Cream Puffs, or, The Custard-Filled Carrot That Got My Stepdad to Use Chopsticks

Want to know what goes well, really well, with a bowl of pho?

Honoring European colonialism, I mean, the French influence in Vietnam, with a dessert of cream puffs, which we recently did to celebrate my stepdad’s birthday.

Before he met my mother, my stepdad lived on a farm in rural Washington, rode horses, and watched western movies. Definitely a meat and potatoes kind of guy.

He didn’t know how to use chopsticks. Because a cowboy needs chopsticks “like a fish needs a bicycle,” to quote U2. But this was not my mother’s biggest gripe about him.

No, her biggest complaint was that he bought his pants at Fred Meyer, which is a chain of stores we have in these parts where you can get everything from windshield wipers to ground beef to diamond jewelry.

Not to mention pants.

Obviously, this guy needed to be taught a few things. We left the pants issue to my mom. Meanwhile, one of my cousins took it upon herself to teach my stepdad to use chopsticks.

Breaking into chopstick use with small and/or slippery foods such as rice or noodles is a painful, frustrating, and humiliating manner of prolonging hunger. Only the strongest persevere. A common stereotype is that all Asians are hardworking and disciplined and can succeed in any conditions.

Hello. You’d be all of those things too if you had to depend on two glorified toothpicks to guide your food from your bowl to your mouth.

If you really want to teach someone to use chopsticks, don’t stick a bowl of bland white rice or slick noodles and tofu (protein cubes, my stepdad calls them without affection) in front of a person. Use a large, textured, slow-moving inducement.

Like cream puffs.

On that fateful day, my cousin told my stepdad that he couldn’t have a cream puff until he could pick it up with his chopsticks.

You say sadistic; we say disciplined.

The bottom line is, he figured it out tout de suite.

Cream puffs are made of choux pastry, which only sounds high-falluting and difficult. It’s actually quite easy to make, and just as easy to make gluten-free. I had a great recipe handed down to me from a friend, but it’s buried in the black hole otherwise known as my recipe binder, so I found this one from joyofbaking (not affiliated with the series of books).

I like this recipe. It’s easy. Descriptive. And the weights for ingredients such as flour are provided, which makes it a snap to make this recipe gluten-free.

And because you have to have something to put in them: chocolate whipped cream. My mother fills her cream puffs with homemade custard, which is how I’ll always love them best. I also like to use freshly whipped cream with the zest of one lemon. But Lupe asked for chocolate this time.

Sift 1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder with 1/4 cup powdered sugar.

Some bloggers love to brag about the photography equipment they use. Canons and Nikons with paparazzi-quality telephoto lenses and the like. Let me tell you about my envy-inducing equipment: an eleven-year-old Sony digital camera that’s about as sleek as a circa-1995 cell phone. Thank goodness I had my sister to sift the cocoa powder and powdered sugar so I could capture these action shots.

Add the sifted cocoa powder and powdered sugar to 1 cup of whipping cream that you’ve whipped. Throw in a splash of vanilla extract.

Use a fork to split open the cream puffs. Fill away.

Make it snow indoors again.

For the cream puff recipe: joyofbaking

To make it gluten-free, substitute your favorite flour blend by weight. Here’s mine.

Chocolate Whipped Cream


1 cup heavy whipping cream (half pint)

1/4 cup confectioners or powdered sugar

1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla


1. Chill a large bowl in the freezer.

2. Pour the heavy whipping cream into the bowl and beat on high speed with a standing or handheld mixer until soft peaks form.

3. Add the sifted powdered sugar/cocoa powder and the vanilla extract and mix on low speed until blended. Use a spatula to wipe down the sides of the bowl.

4. Keep chilled until ready to use.


1 Comment

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One response to “Cream Puffs, or, The Custard-Filled Carrot That Got My Stepdad to Use Chopsticks

  1. Stepdad

    Absolutely the best creampuffs I ever had! Great practice for later use of those pesky pointed sticks when eating a bowl of Pho’. I must admit I feel very comfortable using them now after 13 years! I still manage to let a piece of food take to the air when all five of those thumbs can’t seem to work together to get noodles from bowl to mouth! Did anyone seewhere that noodle went?

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