The Cream Puffs Of Wisconsin
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Once a year, at the Wisconsin State Fair, there is something everyone looks forward to eating - the cream puff - not the tiny French pastry but its American cousin, a mountain of perfectly whipped Midwestern cream held between two enormous pieces of delectable, golden, airy dough. It is a long-standing NPR tradition to go where many have been before, so I ventured into the frenzied heart of Wisconsin desserts.
We are in the Cream Puff Pavilion, which - just saying those words together makes me so excited. Tell me who you are and what you do because I think you're, like, Mr. Cream Puff Man.
TIM GILL: (Laughter) My name is Tim Gill. I'm the co-director of the Original Cream Puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So can you tell me a little bit about why cream puffs are so pivotal to Wisconsin and the state fair and why you have an entire pavilion dedicated to it?
GILL: Yes. The original cream puff is the signature item at the Wisconsin State Fair. It's actually 94 years in the making. People in Wisconsin - they love their cream puff. They come from all over the state, up from Illinois. And we serve around 400,000 every year.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess, also, the cream puff is important because Wisconsin's a dairy state.
GILL: Exactly. Exactly. We love our dairy here in Wisconsin. We love our cream. And it's just, like, that perfect balance. It's, like, kind of a cool treat but not too heavy on a hot August day. Everybody loves it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So I think you're going to take us in now to show us how a cream puff is made.
GILL: Yeah. I'd love to take you in and show you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's do it.
Inside the Cream Puff Pavilion's industrial kitchen, pallets of sugar are stacked to the ceiling next to bricks of shortening.
Oh, my God. This smells so good.
We head down the assembly line, past giant mixers beating the batter...
(SOUNDBITE OF MIXERS BEATING DOUGH)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...A machine that spits out perfectly plump dollops of dough, the huge ovens where the puffs get golden and the electric slicer where they're cut in two to make room for the best part - the cream.
GILL: This is where the magic happens, all right? It's going to be a little cold, but that's all right...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Inside a refrigerated room, workers hand-fill each puff with a hearty portion of fresh cream. T'ana Yancey teaches me how to do it.
So OK. I am now holding the cream puffer...
T'ANA YANCEY: (Laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me what I'm supposed to do.
YANCEY: OK. So when I turn it on, you just go in a circle. And then, when you get to a circle, go to the middle and just squeeze the rest out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. It's coming out at a steady clip?
YANCEY: Yep. And then squeeze.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Squeeze. Oh.
(SOUNDBITE OF CREAM SPLATTERING)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did I do good?
GILL: There you go.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.
GILL: It's a perfect amount of cream.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But I was left with one big question. How do you eat the giant puff? The recommended way - twist the top half of the puff and use it as a scoop. But two fairgoers, Bernadette and Gerry Strand, who are taking selfies with their cream puff, teach me their technique.
GERRY STRAND: You ignore whether you get messy or not. Don't worry about fingers getting sticky.
BERNADETTE STRAND: Yeah.
G. STRAND: Eat it...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just go all in, right...
G. STRAND: Go all in...
B. STRAND: All in...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All in. I...
G. STRAND: Put it in your face if you have to.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I am now obviously going to eat my cream puff. I believe in getting messy, so I'm going to eat it like a sandwich. Here we go. Wow. That is delicious. This is absolutely wonderful. And I made this.
This is Lulu Garcia-Navarro at the state fair in Wisconsin.
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