Wisconsin's Cream Puff Tradition
Off the Cuff with the State Fair's Kristi Chuckel
To folks with a sweet tooth, the Wisconsin State Fair means one thing: cream puffs. It’s the only place you can get the official version of the crusty pastry shell filled with mounds of lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream. Since 1924, when cream puffs were first sold at the fair, the Wisconsin Bakers Association has managed the operation and baking of the Original Cream Puffs—now a registered trademark. In this 94th year of cream puff bliss, we caught up with Kristi Chuckel, communications director of Wisconsin State Fair Park, for a little off-the-cuff chat about the puff.
Where did the recipe for the Original Cream Puff come from, and do you still use it?
The Wisconsin State Fair Cream Puff was created in 1924 when Governor John Blaine asked Wisconsin food inspector Charles Kremer to come up with a food item that would highlight Wisconsin’s dairy industry for fairgoers. Kremer was chosen not only because he was a state food inspector, but because his family also owned a bakery on the South Side of Milwaukee. While there have been a few minor tweaks throughout the years to improve upon the original recipe, it is essentially the same recipe that Kremer created in 1924.
How many cream puffs do you sell each year?
An average of 350,000 cream puffs are consumed each year. And there are no calories in any State Fair food because you burn them off walking around the Fair. [OK, fine—they really do have approximately 500 calories, but who’s counting calories at the Fair?]
How important do you think cream puffs are to the success of the State Fair?
The Wisconsin State Fair Original Cream Puffs are not only delicious, but the entire process of watching them being made is a time-honored tradition for many fairgoers. They would certainly be missed if they weren’t at the Wisconsin State Fair, but we also would never measure the success of the fair on one food item. There are literally thousands of foods at the fair made by more than 200 different vendors. And this is just the food!
It’s been announced that the fair is getting a brand-new cream puff building for 2019. What we can expect?
The governor’s office announced earlier this year his approval of a request to enumerate funding for an expanded and renovated Cream Puff Pavilion. While the project is enumerated in the state budget, funding still must come from gifts and grants. We are currently seeking donors for this project and working with architects on plans to expand the footprint of the bakery and improve productivity, while still honoring the history of the Dairy Building (which was built in 1909) and the tradition of watching cream puffs being made.