After eating what was potentially the worst cream puff of my life this afternoon at the local Willie Winki, I was motivated to write an article on Beard Papa. Having been relocated to the arse-end of Shikoku for the past month, I think you can safely assume that I’m missing a bunch of the things that Black is missing. To be sure, Beard Papa is definitely one of them.
As far as I’m concerned, Beard Papa is the crème de la crème of “choux a la crème” (シュークリーム). I’ve got not idea why the Japanese call cream puffs by a name that sounds like that black stuff I use to polish my shoes (“shoe cream”) but I’m happy to tell you that they have perfected the art of making them. Sorry, I stand corrected, Beard Papa has perfected the art of making them (and Willie Winki most certainly has not).
Beard Papa has a surprisingly young history. Although the founder has been baking cakes in Osaka for years now, he only started growing Beard Papa into a national chain back in the late nineties. Unlike Colonel Sanders, the “Bearded Papa” actually did exist and that the nickname was given to him by the local children near his first bakery. There has got to be a health issue or two about smoking your pipe while baking cream puffs, but they taste so good that I’m willing to forgive him.
Apparently cream puffs made their way into Japan back in the Meiji era when the Japanese government decided (who knows why) to serve French food at high-level official functions. The head chef (大膳職) at the time was said to have learnt how to make Cream Puffs from a resident French Chef called Samuel Pierre. Nobody knows whether Pierre had a large beard and smoked a pipe or not.
So what makes Beard Papa’s cream puffs so special? Their homepage suggests that it is for two reasons. The first is the double-layered shell of the outer pastry crust. By keeping the inner layer of the pastry crispier, the Papa manages to keep the cream fresher, longer. But for me, the deciding factor is the vanilla flavored custard squeezed generously inside the puff. Despite the price of vanilla beans going up by three times in the last two years, Beard Papa continues to buy fresh vanilla beans and grind them into the custard (that is what those brown specs are that you can see in the custard). Yum!
The great news is that fans of Beard Papa can still get their fix even after they’ve left Japan (even if you can’t get one in Shikoku!!). Beard Papa has been “sharing the joy” and recently opened up stores in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, America, Hawaii (don’t ask me why Hawaii is separate to America, maybe they think it is just another prefecture of Japan) and Australia. I’m not a fan of most Japanese desserts, but this is one that is worth exporting. Hold on a sec, did I imply that it is a Japanese dessert…? Maybe it is….? Does anyone know any better?
(Bean Knowledge: In case you’re wondering, “choux” means cabbage in French. Apparently it got the name because the pastry on the outside of the puff looks like a cabbage.)