Sixth in a series about State Fair Food as served at the 2012 Big E (New England's Great State Fair)
For many people who attend the Big E, the signature food of the fair is not a donut-padded bacon cheeseburger or a batter-dipped deep fried monstrosity. It's a cream puff.
First introduced at the fair in 2002, the Big E Cream Puff was intended to be the "signature dessert" of the 17-day event, and it achieved that goal almost immediately - they were a huge hit that first year and have remained enormously popular ever since (the bakery sells more than 60,000 thousand of them during the run of the fair.) And it's easy to see why - the pastry is melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the cream filling isn't some cheap-ass lard-and-sugar bastardization, it's real 42% butterfat cream, sweetened and whipped to within a few minutes of turning into butter. It's decadent and gorgeous and velvety smooth, and I buy one a year, which my wife Maryanne and I share.
I think that the quality of the ingredients is only one of the factors involved in the cream puffs' popularity. The Big built a state-of-the-art bakery into the west side of The New England Center building where the cream puffs and their companion pastries, The Big Eclair, are made from scratch. That bakery is fronted on three sides by big glass windows that allow patrons of the fair to watch the pastries being made from beginning to end. It attracts quite a crowd, of both onlookers and buyers.
And it doesn't seem to matter what time of day you get there to buy your cream puff fix - there seems always to be a line (although, to be fair, the folks behind the counter at the bakery are friendly and efficient and the line moves fairly quickly.)
Cream puffs are $3.75 each and are available individually to eat right there at one of the surrounding picnic tables and benches, or you can get a bunch of them boxed to take home.