First doughnuts went nuts, now humble, buttery croissants are next

With help from an Instagram-friendly makeover, the humble croissant is back in the spotlight. — Reuters pic
With help from an Instagram-friendly makeover, the humble croissant is back in the spotlight. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Jan 9 — At Supermoon Bakehouse, a new spaceship of a patisserie in New York’s Lower East Side, a line of eager humans often snakes out the front door. Inside, the stars of the show are laid out on a long, coral-hued terrazzo slab that’s flecked like a cross section of mortadella: Croissants, colour-streaked and stuffed with a mélange of materials, lined up in Instagram-ready formation. 

There’s the emerald-striped peppermint chocolate fudge croissant piped with mint chocolate chip cream and fudgy ganache, adorned with wafer-thin cracklings of mint-infused sugar. The twice-baked banana split croissant exploding with sous vide-caramelised whole bananas, melty banana caramel, and a torched hat of gooey meringue. The blood-red-striated lychee-berry croissant with an oozy, jammy heart and a dusting of slivered, dried strawberries.

If these alien croissants sound like none you’ve ever heard of, well, that’s the point. Like over-the-top, mutant doughnuts before them — a trend Bloomberg’s food editor says must be stopped — croissants are the latest baked good to be made over by social media.

Supermoon Bakehouse is the brainchild of Ry Stephen, an import from Melbourne who comes to Manhattan by way of another croissant-forward establishment, San Francisco’s Mr Holmes Bakehouse, which he co-founded in 2014. That’s where, a year later, Stephen’s recipe for the cruffin — a croissant-muffin hybrid — was stolen in a brazen midnight heist. Such is pastry-mania these days.

Schooled at the now defunct Paris bakery L’ecureuil, Stephen eventually decided to focus on croissants because he admired their adaptability and complexity. “It’s an enormous challenge every day,” he said, but once mastered, the croissant “definitely takes well to experimentation.”

The proof is in the clicks. Google searches for “croissant” are at an all-time high. More ammo comes from a quick peruse around Instagram, which reveals that bakers the world over are flooding their feeds with flashy croissants: An Asian-inspired salted egg croissant with a golden, sweet-and-savoury filling has appeared at Taiwanese chain Bake Code’s Toronto-area outposts. A vibrantly amethyst-hued croissant shot through with ube is on offer from small-batch producer Baker Doe in San Francisco. Naturally, there’s a matcha-dusted croissant, with a hefty electric-green custard filling from Top Impression Bakery Cafe in Sydney. And Hong Kong recently welcomed a charcoal-slashed croissant bursting with black sesame-infused cream at Big Grains. The list goes on and on.

It’s impossible to pinpoint precisely when this trend began — after all, croissants have been around for almost two centuries — but Stephen’s over-the-top-croissant shop is not an outlier. Rather, his is a single example of a growing global obsession with croissants and their variations that can be said to have originated in 2013 with the pioneering Frankenpastry, Dominique Ansel’s Cronut. There are only so many potential hybrid pastries out there, Stephen pointed out. Now, bakers seem to be turning back to more familiar territory.

“Nothing’s got a long life span anymore,” said the baking persona known as Baker Doe, who — in keeping with the croissant scene’s turn toward the whimsical — maintains an air of secrecy around his true identity. Hybrids, he believes, are on their way out.

“People nowadays go more towards colours and intriguing flavours — whatever is Instagrammable,” he continued. “This is what I see from my personal business experience most people could care less [about] just a plain butter croissant, and most of them don’t know the fine-tuned experience needed to create just that simple-looking pastry.”

It’s difficult to gauge whether all these croissants are actually delicious (like this chocolate one), but they’re almost universally mesmerising. Supermoon’s nearly 25,000 followers on Instagram can vouch for that. Many of the flavours are born out of Stephen’s happiest childhood memories, he said, and change every one to two weeks. (Currently, he’s playing around with cranberries and citrus.) San Francisco’s Baker Doe said he’s drawn to new flavours simply because he’s bored by doing the same thing over and over. Croissants are a sensible halfway point between stability and creativity — the basic method of producing them remains the same (butter, lots and lots of butter), but the flavours and colours change.

“Pastry has come full circle,” said Stephen, who, you’ll recall, popularised a cruffin. “Right now, I think people are leaning a little bit back toward doing the classics and doing them really, really well — taking something that we already know and playing around.” — Bloomberg

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