foodie field trip: my kingdom for a coco puff

How far would you travel for a coco puff?

I’m not talking about the popular breakfast cereal, but the universally adored chocolate-pudding-filled cream puff available only at Liliha Bakery in Honolulu. This sweet confection has been the bakery’s best seller since the early 90’s, something locals constantly crave and visitors make a point of eating whenever they’re in town. Google Yelp or Urban Spoon, and you’ll find rave after rave after rave about these coco puffs — for many, dessert nirvana, a type of pastry you’d sell your second child for.

Now, here’s where I hang my head in shame — though I grew up in Hawai’i, and have been back to visit many times, until last week I had never eaten a Liliha Bakery coco puff (gasp!). This is like admitting to never having eaten shave ice or saimin or spam musubi. Total sacrilege. Don’t ask me why. Major tsk, tsk.

So, I made it my sole mission to finally try them on our recent trip. All through the excruciatingly l – o – n – g plane ride from Virginia, the only thing that kept me going was the promise of creamy smooth chocolate filling encased in tender puff pastry, topped with buttery Chantilly frosting. Coco puffs, coco puffs, coco puffs . . .

The thing with Liliha Bakery is that no matter when you go, the place is buzzin’. People patiently stand in line to eat in the adjoining diner (I hear their pancakes are THE FLUFFIEST), and you must take a number for bakery service. Of course it’s worth the wait. I have never had anything from there that I didn’t like. Take this lemon coconut square, for example. Moist. Rich. Buttery. So, so good.

Or these divine blueberry scones — HELLO!

Everything is baked on the premises and doesn’t stay on the shelves for more than a few hours. I love the constant turnover of fresh pastries tempting the customer, and the place is open 24 hours every day except Monday. Rumor has it they sell between 5-7000 coco puffs every day. The bakery calls it, “The Magic Puff,” because it has the power to settle disputes, “impress your significant other’s family,” and is the perfect celebratory treat anywhere, anytime.

Such a build-up! Such anticipation! Just how good could this perfect little puff be?

I cut it in half to appreciate its layers and textures. Lovely.

I licked a bit of the Chantilly topping, which is like German Chocolate Cake frosting without the coconut and nuts. Mmmmm.

I dipped my finger into the chocolate filling. Fond memories of childhood pudding.

Then I bit into the whole thing, pudding oozing out the side of my mouth. Slowly chew. Contemplate. Hmmm.

Better take another bite just to make sure.

After traveling 5,000+ miles, feeling lame for missing them all this time, and waiting in line for I don’t know how long, my verdict was . . . Meh.

I was not loco over the coco. What was wrong with me? What was I missing? Truly, it was a good little cream puff. I wouldn’t refuse another if it were offered to me. And I would enjoy and savor it. But to me it didn’t live up to the hype. My Dad loved it. He ate one with much relish after polishing off a big piece of lemon meringue pie. He made room for it. But my mom and even Len agreed it was just okay. Phew! I thought it was just me.

This must be a sign that I need to go back, maybe try the green tea cream puff or even the regular one. For you, I would once again make the big sacrifice of consuming another apricot danish, more chocolate chip cookies, an ensemada, or some Chantilly Cake. Biting into any one of these treats is experiencing a small slice of Hawai’i’s cultural history. You just keep wanting more.

Aloha, sweet coco puff. For now, let’s agree to see other people. ☺

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Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

16 thoughts on “foodie field trip: my kingdom for a coco puff

  1. I love to bake, but I don’t make anything particularly beautiful, and so I really appreciate bakeries like this that do such a lovely job of making food that is both delicious and aesthetically pleasing.

    I obviously need to visit Hawai’i.

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    1. Same here — my baking is pretty basic stuff, so I wholeheartedly appreciate specialty pastries🙂. No need to ever twist my arm to re-visit Liliha Bakery!

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  2. I’m sorry the coco puff didn’t live up to the hype. That blueberry scone looks pretty darn good. And the bakery — one more reason to visit Hawaii (as if I needed another reason)! Thanks for the treats.

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    1. I can vouch for the blueberry scones! There are many good reasons to visit Hawai’i, but food is definitely at the top of the list. It’s a social institution in itself. Hope you get there soon, Martha.🙂

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  3. Boy, do those bring back memories of my mom’s cream puffs (but Mom’s were very tasty, not meh at all). So sorry they were disappointing. I think I’d go for the blueberry scone next time — that looked pretty darn good.

    Welcome back!

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  4. Sometimes a thing is hyped so much that our expectations become stratospheric. And so something that is very good, but not ahMAAAzing, can be a bit of a letdown. I’ve had that happen with books and movies–no surprise it happens sometimes with food!

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    1. Yes, you’re right — usually I try not to go overboard with expectations, but this really seemed like a sure thing. It was good, make no mistake, but like you said, not AhMAAAzing. And there are zillions of people who disagree with me, so —

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  5. Over Thanksgiving (in Staunton), my mom served us doughnuts that were totally hyped up and wow, did they live up to the hype! We had them with vanilla ice cream and my mouth is watering just thinking about them. I can’t remember the name of the shop, but if you plan a trip to Staunton, let me know and I will find out for you.

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    1. Oh, thanks, Tabatha. Those doughnuts *do* sound amazing. I think I’ve only been to Staunton once in more than 25 years of living in VA, but you never know . . .

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  6. I enjoyed the mouth-watering journey nonetheless, Jama – something about the deliciousness of anticipation? But, yes, I think you need to go back a few times, sampling more of your favorites and new things too, all in the name of exploration, and we can vicariously enjoy it. (And without the calories.) ;0)

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the “journey,” Robyn. Part of my fun is definitely the anticipation and the context surrounding a particular food. The joy is in the field trip itself; you never know what you may discover. I agree that more exploration is definitely in order!

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  7. Bummer about that cocoa puff not being as wonderful as you expected, but a sigh of relief from me that I’m not missing out! LOL I’m still a big Beard Papa cream puff fan – although I did have the BEST cream puff in Kyoto on the street. I have never been a big cream puff fan, but I am now. Good thing the Beard Papa closest to me is a minimum of a 30 min drive away – or I’d be eating those things every day! xo

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