Sunday, August 25, 2013

Food Review: The Frissant (Just Don't Call it a Cronut)

The frissant... which is not a cronut... not really...

So apparently, the cronut was the new black this summer. (Actually, judging by any sunny weekend, extreme short-shorts and visible under-butt were the new black this summer. I'm so glad I don't have a teenage daughter and don't have to deal with this.... yet... anyways, but I digress). This is the inspired (unholy?) union of a croissant and a doughnut... and is also a pending trademarked name if Dominique Ansel, the creator has anything to do with it. As I used to say to my former colleagues in marketing, "Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism." Vancouver's very own Swiss Bakery has their own version, the frissant, or fritter-croissant.

Over in Toronto, Epic Burgers dispensed with the mere idea of merely copying it, and went one further by copying it along with one of Paula Deen's idea's by turning it into a burger. As Jeremy Clarkson would say, "What could possibly go wrong?"

... How about an unfortunate case of food-borne illness? (Fortunately, no reports of long-term casualties. Authorities are reporting that it was a staphylococcus aureus contamination, which is usually a result of improper food handing.) 

Going back to the frissant, as we know it in Vancouver (land of Lululemon, the Grouse Grind and all things outdoors-y), the hype machine isn't working as hard here as it is in New York, but since the news cycle is unavoidable, most people have heard about it. When the frissant first launched, Swiss Bakery was selling roughly 200 a day, and they would run out by early afternoon. That's not bad considering that this is a small high end bakery located in one of the oddest neighbourhoods of Vancouver, which is a mixture of light industrial buildings and holdover residences.

So what does (the non-burger version) taste like? It's not so much of a cross between a doughnut and croissant as it is a an extra crispy croissant that is doughnut-shaped. Take the crispy-flakey exterior of a croissant, and layer it until you have something donought-shaped. That's pretty much the texture. The interior isn't as light and fluffy as a croissant, nor is it as heavy as the inside of a doughnut. From the outside, the frissant looks like a stack of a thousand layers of puff pastry, which is a bit at odds with the texture of the inside, which is more cohesive and croissant-like. From the looks of it, you expect to bite into one and have it explode into a thousand shards of flaky goodness, only to discover that the inside is almost like a different animal. If you don't want to be reminded of how bad these things are for you, don't look at the bottom of the pastry box after you pull one out... Were it not for the trend-setting prices that these things are selling for, it would make for a pretty nice mid-morning treat if accompanied by a a cup of strong coffee or espresso.

If I'm honest, while the idea is amazing, the execution isn't to my liking. These things are encrusted in crystallized sugar, and combined with the high fat content, the taste is rather cloying on the tongue. There's a subtlety to the texture, but that's not true about the taste, which hits you over the head with sweetness. Swiss Bakery has two versions, one with a lemon cream frosting, and one with a hazel cream filling. Both are very good, but not something that you could consume on a regular basis. It's sort of like KFC... crowd pleasing, but you're not sure when your next one will be after you are finished with it.

I like it, but you can tell that I don't love it. That's because I already have a favourite flaky/crispy fat-filled pastry: the rugelach. Though it wasn't invented in New York, it's Jewish origins mean that it belongs in that city just the same as the cronut.

The rugelach comes in many varieties, but my favourite is almost always chocolate if it's available. What makes it different compared to either a doughnut or a croissant is that the rugelach dough is cream cheese based, which gives for a crispiness that is border almost on being crunchy. Since these date back a few hundred years, they are also so new as to command the trend-setting prices of cronuts. However, if you haven't tried a cronut (or one of it's analogs), but all means, do so. There's a sense of occasion in eating one that you don't get with a doughnut.

Addendum: The frissant/cronut does not keep well. Stored in a fridge overnight, it turns into the pastry equivalent of a hockey puck.

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