Wow, wow, wow. It’s been a while since I posted here, and I am feeling a little rusty. In the two months (yikes!) since my last post, we moved from Chicago to Milwaukee! So I’ve been trying to get my bearings, trying to unpack, and trying to figure out a new kitchen with new light. But I’m back, baby!
Today, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite childhood snacks: Cream puffs! And it turns out, when it comes to cream puff love, I’m not alone. Apparently cream puffs are big business in Wisconsin. They are a hit at the Wisconsin State Fair, where they sell approximately 400,000 cream puffs each year, and have been selling them since 1924, when they were first sold by the Wisconsin Bakers Association.
The original cream puff recipe is said to have been created by Charles Kremer, a state bakery inspector who lived on the south side of Milwaukee. At the time, the Governor of Wisconsin, John Blaine, was looking for someone to create a dish that would highlight Wisconsin’s dairy industry at the State Fair. He chose Kremer not only because of his job as a bakery inspector, but also because Kremer’s family had recently opened their own bakery. The cream puff was a hit with fairgoers straightaway, and the rest is history.
In my never-ending quest to find some genealogy-food link between dishes and people, I did a little research on Charles Kremer himself. According to census records, he was born in Rhineland, Germany, in 1865. Rhineland borders France, which may give us a hint why Kremer’s family had a cream puff recipe. Cream puff recipes are actually a version of a French profiterole, a pastry made from choux dough, a buttery, egg-based concoction which incorporates no leavening agent. It is said that the recipe for the dough dates all the way back to the 1500s, when it was created by a Florentine chef named Pantarelli or Pantanelli in the French court of King Henry II and his Italian wife, Catherine de Medici. In the early 1800s, French chef Marie-Antoine Careme modified the recipe, creating a more modern version of the profiterole. (Careme even took it a step further by creating the formidable, towering croquembouche.)
The Kremer-profiterole-cream puff connection is, of course, just a hunch. I’ve found no link between the family and a French profiterole recipe, and it should be noted that the cream puff had been popular in the United States since at least the 1850s, with the dessert even showing up in 1851 on a menu from the Revere House in Boston.
For the cream puffs you see here, I’m using my grandma’s recipe, which turned into my mom’s recipe, and is now my recipe. (As for the famous Wisconsin State Fair cream puff, according to those in the know, the recipe has changed little since 1924, though it has been tweaked to account for production quantities.) But to keep them truly seasonal, these are pumpkin-cream filled puffs, topped with a bit of cinnamon cream cheese glaze. (Or, if you’d prefer, you can just dust them with a little powdered sugar, exactly the way I used to have them as a kid, and they will still be delicious!)
Pumpkin Cream Puffs
For cream puffs:
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
For pumpkin pudding filling:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling!)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
For pumpkin pudding filling: Combine sugars, pumpkin, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a saucepan. Add heavy cream, then begin stirring in milk and turn on stove to medium heat. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil for one minute.
Remove the pan from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.
Allow to cool slightly before pouring into a heat/refrigerator safe container.
Press plastic wrap directly on to the top of the pudding. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use.
For cream puffs: Preheat oven to 400 degree and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a saucepan, combine water and butter and bring to a boil.
Add the flour and salt and stir until the mixture begins to combine and form a ball.
Remove from heat, add to a large glass bowl. Add one egg at a time, stirring to combine. The mixture will slowly come together and, when ready, should be stiff enough to hold the spoon vertical.
Drop 1/4-cup spoonfuls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet. (I used a pastry bag to pipe them onto the cookie sheet. This step is completely unnecessary, but it makes the puffs slightly more uniform, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Bake for 35 minutes until the puffs are light brown.
Allow cream puffs to cool completely, then poke a hole in one side and pipe the chilled pumpkin pudding into the center. Top with cream cheese glaze, optional. (For cream cheese glaze, combine 4 ounces of room temperature cream cheese, beaten with a few tablespoons of milk, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp of vanilla, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon.)
If you’re looking for more pumpkin fall treat goodness, as well as some sweet pumpkin history, may I direct you to the chocolate ganache-covered pumpkin donuts I made last October. And if you need me, I’ll be looking far ahead to next year’s State Fair where I can pick up a cream puff.