Creative Genius: Dishing on Cronuts With Chef Erin Gardner

Learn how to satisy your Cronut fever with pastry chef Erin Gardner.

Cronuts are the croissant/donut hybrid created a few years ago by Dominique Ansel and sold in his NYC bakery. And even though some time has passed since their moment in the sun, the Cronut buzz continues.

Many mornings lines form around the block at Ansel's baker, each person desperate to get their hands on the amazing edible must-have accessory. Ansel’s bakery also takes pre-orders and there's a strict limit of six per week, per person. When these treats were first introduced they were in such high demand that a Cronut black market cropped up. Cronuts on Craigslist were going for $50 for a pair. Now Ansel has strict regulations about reselling Cronuts, anyone caught doing so will have their order immediately cancelled.

Combine my own lifelong sweet tooth with my husband’s weakness for doughnuts and we make up your ideal Cronut demographic. But what’s a girl living in New Hampshire to do when the nearest cronut is hundreds of miles away? (and a long line of people much more aggressive than I). I was left with only one choice: a good old fashioned DIY Fauxnut hack.

I’ve baked my way through many a cookbook, but even for a seasoned pastry chef, croissant dough is a serious undertaking. The process is long (2-3 days) and complicated. You have to make the dough, make the butter layer, laminate the dough, roll it out, shape it, and proof it. It’s…a lot of work. (Next time you buy a croissant, thank your baker. Profusely.) Not exactly a home-baker-friendly kind of project. So, I called in the big guns.

Everyone, say hello to my wonderful, astonishingly talented friend, Erin Gardner. Erin has been a pastry chef for ten years, she is an author and has a wonderful blog ErinBakes.com that offers online classes. She was the winner of Sweet Genius on Food Network, and her work recently garnered her the title of Best Wedding Cakes in America by Brides Magazine. Here’s a hint at her legendary talent — one of her cake tutorials has been pinned over 82,000 times on Pinterest! She also happens to be an all-around really, really wonderful person, a collision of phenomenal talent and good-heartedness that just makes me so happy.

I let Erin in on my hankering for a Cronut hack and she was totally game to jump on board and help me make it happen. We both felt that a from-scratch croissant dough was a little labor intensive for our needs, so we decided that we wanted to find a way to make Cronuts DIY-friendly. (For those purists, Erin recommends Nancy Silverton’s croissant dough, from Pastries from the La Brea Bakery.) We embarked on an epic hunt for as many varieties of store-bought croissant, pastry and biscuit dough as we could find. It was hard, but very tasty, work.

That’s a lotta dough, you guys.

That’s a lotta dough, you guys.

None of the results for these store-bought doughs were bad, but we’re here to report back on our three Made+Remade DIY Fauxnut winners, chosen with a few parameters: best true croissant flavor, best all natural and best all around.

BEST CROISSANT: Trader Joe’s frozen Chocolate Croissants, minus the chocolate, wins in this category. In the interest of keeping our fauxnuts as close to Cronut status as possible, we 86′d the chocolate, which basically means we just pulled out the small bar of chocolate that’s wrapped in the croissants in their package. The resulting fauxnut was the most croissant-y, with flaky layers and an airy, yeasty croissant flavor. They weren’t as mile-high as the real Cronuts, and they do need proofing (leaving them out at room temperature overnight), but they were pretty darn good.

BEST ALL NATURAL: As a mom of a little one, I strive to buy as many organic and all-natural products as possible when feeding my family. Needless to say, due to the fat content alone, my toddler won’t be enjoying a Cronut anytime soon, but even so, I was hoping for a non-GMO option. We found ours in our grocery store refrigerated section using Immaculate Baking Company’s Crescent Dough. I will say that though this dough had none of the artificial ingredients, to achieve a believable fauxnut, we had to fold the dough over on itself to form one tidy little bundle so that each can (not joking here) made one fauxnut. That’s an entire can of dough … consumed by one person. One can=one fauxnut. All natural maybe, but definitely not for the calorically faint of heart. The resulting fauxnut was closer to a cake doughnut, but still crispy on the outside, and both looked and tasted fantastic. Pricier and more calories that any of our other options, but all natural and delectable. (Um, we’re talking about deep fried croissant dough, so this isn’t really a post for those who are calorie conscious anyway—are we all in agreement on that?)

BEST OVERALL: We couldn’t have been more shocked by our winner of best overall. Totally came out of left field, and Erin almost didn’t even grab this option. But we are so glad she did. Pillsbury Grands Flaky Layers Original knocked it out of the park. We tried both single layers and double layers, and both were great, so it’s really about your height preferences for your fauxnut. The real-deal cronut is a tall whopper of crispy amazingness, so if you want to go for the full monty, double up the dough, using a quick swipe of water to cement the two layers together. The resulting fauxnut was crispy with lots of soft layers inside, and not too dense. It wasn’t all that croissant-y, but all things considered, it was delicious.

Now on to the recipe!

DIY Fauxnuts

Ingredients:

  • Pillsbury Grands Flaky Layers Original
  • cinnamon
  • sugar
  • canola oil

We used a mini deep fryer to make our fauxnuts, which is definitely the safest, easiest and most-quickly-cleaned-up option, but you can also use an 8-quart saucepan filled (no further than halfway) with oil. The oil needs to be at 375 degrees, so if you're using a saucepan, you'll also need a candy thermometer. If you go the saucepan route, the oil will take about 10-15 minutes to come to temperature and then you'll need to pay attention to your burner to keep the oil at the right temperature.

For the purposes of the tutorial, we're using the Pillsbury Grands Flaky Layers Original dough that was our overall favorite, but really, the process is pretty similar no matter what dough you use. If you're using the Trader Joe's, just leave it out to proof overnight and then remove the chocolate sticks before you start working with the dough in the morning.

Heat oil to 375 degrees. Break open the can of dough.

Separate the pre-cut biscuits. If you want the true height of the real deal Cronut, you'll need to double the dough, but if you want a less-calorie and budget-friendly option, use one biscuit per fauxnut, just lay the dough rounds out in a single layer.

If you are going for the full-calorie, doubled up fauxnut, brush the top of four of the biscuits with a little water and then stack on a second dough round, pressing them together firmly with your palm. After you press, the difference between the single-dough and double-dough sections might not look that big, but once they're done, it's pretty obvious.

Use a small circular biscuit cutter or a sharp knife to cut out the center of each dough round and set aside to be made into...wait for it...FAUXNUT HOLES!!! They're pretty glorious — a single bite that's crispy on the outside, with soft layers on the inside. You can’t eat just one.

Check to make sure your oil is at 375 degrees, gently and carefully submerge your dough into the oil using a slotted spoon or spatula. Give each fauxnut 4-5 minutes on each side, until it's a deep golden brown, not a pale golden. Same goes with the fauxnut holes, but a shorter 2-3 minute time frame will do it for them.

Once the fauxnuts and fauxnut holes are done, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon or tongs and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. The outside should be dark golden brown and the inside is fully cooked with easy-to-see layers of dough.

We tossed the fauxnut holes in cinnamon sugar right out of the fryer and it was bliss. For the full-sized fauxnuts, drop any that you want coated in cinnamon sugar into a bowl of it as soon as they're done, toss to coat and then remove. For fauxnuts that get the glazed/pastry cream treatment, let them rest on your baking sheet until they are cool enough to handle.

Here's the figurative cherry on the top of our fauxnut Sunday: Erin’s pastry cream. Don't be scared — Erin literally whipped it up almost faster than I could say photography. You could easily make this the night before you need it so it's properly chilled for the morning.

For pastry cream:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • mini deep fryer
  • slotted spoon or tongs
  • baking sheet
  • paper towels

1. Place milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

2. While milk is coming to a boil, in a bowl combine egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.

3. Once milk has reached a boil, take off the head and pour a small amount (about 1/4 cup) into the egg yolk mixture. Quickly whisk to combine. This stage is "tempering" the eggs and hot milk so that you don't end up with scrambled-egg pastry cream.

4. Pour the tempered egg mixture into the hot milk and quickly whisk to combine.

5. Place back over medium heat and stir with a heat-safe spatula until the pastry cream resembles the texture of mayonnaise.

6. Remove from heat and pour the pastry cream into a clean bowl.

7. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.

8. Place plastic wrap directly against the surface of the pastry cream. This prevents the icky "pudding skin" from forming.

9. Refrigerate until completely chilled (about an hour).

10. Pipe pastry cream onto the fauxnut using a pastry bag or using a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.

11. Pastry cream lasts about 3-4 days in the fridge.

Once your fauxnuts are room temperature and glazed, and your pastry cream is chilled and in a bag to pipe, you're ready to make the magic come together. We decided to go low-tech and just pipe it on top. It turned out to be the perfect amount — enough cream to taste and enjoy, but not so much that it overpowered the crispy, flaky fauxnut.

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