Aspen Times Weekly: Cronuts, exploding whipped cream and kouign-amann
If sugar is a drug, then call us a nation addicted.
Little did master pastry chef Dominique Ansel know back in May when he dropped some croissant dough into a fryer that his creation — the cronut — would incite mania from New York to Los Angeles to the Phillipines and beyond. Fad-hungry foodies flocked by the hundreds to Ansel’s eponymous SoHo bakery at sunrise daily to score one of his $5, flaky confections filled with Tahitian cream and topped with candied rose petals. Wannabe “doissants,” “dossants” and “cronots” surfaced at bakeries around the world, and, back in New York, demand for Ansel’s originals reached such a sugar high that scalpers on Craigslist hawked cronut delivery — for up to $40 per pastry.
So when culinary adventurer Ian Kleinman of The Inventing Room in Denver unveiled his response to the cronut at a pop-up donut shop two weeks ago, locals lined up. A dozen people had already convened at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs on Larimer Street in the Mile High City when I arrived, bleary-eyed, at 7 a.m. on Saturday to find out what all the fuss was about.
Posted up behind a framed photo of Willy Wonka and a four-foot-tall canister of liquid nitrogen, Kleinman was flanked by his father and chef de cuisine, Stephen, and two sisters. The crew had been there since 4:30 a.m., filling some of the 250 orders it received on the fourth and final morning of The Inventing Room engagement. Moving at the rate of a baker’s dozen per fry cycle, the team would eventually churn out 526 specialty donuts, each topped with molecular fancies like “pomegranate bubbles,” “Nutella bacon powder” and “marshmallow caviar.”
I craved the creation that had cronut bloggers abuzz — Kleinman’s Baklava Donut: Long John-style, split and filled with Colorado honey pastry cream and smothered with cinnamon sugar-soaked shredded phyllo, toasted pistachios and candied rose petals. Dainty it wasn’t: the donut looked like a baked potato sundae and overwhelmed the plate, but a few bites sent my tastebuds into delightful shock.
“I like to take fine dining techniques and apply them to regular food,” said Kleinman, who spent 11 months perfecting his brioche-inspired dough and ran two other donut pop-ups before this one. (His childhood bus stop in Breckenridge was a Daylight Donuts, natch.) “I love baklava, so I wanted to incorporate that texture.”
The ethereal, mouth-melting crispiness of Kleinman’s shredded phyllo, and the “chocolate blanket” and “graham cracker paper” of his other monster treats are whimsical textures, for sure. But perhaps the most talked-about texture was found in the Dangerous Milk and Liquid Nitrogen Mocha with Exploding Whipped Cream. One sip from a paper cup oozing ghoulish nitrogen trails revealed a bracing, icy sizzle: imagine frozen Pop Rocks melting to cream on your tongue.
“He’s a nutball,” said Kleinman’s host and longtime friend, Jim Pittenger. “Methinks there were many a day in his youth really stoned, going, ‘I gotta figure out how to make whipped cream explode.’”
Crazy for kouign-amann
While the cronut as Dominique Ansel trademarked it (though that hasn’t deterred imposters everywhere) and Kleinman’s molecular pop-up parlors have yet to invade Aspen, bakers — and eaters — here are abuzz about the trend.
“They say, ‘You’ve got a donut, and you’ve got a croissant, so why not cronuts?’” says Annette Docimo of Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop. She sighs. “Oh, the donuts! They ruin my day.” I sense she’s only half-joking when I spy the bakery’s tiny tabletop electric frying pan, manned by her husband, Fino. “We started doing them last season as an après-ski experiment,” she says, “to see if we could get it right.”
Now, when Annette’s 60 or so glazed, chocolate-glazed, and custard- and jelly-filled super-size donuts are ready by 4 p.m. on Thursdays, most are boxed for pickup by savvy snackers who placed their orders the week before. So, last spring, Docimo introduced her customers to a longstanding French delicacy: Kouign-amann.
“People have gone absolutely crazy,” Docimo says. The flaky, buttery pastries are folded up, some around a pile of dark chocolate, and glazed with sugar before being sent to the oven, where they caramelize and puff up like blossoming lotus flowers. The Docimos bake a limited edition of Kouign-amann, which sell out shortly after hitting the display case around 10:30 a.m. daily.
“When you bite into it, you’re not really expecting this crunchy, sugary, buttery thing,” Docimo says. A molten chocolate center is a bonus. “It’s really special.”
In fact, Kouign-amann enjoyed a mini-craze of its own in New York à la chef Ansel. Which brings us back to cronuts.
Annette Docimo ponders the fad again, and turns to her husband.
“Cronuts? I don’t know, Fino. Are we ever gonna attempt them?”
“Why?” Fino shouts from behind a bakery rack. “We’ve got the Kouign-amann!”
Amanda Rae is still sugar-high. SOS: email@example.com.