How the cronut craze spread to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 6:12pm

From the gooey chocolate cream oozing from its middle, to the soft, glazed croissant pastry and glistening sugar sprinkles on this doughnut-shaped creation, it is easy to see how the cronut caught the world's eye.

The sinful synergy, a croissant-doughnut hybrid injected with sweet filling, has become the world's most sought-after pastry. And in Hong Kong, just like in its birthplace New York, it's already a sell-out.

My taste expectations were quite low, but when I had one I was blown away.
Gregoire Michaud, Pastry Chef

Swissbeck bakery on Hollywood Road in Central started selling the fusion food last month after commissioning all three of its German pastry chefs to make the difficult Franco-American union. Ken Li, manager at Swissbeck, says: "Every day the staff kept trying until the recipe was perfect. Only then did we launch it."

The bakery has since sold 100 cronuts a day at HK$30 a piece, six days a week, normally selling out by lunchtime. It offers original, white chocolate, blueberry, strawberry, lemon and chocolate varieties.

"People go crazy for cronuts," Li says. "Once you've tried them, you just want to eat more."

Swissbeck plans to sell the dessert for the next six months to see if the appetite holds.

Video: Doughnut and croissant hybrid...the Cronut!

The brainchild of New York-based French pastry chef Dominique Ansel, the first sugar-sprinkled creations debuted on May 10 this year.

Ansel had laboured on its design for two months, going through 10 recipes before finding the perfect method. In the end, it all came down to what temperature to fry the croissant dough at - a secret Ansel has yet to reveal.

Since then his bakery has been busy. Hungry cronutphiles arrive at 6am to get their fix, with 400 hopefuls lining up for the 200 pieces made every day at US$5 a piece, with a two-per-person limit.

"One woman cried when she couldn't get one," Ansel says. "We felt so bad, we looked everywhere to find her the last remaining cronut."

Sometimes the line can get rowdy. As Ellie Skratz tweeted from Brooklyn: "I take full responsibility if I get assaulted on my way to get a cronut."

The tasty treats sparked a black market in New York, with cronuts offered at a 2,000 per cent mark-up on Craigslist. And despite Ansel having trademarked his divinely flaky pastry in the United States, it has been replicated across the world.

In Singapore, Da Paolo Gastronomia (a chain of Italian delis) is selling chocolate-topped cronuts for S$4.90 (HK$30), while at Wildflour Bakery in Manila, it is priced up to 120 pesos (HK$22) each.

And now at Swissbeck, the craze continues, replicating the cronut's success in Berlin, Sydney and other cities, which have renamed the desserts dossants (Australia) and the crodo (Singapore), for legal reasons. Swissbeck has applied to use the trademark for cronut in Hong Kong.

Gregoire Michaud is a close friend of Ansel and former head pastry chef at the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong who now runs a Chai Wan bakery called Bread Elements. As a tribute to his friend, Michaud has decided to see just how hard it is to make the pastry.

"When I first heard about the cronut I thought, 'This is a clever creation'. My taste expectations were quite low, but when I had one I was blown away. Wow, the taste is very complex, it's a great dessert - though whether it can be the next macaroon or cupcake, I don't know," he says.

While it apparently takes Ansel three days to make a cronut from start to finish, Michaud and his team are going to attempt it in one night, after a few practice runs guessing at Ansel's secret recipe. They set about making a lemon and strawberry cronut, and a caramel and sea salt variety.

First he prepares the croissant dough, folding the flour mixture around huge sheets of pure butter before layering the creation and finally shaping and deep-frying it.

It takes several attempts, but Michaud is pleased with his final creations. Ansel is right about the oil temperature being key but Michaud thinks he's cracked it, frying at 180 degrees Celsius.

There is, however, just one awkward, nagging little question: just how many calories are in one of these devilish delights? Estimates range from 400 to 500 calories, but no one knows for sure.

"Let's say this, it's the equivalent of having about three doughnuts, as you have all the butter from the croissant, too," says Michaud. "But that's why people love it - it's a bit like char siu: sweet, fatty and delicious."