There is a yellow awning in SoHo that trims the front of one of New York City’s most famous dessert destinations, and one of my favorite places in the world: Dominique Ansel Bakery. This patisserie institution made its name by creating the Cronut – a donut only in shape, made with croissant-like dough creating beautiful lamination that holds creams and jams, all topped with a simple icing and an a-symmetrical decoration. They have only one flavor of Cronut per month and they never repeat a flavor. Subsequently, I find myself back every month anxiously awaiting the reveal of what the next flavor will be, and looking forward to when I will be able to try the new creation.
While the Cronut is the most famous item, they have a multitude of other creations that deserve just as much love, such as their DKA’s (a caramelized croissant full of flakey and buttery goodness with a sugary crunch), Cookie Shots (a chocolate chip cookie baked into the shape of a shot glass, lined with chocolate and filled with milk), macarons, eclairs, and a pastry case full of other creative desserts. One can easily enter seeking a Cronut and exit with a bag full of items.
I have been to Dominique Ansel a number of times, often with my good friends who exposed me to the spot in the first place, but this past weekend I had the opportunity to share this place I love with my parents, as they were visiting for a couple days! But not only would this visit be with new company, but it would also be in a new way. I realized as we walked up to the shop to wait in line (a common procedure as the shop is fairly small and very popular) that it was the shop’s seventh birthday anniversary! I had thought the day had passed, and actually found relief in that thought initially because I had figured it would be crazy and crowded and unpleasant. On the contrary, the line was slightly larger than usual, but not bad at all. The employees always do a wonderful job at managing the line and keeping it moving, and they continued their fantastic line management that day not only with speed, but by handing out small cups of hot apple cider and fresh Mini Madeleines as we waited! Both were perfect, simple appetizers for the treats to come.
Upon entering the store, you are struck first by the beauty of the carb-y goodness in the pastry case before you, and secondly by the utter efficiency of it all. You’re filtered into the back of the line that hugs the pastry case, giving you an opportunity to feast your eyes on the stunning creations made by the tireless workers, who are in constant motion. It’s difficult to stay on task when you’re faced with the possibility of a glossy carrot cake, a row of perfect looking macarons, a frozen s’more, or on this visit, a piece of pumpkin or bourbon-pecan pie. But luckily the line, per usual, moved so quickly that we did not have too much time to get drawn in by the beauty of extraneous pastry.
We ended up walking away with a Cronut per person, a chocolate croissant, a salted caramel éclair, two DKAs, two cappuccinos and a chai latte. It was too crowded in the rear seating area and the garden seating was closed in preparation for birthday festivities, so we found a bench on the corner and settled in for the subsequent consumption of our haul.
First came the cronuts. This month’s flavor was one I already knew was after my heart: sweet potato. As previously stated on this blog, sweet potato can do very little wrong in my eyes. However, I was concerned that perhaps the flavor would be too heavy for the delicate folds of the cronut, and it would weigh this light pastry down. As I took my first bite I knew I was a fool for even letting such a thought cross my mind. A light stream of sweet potato burst into my mouth and my teeth made their way through layer upon layer of pastry holding the silkiest, lightest cream I could have ever hoped for. This mix of flavor and texture gave me competing sensations of the comfort of home and the sophistication of fine dining that was nothing short of magical. I took my time, as I always try to, with my cronut. Smelling its rich, buttery, sweet aroma. Tasting each filling and the icing by themselves. Getting a taste of the pastry by itself. Each part is perfection on its own, and together it is like all the best-trained musicians playing the most marvelous symphony.
Alas, all symphonies must end. However, this one was continued by two more different, but equally as astounding pieces. I next had the caramelized goodness of a DKA. A small, inconspicuous croissant, I am always taken aback by just how stunning the flavor is upon my first bite. Following an initial crunch from the caramelized exterior, I am met with the butteriest croissant I have ever and probably will ever have. Not only is flakey and flavorful, but it is moist. It is not serving you a multitude of flavors. It’s not as complex an experience as the cronut. But it excels in its field by giving you the simple flavor of butter and sugar dressed to the nines.
The last pastry I tasted that day was one I had not yet experienced from Dominique Ansel: the chocolate croissant. While I am always pleased by the beauty of a chocolate croissant, this one excels yet again, with diagonal stripes of hard chocolate streaking across the outside letting you know exactly what you’re in for. My mom took the first bite, and we were all surprised by how the pastry sprung back. The texture was full of life and did not depreciate even up until the last bites. But even more importantly: the chocolate. The smooth chocolate filling within these lively layers was rich, deep, and dark. With just enough bitterness to let you know this was no average chocolate, and enough sweetness to feel like the elegant treat it is, I can safely say I have never had a chocolate croissant as good as this. It played to all areas of the mouth, leaving me feeling complete.
My mom and dad were the consumers of the salted caramel éclair, as I had tried it before, and it was only because of my rave review of it that they decided they must try it themselves. Judging by its swift completion, I think I can safely say that it is well-loved by us all now.
On that sunny Sunday, with yellow trees lining the block, world-class pastries consumed, and family by my side, I don’t think I could have been happier. That is what makes Dominique Ansel so great: it gives you creations perfect for enjoying as an experience to share with loved ones in an accessible but elegant way. A pastry from them makes life feel a little simpler, a little brighter, a little lighter. And that’s what will keep me coming back every month. I hope you do the same.