For a year my job was to look at food porn all day.
Well, it was a bit more complicated than that. I was the community manager (that is, I ran Facebook and Twitter) for a cheese brand, and would spend my days befriending bored teenagers and their even more bored mothers and posting pictures of cheese melting on toast. Macro shots of cheese bubbling under grills, the oily, golden counterpoint to dry toast and tedious ham… ‘Food porn’ is every bit as addictive, as visceral and gripping as the real thing. As with the women in porn films, those sandwiches are most often depicted alone, isolated, as objects waiting to be seized and devoured. You see them, and you want to lick the screen.
The cronut was designed for the age of food porn. Rather like the macaroon or the Pumpkin Spice Latte, its taste is beside the point because it was designed for visual consumption. The cronut is an Instagram dessert.
I should point out now that I know how old the cronut is as a phenomenon, that it’s no longer an online craze or even an offline one inspiring queues to form outside bakeries. That it has arrived in Ireland is evidence enough: I am cynical enough to understand that we inherit our food crazes third-hand, after New York and London (I would like very much for our next food craze to be the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck).
Which makes the cronut all the more fascinating, at this late stage. What becomes of the cronut after the Tweets are gone? Intent on outlasting its own hype– aside being available at Krüst, where I am today, and the Marker Bar, they are now available at Centra– the cronut appears to be making a bid for acceptance as an everyday dessert. Or even snack. Or even... breakfast?
Which is how I find myself on Aungier Street on a Monday morning at 8am. I feel murky and bleak and the October sky above is much the same. I stand in front of the till, which is staffed by delicious tanned young men who bear no signs of cronut-induced diabetes and are all too happy to help me pick out a flavour for €2.20. They also serve Bob Marley branded coffee and are playing music to match.
We’ll share the same room, yeah! For Jah provide the bread.
Or the sugary battered dough. I choose the coconut cronut (Cocronut? That’s a missed marketing opportunity…) which is smothered in white gloopy icing and shredded coconut flakes.
Is this love? Is this love? Is this love?
The cronut is cold and disconcertingly solid. I grip it through the anonymous brown paper bag it is sold in, as all transgressive objects are. It has the weight and clammy density of a severed limb. I notice outside there’s a chalkboard that reads “We got the cronut”, as though the Krüst staff hunted and captured it in the wild. Below that it says 'As seen on TV', though 'as seen on the internet' would be more fitting.
It's odd thinking the cupcake craze took off in a pre-Instagram age. How how much salted caramel icing, how many thousand Oreo garnishes went unphotographed during those years? How many bakers efforts were wasted?
This cronut, though, is a different deep-fried beast. Remember that Nigella Lawson book cover with the pure white icing? The coconut cronut has a similar aesthetic going on, taken to a newly gluttonous extreme. White icing so heavy it breaks off in shards, revealing dense, weighty dough that is layered inside as flakey strata (this is the croissant part of the cronut, though to be perfectly honest it’s far more do- than cro- in smell, texture and taste).
Just looking at the cronut is giving me toothache.
But, surely you did not eat that?
Yup, half of it. The rest I took home, but it didn’t travel well and collapsed, becoming less than Instagram-worthy. Chipping away at it whole is like scaling some mammoth sugary iceberg– I am surprised my teeth don’t crumble and rot as they touch it– but sliced into pieces the cronut becomes easier to handle. The icing and sugar end up everywhere, though. On hands, clothing, other people… It is ‘viral’ in every sense of the word, leaving a sticky legacy after it’s gone.
What kind of joyless monster would I be, to tell you I did not enjoy the cronut? That I found it anticlimactic, and more messy than it was worth? That I would sooner crunch on ribboned dino kale?
This is not meant as a sleight on Krust cafe, which is delightful. I respect their decision to bring ‘frankenpastries’ to Dublin at an affordable price. But I just can’t shake the guilt involved in eating it. It feels dangerous and pointless, like consuming a battered Mars bar. Fat for fat’s own sake, with an additional dusting of sugar. I am experiencing post-cronut remorse.
I scratch my head and pull away strands gluey with sugar. The icing is now all over my hair.
I sense that the cronut is indelibly integrated into culture now, an ‘Internet food’ native to nowhere and acceptable everywhere. It will mark itself on bodies, through new rolls of flab and cavities in the teeth. It will bully its sibling, the doughnut, out of shops. The croissant, too, will be forgotten, and our arteries will slowly accustom themselves to butter and sugary bombast. The life expectancy will duly shorten, and the HSE will gradually learn to cope with a post-cronut world.
There is no escape, only cronuts. I buy a matcha tea and sneak away into the gloomy morning, hoping the green tea will negate the cronut’s health effects, and that, with time, we can forget that this sticky, sugary episode ever happened.