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Why croissants edged out cakes

Flaky, buttery, photo-friendly laminated pastries have overtaken the humble layer cake in the bakery world

A croissant is an easy-to-carry snack compared to a cake slice layered with cream.
A croissant is an easy-to-carry snack compared to a cake slice layered with cream. (Istockphoto)

The croissant is on a relentless march. In Mumbai’s Bandra West, there are three to five places within a 1km radius of one’s home selling viennoiserie items, including butter croissants and Danishes. It is no wonder that the local pastry shop—with shelves displaying a nice black forest cake, layered fruit cake and cheesecake—has languished.

Also read | Much a ‘dough’ about croissants

Pastry chef Jasirah Dalvi, who heads the bakery at Affogato, a gelataria-meets-café that opened in Khar last weekend, thinks people prefer laminated pastries—prepared by folding butter with dough to create paper thin layers—because they are versatile, lighter and Instagram-friendly. And this last one is key.

While planning the menu for Affogato, they had to pick between a coke-float and a croissant stuffed with gelato. They went with the latter, believing it’s something no one else offers. “Also, it looks good on Instagram. People want something that will model for them,” says Dalvi. A laminated pastry is a showstopper.

Virality on social media is proof. No black forest cake has enjoyed the kind of social media fame that the croissant and its myriad iterations have. Although laminated pastries have been around for centuries, it took Instagram to turbo-charge it to global glory.

It began in 2013. New York-based pastry chef Dominique Ansel wanted to create something new for Mother’s Day. He introduced the cronut—a cross between a croissant and doughnut that’s fried and stuffed with custard. His eponymous bakery had hour-long queues as people waited to buy the cronut, followed by frenzied sharing on social media.

Perhaps it was the first food item to become a viral sensation; it certainly led to a variety of interpretations—croffle (croissant meets waffle), circular pinwheel croissants and cruffin (a hybrid of croissant and muffin).

In Mumbai, that year, chef Sanjana Patel set up the pastry shop La Folie. At a time when terms like ingredient-driven were foreign to the food lexicon in India, she focused on creating layered French pastries, or entremet, with the best ingredients she could procure. Her menu had croissants too, but they were not popular. At the time, trends originating in the West took time to reach India. Cut to 2023, and there has been a complete turnaround.

The pandemic gave laminated pastries a boost, with people craving the familiar comfort of dough and butter, says Patel. The boom in artisanal coffee paired with the growing culture of work-from-cafés spurred the growth of complementary foods. One can visit a café for a morning meeting and have a Danish with a pour-over; bring home a croissant to prepare a sandwich for lunch; or share a cruffin on an evening date. Laminated pastries are versatile and can be a treat any time of the day.

Also read | Upgrade weekend breakfasts with a croissant sandwich recipe

No wonder they have edged out the good old cake layered with mousse, now enjoyed as an indulgent dessert or reserved for special occasions.

For the baker too, preparing a croissant with just flour and butter is simpler than making a layered pastry containing ganache, cake and biscuit crumbs for texture. If you want to take the cake up a few notches, as most trained pastry chefs do, it requires training and skill. “It’s (more) complicated to run a patisserie than it is to run a bakery or bakeshop,” says Patel.

Simplicity and ease are the laminated pastry’s trump card. Food trends, though, tend to be circular in nature, so the good old pastry with cream, cake and crumbs is bound to make a comeback, albeit in a renewed avatar

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