I guess it's entirely appropriate that the first time I would even hear the word "cronut" was yesterday, Halloween. The donut-crossaint hybrid sweet treat that's been fueling a foodie mania in New York for the last six months has made it to L.A. -- unofficially, at least.
The originators of cronuts, Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York, have trademarked their wildly popular creation and are quick to warn people on their website that they have already spawned imitators. So it was doubtless a cronut wannabe that I saw advertised on the sign at Normandie Bakery, a French café tucked off Jefferson Boulevard along an otherwise dead-zone stretch between La Cienega and La Brea. Normandie is a bona fide French place with authentic breads and pastries that's been around more than twenty years now. How bad could its version of a cronut be?
Not bad at all. Delicious, in fact. The sugar-dusted cronut brought to me and my friends on a dessert plate (it was the last one they had -- I guess they're wildly popular on the west coast, too) was puffier than a donut, denser than a croissant, bready and sweet and crunchy all at once. It reminded a lot of a beignet, but airier and thanks to the croissant, vaguely buttery. I would have gotten more if there had been more to be gotten. Saved by the sellout.
It's funny to think that people are going mad for something fashioned from two very ordinary breakfast staples that were demonized by the anti-carb crowd years ago. Even before that, croissants fell out of serious culinary fashion sometime after the '80s, while donuts are widely acknowledged to be just about the worst thing anybody can eat. Even a donut fiend would agree that deep-fried white bread dough with sugar and/or icing is pretty bad.
I have a friend who was one of those fiends for years, until one morning at work she popped her donut into the microwave and was unexpectedly riveted (and horrified) by the sight of it melting into its discrete parts of oil and, well, more oil. She's been donut-wary ever since. That's probably why the folks at Dominique Ansel advise customers to eat their cronuts immediately rather than taking home and, god forbid, refrigerating. But of course a reheated donut or cronut is entirely different from a fresh one, as different from each other as a living person is from a corpse. Some prepared foods just can't get a do-over. Certain Mexican dishes are that way.
I am not a donut fiend but I do like them, mostly in a sentimental way: a pink box of a dozen donuts sat on the kitchen counter every Sunday for breakfast when I was growing up. Saturday was down-home grits and eggs, Sunday was reserved for the sheer decadence of donuts, one or two per child.
I gave up the habit as I got older and started counting calories, like after the age of 18 or so. But occasionally Sunday overtakes me and I'll go out and get a couple. I always mean to save some for later -- eating two donuts at a time is far too much decadence, even in the privacy of my own kitchen -- but naturally, they don't keep.
My last donut run was about a month ago, a totally spontaneous dash into Stan's in Westwood, home of the peanut-butter pocket donut that gave me special fortitude during my undergraduate years at UCLA back in the early '80s, when croissants were actually king. The cronut -- excuse me, the faux cronut -- at Normandie doesn't pack the emotional punch of that peanut butter creation, or of the Sundays of my childhood. But it does feel like the start of something good..