Saturday, October 08, 2005

Beard Papa cream puffs - Hollywood, CA

When Krispy Kreme first came to Southern California, people went nuts for the stuff. Drove in from hours away to the only location on the West coast, as if Jesus Christ almighty had come back to sell us donuts and the only way to see Him was to wait in line at the drive through window of the Brea Krispy Kreme. The madness didn't subside for months after the grand opening.

Americans are a donut eating people. We Japanese don't donut. Wouldn't give a rat's patootey if Krispy Kreme opened in Tokyo. We are a "choux cream" eating people. Today, a Beard Papa opened in Hollywood's massive Kodak Theater shopping-tainment megaplex. It's Japan's largest chain of cream puff bakery cafe, and people lose their minds and and queue up when a new one opens in Japan. This is their first California location, with others soon to follow in the South Bay area and possibly Santa Monica.

The staff started baking at 2am for today's 10am grand opening. According to someone on Chowhound who was there, a line of anxious (mostly Japanese) people waited an hour for the first taste. This intrepid reporter showed up at 7:30pm, well after the lines subsided.

Baked choux pastry prior to filling
Cream puff selection
Directly across from the El Capitan theater on Hollywood Blvd.

These treats are heavy for their moderate size because they're overfilled with a soft, almost runny vanilla custard. The choux pastry is baked to a firm, crisp texture with very little sweetness. It's a crispy vehicle for carrying the pudding like filling. Although they claim to use lavish amounts of vanilla beans, the vanilla flavor was mellow, and balanced nicely with egg yolk and a very restrained amount of sugar. It's Japanese subtlety at its best.

If Americans think of cream puffs at all, it's in the pejorative, sissified sense. That's because most American bakeries make lousy cream puffs filled with a stiff overstarched pastry cream, or worse, a butter cream. These don't weep moisture into the choux puff, but they don't taste good, either. They do that because their cream puffs sit around for hours until someone buys them, and they weren't ever good to start with.

Beard Papa, on the other hand, just makes cream puffs so they're always fresh. They can use wetter, gooey, luscious cream fillings. For today's opening, the basic vanilla filling is all they offered. I can't wait to try the other fillings like sesame and green tea!

The sum of Beard Papa's cream puff is greater than its mild components. It's a perfect contrast of crisp shell and creamy filling, with just enough powdered sugar to remind you these are decadent treats. Left unsupervised with a pot of coffee, I could easily scarf a box of six by myself, and I guarantee my ass would grow a size larger by next week. Ah - there's the American in me!

Beard Papa, for your next location, please give us a drive though window. If there's anything you can learn from Krisy Kreme, it's that we Americans love our drive-thrus!

Beard Papa
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA


Anonymous Kirk said...

Hi Prof - You know, this is all my friends from "back home" (Honolulu) talk about! They are absolutely nuts about it. Good thing I don't have a sweet tooth.

10/09/2005 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Champurrado said...

I still can't let go of my initial dive into cream puff heaven when I lived in LA. The Helm's Bakery Truck would come up the street and for about a quarter or less you could pull one of their pastries off a drawer from the back door of the van. No better example exists for me.

10/10/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger BoLA said...

I absolutely love cream puffs and can't wait to try this new place out. Too bad I couldn't get one of those coffee cups. Oh well. Maybe they'll do another promo when they open the one in Gardena. :)

10/10/2005 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger elmomonster said...

Oh yeah! That's the stuff! I usually get my fix from Vietnamese and Chinese bakeries. Banh Mi Che Cali has 'em, and so does the Irvine 99 Ranch on Culver. I agree that it's all about the custard filling. The stuff they put into the choux at American bakeries just plain sucks.

10/11/2005 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No exaggeration--these are the BEST choux cream you will ever eat in your life! At first glance, they look like nothing special. I couldn't understand the hype (why would people wait in such long lines?) until I bit into one--first you encounter crispiest, lightest choux pastry then you experience the smooth, subtle sweetness of the vanilla cream. These are not to be missed! I'm so happy I don't have to go all the way to Hawaii for these anymore!

10/11/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am a huge custard fan and these sound positively amazing. Love your site. BTW, congrats on your OC Register blog!

10/13/2005 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger LACheesemonger said...

Back when my mother was a young child in Honolulu, long before Kirk was born, my Chinese grandma would take my mother to the local bakery/pastry shop after my mother had to endure painful sinus infection treatments. The cream puffs she had as a child are nothing at all like what most cream puffs are made like today.

Most of the more exalted cream puffs today, are the smaller sized, like a beard papa's. Many Americans are now used to cream puffs filled not with creamy custard filling, but simply whipped cream... ewww!

I forget the name of the German pastry shop on 3rd near Sedar's Sinai Med. Cent. but on special order, you can get them to make cream puffs with a filling that is similar to the chocolate eclars. Bavarian cream filled, but not as heavy as in the eclars.

Caprice French Pastry shop on Pico. in WLA, can make a special order of their cream puffs which are about the same size as BP's, but they tend to have a bit more sugar in them. You must special order a dozen or so, because the standard version is disappointingly topped with a cloyingly sweet white frosting coating, and drop of chocolate in the center...all iCandy, no substance. Special order without the frills and just dusted with confectioners sugar.

Best, or closest to what my mother used to get is the 'old' style larger cream puffs (they now have bowed to fashion and cut them in half and add a layer of whipped cream) at Mousse Fantasy at the little Tokyo West section of Sawtelle in WLA. When Junko Saito's husband makes them on Sunday's he adds a pinch of liquor and cream to make the Bavarian cream like vanilla custard a lighter texture. Order 'old' style and they don't cut the cream puff in half and stuff it with addtional whipped cream.

Very, very few pastry shops will make the larger style of cream puffs anymore, because they tend to collapse from the cream inside. Kind of like fresh baked bread, best just after it has been made, deteriorates over time (though I've been lucky and had them the next day from the frig, and they still taste pretty good, and haven't caved in on themselves).

I feed my mother dilegently for 3+ months, a weekly supply of Mousse Fantasy cream puffs in 2001 while she was going through chemo-radiation therapy (she got pretty much sick of eating them at the end of the treatment, and even though she lost 2lbs/week, those high-calorie desserts where just about as much as she could handle with the nausea). Kept her from wasting away, getting too weak before surgery, to remove her right lung.

Quality, flavorful cream is a paramount ingredient to making a good filling for the cream puff. I'd bet that the 'average' cream puff made in France's Normandy region is superior to those made almost anywhere else in the world, albeit only slightly better.

10/21/2005 01:51:00 PM  

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