(If you've been under a rock or on a starvation diet for the last five months, think croissant, doughnut, muffin ....)
The cronut is the creation of New York-based chef Dominique Ansel. Way back in the pastry’s glorious youth (read: May), New York magazine’s Kevin Roose wrote about its economics: "Ansel's main problem, as I see it, is that he's experiencing the kind of growth typical of tech start-ups, but he's limited by the supply constraints of a physical brick-and-mortar business."
Among Roose's ideas for scaling the cronut business before imitators caught up: "He could strike a deal with Starbucks -- like the $100 million deal Starbucks made to acquire Bay Bread last year -- that would increase his production capacity and distribution while preserving some of the exclusivity associated with cronuts."
Ansel wasn't so into this plan: “Will we expand? Yes, sure. But in a different and more creative way than just punching out the same model."
But Starbucks may have gotten an idea -- or at least independently come up with a similar scheme. It introduced the duffin at 730 U.K. stores last week. Bloomberg Businessweek's Venessa Wong describes, "The duffin uses a buttermilk base, and tastes like a moist, cakey muffin, not the coarse, bready type. It looks like a muffin, but it’s filled with raspberry jam and coated in sugar, like a jelly doughnut."
But duffins were already a thing! Ian Cranna, vice president of marketing and category for Starbucks U.K., admitted in an e-mail to Wong, “Since launching the Starbucks Duffin we have discovered that there are lots of other Duffins out there.” Yeah, just ask the angry fans of U.K. bakery Bea's of Bloomsbury, which wants to keep selling its own -- older -- duffins.
And so began #duffingate.
Though it sounds like an incident of penguins breaking into a hotel, duffingate is in fact about jelly-filled muffins. It will come and go, as will the Starbucks pastries probably. But as dessert hybrids cycle through the news media almost as quickly as Miley Cyrus takes off her clothes, it's worth pausing to offer some advice to would-be chefs of the next big, sweet thing.
1. Breed, breed, breed: The indulgent folks who will eat your creations love a two-for-one deal. Ask a little kid if he wants a Labrador, a Poodle or a Labradoodle, and you can bet what his answer will be. Who doesn't love a plumcot? Or a pluot.
Desserts may not naturally multiply, but that's what pastry chefs are for. Combine and conquer.
2. It's all in the name: Another question for our generic little boy: Ice-cream sandwich or Chipwich? Yeah, I thought so. And really, who came up with the name "ice-cream sandwich"? Certainly not someone who had ever been on Twitter.
A couple of months before the birth of the cronut, Ansel made my sister’s wedding cake. It was really, really good. It had no name. It received no press coverage. I've had a cronut (swoon away), but I much prefer Ansel's DKA pastry. Others seem to as well; at least as of late May it was still apparently the bakery's best-seller. But “Dominique’s Kouign Amann” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, hence the acronym and the blank stares when you try to tell people about it.
3. It still has to taste good: Did you click that crookie link? I like croissants. I like Oreos. I even like the mischievous allure connoted by "crookie." But, I'm sorry, that thing just doesn't look appetizing.
It's too soon -- and I'm on the wrong side of the ocean -- to tell what people will think of duffins, but if all the rest of Starbucks's food is any indication (yes, they're working on it), the duffin may take its hashtag to its grave.
4. Trademark TM TM TM: The real problem at the center of duffingate is not just that Starbucks introduced the pastry but also that its supplier trademarked the name, which got Bea's of Bloomsbury worried that its own duffins would have to go. The owner of Bea's acknowledged to ABC News that "Doughnut muffins have been around for a while" and said that Starbucks's action is like "like trademarking 'cupcake.' " She added: "And if every person were forced to have trademarks for food inventions, we'd have 100 different names for Caesar Salad right now."
Or maybe we'd have a much better name than Caesar Salad. Starbucks seems to have issued a cease-fire, saying it doesn't plan to try and cut off Bea's duffin production.
Ansel may not be the hungry businessman that Roose envisions, but he got this one right: Cronuts are trademarked. Do yourself a favor and get a TM.
Which brings me to my creation. Well ... what I thought was my creation until I Googled it: the bronut.
OK, the bronut was already created in Boston. But it breaks all the rules.
1. It’s not composed of two desserts. Mixing a doughnut and a burger is like breeding a horse and a donkey. A mule may have some benefits, but it ain't reproducing any time soon.
2. That name is kind of a fraud. Just because burnut and doughger sound terrible doesn’t mean you can cheat.
3. It looks gross. None of these treats are healthy, but a burger, fried egg and maple-bacon glazed doughnut combined may take years off your life.
4. No signs of a trademark. Except for from some seemingly unrelated person in Colorado.
Heck, I’d still like to pull a Starbucks and introduce my own bronut. The brownie-doughnut delight of fraternities across America.
(Zara Kessler is an assistant editor and producer for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)