LAST MONTH, pastry chef Dominique Ansel rolled out a new item at his Manhattan bakery. He took croissant dough, shaped it into a doughnut, deep fried it, and filled it with Tahitian vanilla cream. Then came the master stroke: He dubbed his croissant-doughnut hybrid the “cronut.”
New York’s diners—and food bloggers—were entranced. Soon there were long lines of trend-spotting customers hoping to taste the latest culinary sensation. In a matter of weeks, cronuts became New York’s most precious commodity, spawning a black market on Craigslist and selling for as much as $35 above the $5 counter price.
“Cronut” is a lexical blend, or what Lewis Carroll called a “portmanteau,” in which, as Humpty Dumpty explained to Alice, “there are two meanings packed up into one word.” In French, “portmanteau” is itself a portmanteau, combining “porter” (“to carry”) and “manteau” (“cloak”) to make a name for a cloak-carrying suitcase.
The cronut itself is effectively a portmanteau as well, fusing two great tastes that taste great together. Portmanteaus seem to hit a sweet spot both culinarily and linguistically. Like the old “X meets Y” movie pitches (“Oblivion” is “The Matrix” meets “Wall-E”!), a portmanteau can offer us something new that is nevertheless based in two completely familiar things. The current popularity of “cronut”-style blending suggests that in both language and cuisine, we can stomach novelty as long as the components are recognizable.