When considering the diverse topography and geology of a cinnamon roll, the novice would be well served to divide the pastry into four distinct sections. The first is the exterior crust, burnished and gently firm from the heat of the oven. The second is the mantle, a softer interior ring slicked with buttered cinnamon. The third is the core, a sugary artichoke heart where the spice paste is denser and the sweet bread is aggressively under-baked. The fourth and most obvious section is the icing, the snow capped peak on this craggy mountain of dough.
I recount this essential lesson because in 2015, Dominique Ansel — the talented pastry chef-slash-stubbled anthropomorphization of the Pinterest search algorithm — deigned to do away with the first two layers of the roll and instead serve just the soft core, topped with icing. He calls it a Cinna-Spun Roll (barf), and he serves it at his eponymous “Kitchen” on Seventh Avenue.
It was the dessert equivalent of cutting the crusts off a bologna sandwich. I was aghast. The whole point of a cinnamon roll is that you have to eat your vegetable — the firmer exterior — to get to your succulent meat — the core. You have the sacrifice, and then you have the payoff. With Ansel, he’s only giving you the payoff. This is deeper than having one’s cake and eating it too. This is a one page revision of “Lord of The Rings” where a smirking Frodo keeps the ring and wears it on his extended middle finger.
Still, I sampled the roll earlier this week, two years after its launch. And while I can’t say waiting was part of my initial plan, I’m glad it worked out this way, as it can be objectively difficult to try his pastries immediately after they go viral.
How does it taste? The dark, mahogany exterior belies the roll’s preternatural softness. Ansel uses a warm brioche dough that’s as soft and eggy as the cacio e pepe fritelle at Lilia. In the spectrum of the sweets world, only a zeppole has a moister texture. The cinnamon is apparent as an aroma, but very delicate, perhaps a bit too delicate, on the palate. This is no big deal because at this point you’re smitten with the rich mouthfeel. And then there’s the frosting, a roundhouse kick of applejack sweetness that’s almost instantly quelled by buttery dough.
It’s a really good cinnamon roll. Possibly not the best, but an intensely worthy riff on this quintessential American dessert. Anyone still reeling from the loss of Cinnabon in Penn Station (raises hand) should go try it. The Cinna-Spun roll costs $5.25 and I’m calling it a BUY.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).