Earlier this week, Leslier Brenner, the food critic at The Dallas Morning News, took an indirect shot at her own food section when it paid tribute to Bisous Bisous' muffin/croissant mashup. "How about a little originality?" Brenner grumbled.
I get the grumble. When I visited Bisous Bisous last year, I surveyed the case with anticipation. The macaroons looked amazing (I took half a dozen home) the madeleines were beautiful (I grabbed four) and the croissants (two) were light and flaky. And then there was something that looked like it might be sold at a shopping mall, or maybe the airport, Terminal D.
"What's with the Cinnabon?" I asked owner Andrea Meyer. She called them cruffins and unapologetically told me the mishmash was borne out of excess croissant dough. If you've ever made croissants -- you should if you haven't -- there are always excess bits of pastry dough left after you cut out a run of the perfect triangles you need to shape a finished croissant. A similar thing happens with a thick sheet of dough that's been riddled with holes from a biscuit or cookie cutter. Except with the homogenous dough of baked goods, you can collect the trimmings, wad them up and roll them out again. With pastry dough, which is made up of carefully formed layers of butter and flour, a second run would produce croissants that would be less airy and flaky.
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Because all of that butter is so expensive, it's bad business to toss pastry in the waste bin. So Meyer stuffs the scraps into muffin tins with more sugar than you care to read about and a new baked thing is born. The cruffin isn't a freak show created to attract mindless confection fans previously only seduced by cupcakes; it's a method of conserving what is one of every patisserie's most expensive ingredients.
The subject was tackled with much more depth in an article in The New Yorker about the birth of the cronut. Dominique Ansel's creation isn't standard croissant dough thoughtlessly tossed in the deep fryer but a carefully concocted deep-fried pastry. Another chef invented the pretzel croissant after leasing some kitchen space in his patisserie to a pretzel maker. Are these all culinary inventions that will stand the test of time or are they flash-in-the-fryer fads? And if these aren't original, then what defines Brenner's elusive originality?
Innovation is rarely played out like a movie scene, where a creator sipping a cup of tea is illuminated from above as an idea takes shape in an instant. Creators invent things over time with little ideas that are honed bit by bit until they become big. Sure, these mashups will not likely be immortalized in the French pastry canon, but some of them could spark that next great idea. I mean, can you imagine the guff some pastry chef got when he first decided to tuck a stick of chocolate inside the same croissant folks had been eating for centuries? How about a little originality, right?