers from companies to mass-produce them?
"We have. It’s not something I’m for. I believe in quality, in freshness and the experience you get when coming to the bakery. Everything is super-fresh, it’s authentic, and it’s not something we can freeze."
And the queues?
"There are still lines of a hundred people at 8am. Even snow storms and bad weather doesn’t put them off."
Are the recipes in your book the same as in the bakery?
"They’re slightly different. I tried them all in my tiny New York kitchen and adapted them to what you can make at home, including the equipment and ingredients you can get."
Any top tips for making cronuts?
"It’s not an easy recipe and it’s not the same one we do at the bakery. The important thing to understand is that they are very technical and it takes 3 days to make. I would encourage people to start with something like the chocolate pecan cookies. They’re easier and require less equipment."
You’ve continued to innovate and not just stuck with the cronut. Is it important to you to stay creative?
"It’s crucial, it’s everything. If Picasso only had one painting, no-one would know about him. It’s important to keep pushing, keep changing styles, keep people excited about food. It’s not only for the customer, but for me and the people who work in the bakery. It’s very important."
Do you feel the pressure to make the next big thing?
"There’s no pressure. The things I make, I love. They have a story, a meaning. We’re opening another bakery in the West Village in the spring and it’s a whole new concept, a new way of thinking about a bakery. It will have an open kitchen, like a service kitchen, with pastry chefs at different stations, and everything will be made to order. It’s still a bakery, you’ll just be able to feel like you’re in the middle of a kitchen.
"We’ll be making chocolate mousse to order in less than 2 minutes. You’ll be able to chose the chocolate and the intensity. It’s a lot about freshness and quality. I think people are willing to wait for fresher, high quality produce and it’s the same with pastry, it’s just not been explored before."
Why did you decide to start your own bakery?
"I’ve been working in kitchens since I was 16 and I’ve always wanted to open my own bakery and show people how I see pastry. I see it differently than other people.
"When I started, everyone was telling me to make cupcakes and cheesecake but I didn’t want to, I didn’t believe in it. They told me it [his idea for the bakery] wouldn't work but I didn’t want to have that traditional French gold moulding everywhere and chandeliers. I wanted the bakery to be casual and have that comfortable feeling with the food."
The quick questions
Tea or coffee?
"Coffee in the morning but I also love tea."
"It would be the DKA (Dominique’s kouign amann) we sell in the bakery. They’re my favourite. I eat one every morning."
Best piece of cooking advice you’ve been given?
"Determination and precision are very important in baking and being comfortable in the kitchen."
"Candies. I have gummy bears for a pick-me-up. I need sugar."
What do you always have in your fridge?
"Water and condiments."
"There are so many talented chefs in New York but I really admire Daniel Boulud for what he’s done."
"Larousse. It has good fundamental basics for cooking and baking."