Eli: No, it’s not a misspelling. This is not an entry about the coo-coo chocolatey cereal. Every so often in someone’s lifetime a food experience will blow them away, like the first time I had a Coca Cola, a cheeseburger, or duck. The “Coco Puff” was another intense and unforgettable experience.
It started early in my relationship with Schatzi. I remember one night the Coco Puff was first described to me as a pastry filled with chocolate custard and topped with a buttery icing, that I couldn’t remember the name of at the time, called Chantilly. By her description I thought that these would be amazing, but I had no idea what I was in store for.
Coco Puffs are a pastry made by the Liliha Bakery in Honolulu. They consist of a cream puff made with choux dough (the same stuff they use for éclairs if you are not familiar). These cream puffs are filled with a rich, ethereal chocolate pudding and topped with a generous smear of Chantilly frosting, which is a granular frosting made from sugar, butter, and vanilla. This stuff is out of sight. OUT OF SIGHT!
The first time I got to sample the Coco Puff, I was over at Schatzi’s sister’s house. We had gone over there specifically to pick up a box of these pastries, brought directly from Liliha Bakery by plane, to deliver them to one of her other sisters after taking a few for ourselves. Schatzi opened up the box and lifted one out. She took a bite, revealing the pudding inside. I took a bite and was stunned. The combination of textures, from the cream puff, the silky pudding, and slightly granular, buttery Chantilly frosting, was almost too much for my brain to handle. Immediately I began thinking of how I could duplicate the Coco Puff.
It took a few days of pondering before I finally revealed my intentions to Schatzi. My fears of this endeavor were as follows: epic failure in the eyes of my newfound family, epic failure to myself, and being called a haole (if you don’t know, you probably are one). I asked Schatzi not to tell anyone else to reduce pressure upon myself. Two weeks later I gave it a shot.
First off was the choux dough; typically a difficult feat in and of itself. I looked up a recipe for that on the Internet. Next was the chocolate pudding. I went through several until finally deciding on one that I liked. Note that I had no frame of reference to match the flavor and consistency of Liliha Bakery’s since I had never before made a chocolate pudding from scratch. Last, I tackled the Chantilly frosting. There are a few types of this frosting that I found online, but one that seemed right. It was actually found on a page written by someone who had also tried to recreate the Coco Puff themselves, and it was her that I made my biggest mistake of my first attempt: while reading the recipe, I looked at their pudding, which was made from chocolate Jell-O pudding mix and Dream Whip in equal amounts. I figured that maybe scaling down to a pre-mixed formula would be more correct since this person seemed to think that it was close to Liliha’s. Wrong. For my other big mistake, I misread the measurements of sugar for the Chantilly; 11/2 looks like eleven halves when typed out, which was a STUPID mistake considering I read recipes everyday for a living and know general ratios of ingredients to obtain the correct result. But hey, I can blame some of my mistakes on being completely stressed out over proving myself to Schatzi and her sisters.
The choux dough was actually very easy to make, although definitely not a task for the novice baker. After making the dough I out it into pastry bags with a medium sized star tip. Having never made cream puffs before and not knowing how much they would expand from cooking, I actually ended up making them a third as small as the originals. While the cream puffs baked in the oven, I made the chocolate pudding. Nothing special about that since it was completely instant—shame on me. I also made a vanilla pudding version for one of Schatzi’s sisters who is allergic to caffeine. After the cream puffs came out, looking absolutely divine but tiny compared to Liliha’s, I made the Chantilly Frosting. After combining all ingredients and awaiting the final product, I noticed a difference right away in texture compared to Liliha’s. I didn’t realize until later that I had misread the recipe. I filled the pastries and topped with the frosting, took my last photo document, ad impatiently ate one. It was delicious, but not even close. Schatzi later agreed that they were not in much resemblance to Liliha’s, but that I was well my way. One day, I’m sure after a few more attempts, I should be able to make something I can be proud to call a Coco Puff.