Cronut 'Sugar Bombs' Hit the Middle East

Cronuts make aliyah: Will the craze-inducing donut-croissant hybrid, now sweeping across Manhattan, successfully take root in Israel?

If you don’t know what a Cronut is by now, you obviously aren't keeping up with the ridiculous food crazes that periodically sweep across the island of Manhattan and then rapidly make their way across New York and spread like a virus throughout the United States.

Now, thanks to the magic of the Internet and television news, the lag time between these fads conquering the U.S. and hitting the international scene has been drastically shortened.

And that is why the biggest new attraction at a veteran Tel Aviv bakery is a huge table full of the sugary, butter-drenched, deep-fried pastries crowned with icing known as Cronuts - the incredibly trendy fusion of croissant and doughnut created by pastry chef Dominique Ansel in his Soho bakery in New York.

The creators of the first Cronuts in the Middle East (unless there is a bakery in Bahrain or Dubai making them that the media hasn’t caught up with yet) is the historic Lenchner Bakery - founded in 1948, the year the state of Israel was  created - that proved that it isn’t stuck in the past by becoming the first Israeli bakery to jump on the Cronut bandwagon.

Shmulik Lenchner, 53, one of the owners of the family business that has three outlets in Tel Aviv, one of which is located in fashionable Sheinkin Street, has been making pastries for 33 years. He said that getting into the Cronut business was a no-brainer.

“We read about it on the Internet - how they were all going crazy - and figured, ‘why not do it?’ The world is so small now that many Israelis know about them and want to try them.”

Lenchner smiles over the trays of treats that line his store. “I’ll tell you a secret. We’ve pretty much been making that pastry for the past 60 years. They didn’t invent anything very new. The dough is very similar to the Eastern European yeast pastry dough my family brought with it to Israel. We only changed it a little to adapt to the fact that instead of baking it - when it comes to the Cronuts, we fry it.”

The Cronut hype began in the spring when a bakery in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan debuted the pastry to great success, and they were dubbed the new “sugar bombs of sweetness.” Huge lines to purchase the treat have snaked around city blocks through the summer, people began ‘scalping’ newly purchased $5 Cronuts for $30-$100.

Lenchner says he was highly amused by the media frenzy. He laughs: “It must be pretty boring in America. They don’t have the big problems we have here in Israel, so they have to come up with crazes like this. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the picture of people standing in line for these things like they were the iPhone 10.”

Since I’ve never stood on line in Manhattan for three hours to sample an original Dominique Ansel product, I have no basis to judge whether the Tel Aviv version even comes close to reproducing the original. What is obvious, though, is that the Israeli version, while glazing the top of the Cronut, forgoes the filling in the middle- which appears to be a significant part of its appeal.

Obviously, Lenchner isn’t the only overseas outlet to jump on the Cronut bandwagon. The craze resulted in numerous other international bakeries getting in on the Cronut action. The website Buzzfeed is keeping close track of the global Cronut spread - which seems to have caught fire particularly Far East, with Cronut sightings in Bali, Bangkok, and Seoul.

A fascinating sidebar to the Cronut craze story is the controversy over the name. Ansel trademarked the name Cronut and has taken legal action against other U.S. outlets who dare to call their product by the name. According to the bakery’s Facebook page:

“The term Cronut™ is a name associated with a specific product offered at the bakery and undeniably linked to the Chef’s reputation as well as the bakery’s name. Our desire to protect the name is not an attempt to claim or take credit for all cooking methods associated with the recipe or all croissant and doughnut products in general. Instead, it offers the bakery and Chef protection against un-granted affiliations with the bakery or confusion from customers.”

So while Cronuts are everywhere, they aren’t necessarily being called Cronuts. Bakeries are coming up with alternative monikers that range from Doughssant to Cro-bar to Crullant to Croissnut to Croi-Nuts.

None of the pastries in Lenchner’s Herzl Street outlet are marked by signs - Israeli style, customers just point and say “I want THAT.” But Shmulik Lenchner says that even if he had signs, he wouldn’t be particularly worried about the legal implications - he doubts that Israel is on the Dominique Ansel bakery’s radar.

The problem in Israel, he says, the issue isn’t so much the name “Cronut” itself as the pronunciation, which, like other foreign words, suffers from the fact that when words are written in Hebrew, the vowel sounds are often unclear. As a result, Israelis already mangle the French word “croissant” on a regular basis, calling it a “corosant.” When it comes to Cronuts, he says, they are utterly lost. “A lot of people come in and ask me for a “Corkinet,” Lenchner says, referring to the Hebrew word for scooter.

Many in the United States who contend the trend is overhyped and wonder how long it will last. In Israel, it’s even more of a question, since, while croissants are popular, the doughnut has been a resounding public flop. Dunkin’ Donuts attempt to conquer the Israeli palate in the 1990’s failed miserably, and today, doughnuts are almost exclusively found in outlets that cater to homesick American immigrants and expats. Israelis only embrace them once a year - at Hannukah, in the form of the holiday “sufganiya.”

With his many years of experience, I ask Lenchner, does he think Cronuts in Israel will be a short-term fashion that will fade away? Will the bakery still be making them in a few months? In a year?

He pauses to contemplate the question. “Well, they will definitely be around for a while. Hannukah is around the corner, and it will surely be popular then - if it will continue after that is an interesting question. Who knows? It could be. After all, come on, what can possibly be bad about fried buttery pastry? A little fattening? Sure. But bad? Never.”

Tomer Appelbaum
Tomer Appelberg