The following 101, on how to make cronuts, comes from HOMEGROWN member Anne, of FoodRetro.com. An undeterred kitchen trooper if ever there was one, Anne battled through three pre-recipes before even beginning the cronut proper, itself a 12- to 16-hour process. Now that's a love of baking. Or maybe temporary insanity. Either way, we're infinitely grateful for her sharing the saga with us. We can almost taste her success . . . and that's exactly how the fever spreads and people go nuts. Cro-nuts.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the insanity surrounding the fabled unicorn confection called the cronut. What is this bizzaro thing? The cronut is touted as being a cross between a donut and a croissant, with crisp, flaky inner layers, a cream filling, and drizzled with sugary goodness.
If you caught the bit about the croissant, the cronut is more closely related to it than most people imagine. Indeed, any recipe for a croissant will give you the dough you need. It’s just a croissant that has been, shall we say, pimped out?
Maybe you need a challenge. Maybe you want to impress your family with your l33t kitchen skillz. Maybe you want to take a bite of a unicorn. I’m not going to lie to you. This is a beast of a recipe, and while none of it is technically difficult, it is an absolute labour of love that has a shelf life of mere hours.
PARTS THAT MAKE THE WHOLE
There’s vanilla sugar to be made, pastry cream, and, of course, the cronut itself. You also need a glacé of lemon juice, colour, and icing sugar.
1. Vanilla Sugar: Must be prepared a minimum of 2-3 days ahead of time, but I recommend 1-2 weeks for best flavour.
In an airtight jar, bury the vanilla bean in the sugar. Give it a shake daily to break up any clumping. You can add more sugar to the jar as you use it, and you can use it for any sweet treat that might benefit from a hint of vanilla. It’s awesome stuff.
2. Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream): This can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator under plastic wrap. Whisk before using to break up clumps. Be speedy while making this but keep your cool, else you’ll get lumps!
A. Put the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Split the vanilla bean open with a sharp knife and drop the bean into the milk. Set the milk heating on medium-high heat.
B. While the milk is heating, whisk your eggs, salt, and sugar together. Drop the flour and cornstarch through a mesh strainer over your bowl to sift it, and whisk the powder into the egg until smooth and paste-like. Do not leave to sit; the egg will harden.
C. Your milk should be beginning to steam but will not be quite boiling. Pour a drizzle of the hot milk into your egg mixture and continue to whisk as the milk comes to a boil and begins to foam.
D. Whisking continuously, slowly add the remainder of the milk into the egg mixture. Retrieve the vanilla bean from the saucepan, scrape the seeds out of the pod, and add them to the egg mixture. (Rinse and retain the vanilla bean pod for making more vanilla sugar . . . later. Much later.)
E. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan, still whisking (lots of whisking) as you bring it to a boil on medium heat. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes very thick. Remove from heat, and immediately whisk in the vanilla extract (if you opted not to use the vanilla bean) or liqueur, grated chocolate, or fruit syrup (all optional) to give the pastry cream the desired flavour.
F. Pour into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent crusting. Cool to room temperature and, if not needed immediately, refrigerate up to three days. Stir before using to break up any lumps.
3. Glacé Icing/Drizzling Glaze: Prepare after you’ve finished making the cronuts.
+++++ OR +++++
Whisk icing sugar in until desired consistency reached.
4. The Cronut Proper: Instructions below. Pretty hefty list, eh?
THE CRONUT: RECIPE ADAPTED FROM SORTED
If you’ve ever made croissants by alternating layers of butter and dough, you can use that approach here. It's a great method if you ever decide you want to get creative and make a flavoured layer instead of just plain butter. Pros: ability to customize, no food processor with dough blade required. Cons: It adds 2-3 hours for chill time between folds, not to mention the extra time invested in creating the butter layer. (Cronuts in 14-16 hours.)
Sorted’s cronut method is similar to making piecrust in the food processor. Pros: very speedy, less fussing with butter and chilled dough. Cons: requires food processor with dough blade, and you have to know when to stop blending, because if you cut the butter too fine, you won’t achieve perfect cronut layers. It’ll still taste good, though. (Cronuts in 12-14 hours.)
You can find the traditional croissant-making method anywhere, so I’m going to detail the food processor version. Once you have begun folding, the steps are pretty much identical, anyway.
WHAT TO DO
1. Combine the water and milk, and bring up to a temperature safe to activate yeast, (100F, or about body temperature). Stir the yeast and milk together in a medium-large mixing bowl to hydrate and allow a couple minutes to begin to proof.
2. In a food processor, combine the flour and cold diced butter and pulse the food processor until you have a lumpy and crumbly looking mixture, almost like breadcrumbs. Don't eliminate all of the lumps of butter.
3. Add the salt and baker sugar to the flour, and combine the flour mixture with the milk and yeast in the bowl. Once the dough begins to form a cohesive lump, mix and compact it gently with your hands into a ball of dough. You will not be kneading it and you don't want to squash all the lumps of butter, so use care.
4. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and chill in the fridge for two hours to firm up the butter chunks and relax the gluten.
5. Roll the chilled dough into a rectangle approximately twice as long as it is wide, about 1/3-inch thick (1 cm). Keep the flour to a minimum—just enough to keep the butter from sticking to the rolling pin.
6. Fold the dough like a letter, end over end, then turn the folded dough 90 degrees.
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 three more times. You will have folded your dough a total of four times for 81 folded layers, turning the dough 90 degrees between each roll out, so that it is folded perpendicular to the previous fold. (So, that’s fold one: 1/1/1 = 3 layers; fold two: 3/3/3 = 9 layers; fold three: 9/9/9 = 27 layers; fold four: 27/27/27 = 81 layers.) If the dough begins to soften too much, chill it again between folds.
8. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and chill 4-8 hours, or up to overnight.
9. Prepare your pastry cream, if you haven’t already, and leave it to cool (or warm up) to room temperature.
10. Roll the refrigerated dough out to slightly less than 1/4 inch thick. Cut it into donut shapes, donut holes, or finger bars, and lay the pieces out on a tray that's lightly floured or lined with parchment. Cover the dough with a clean dishtowel and allow to rise for an hour.
11. Prepare a dish with ½ cup vanilla sugar for tossing the cronuts in.
12. Fill a tall-sided skillet or pot with enough grapeseed oil so that it’s just a little over an inch deep. Heat the oil to about 340 F (170 C), and fry the risen dough a few pieces at a time for about 2 minutes a side, or until puffy and golden brown.
13. Drain the fried dough briefly on a paper towel before tossing in the vanilla sugar then set aside to cool.
14. Once the cronuts have cooled, fill a syringe or a pastry bag with an injection tip with your pastry cream. Inject and fill the cronut at 5 or 6 different points. If you’re doing donut holes, you can fill with a single squeeze.
15. Cover your injection points with the glace or drizzling cream and serve immediately or within a few hours.
Like the best dream from which you have just awoken, the cronut’s spell begins to fade not long after its inception. Once it has being pulled from the grapeseed oil, it will gradually lose that “pillowy clouds of heaven” texture as the minutes tick by. Within a few hours, it’s extinct. Just another horse, no horn.
Enjoy the magical taste of unicorn with anyone lucky enough to be present during its creation! Then make them do the dishes.
SLIDESHOW: ANNE'S CRONUT CREATIVE PROCESS
Got a question for Anne? Or a suggestion for another out-of-this-world cronut filling? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling! You might also be interested in Anne's 101s on building a self-watering container and regrowing scallions (green onions) from scraps. Stay up to date with all of Anne's kitchen adventures on Food Retro and by following her on Pinterest. If you're looking for a slightly less labor-intensive sweet treat, you might give Jackie's apple cider caramels an ogle, or if you like the sound of vanilla-infused goodness, don't miss Black Cat Cottage's homemade extracts 101. Or, for the ultimate indulgence, pair your piping hot cronuts with Sabrina's homemade coffee liqueur. You can always find more things to bake, cook, make, craft, plant, grow, fold, and fold, and fold in the HOMEGROWN 101 Library.
ALL PHOTOS: ANNE RADCLIFFE