Allow me, for a moment, to help you envision this dreamy cream puff. The first of its two fillings is a deeply roasty banana cream that tastes like if Laffy Taffy cost $100. The team at PDF turns whole roasted bananas into a thick purée by cooking the fruit down with a dry caramel and blitzing it in a food processor. “There’s not a lot of liquid, so the starch in the banana tightens it up,” Russell explains. With cream, eggs, and white chocolate, the purée becomes a custard (the fat in the chocolate helps the custard set, eliminating the need to use gelatin). When salted and folded into whipped cream, the custard becomes what’s known as crème diplomat.
Sour orange caramel (the second filling) and a crispy craquelin round out the pastry. The caramel is made with the surprisingly sour juice of Seville oranges, sourced from citrus farmers in California. In every PDF cream puff I’ve eaten (three, which may mean I need to relax), it has dripped delightfully onto the plate when I cut into the pastry. Craquelin is a “cookie” topper you may recognize from the likes of melon pan and conchas. In the oven, as the pastry puffs and expands, the craquelin round relaxes into a drape over the domed exterior, then bakes into a crisp, crackly finish.
When telling me about the cream puff on the phone recently, Russell said the word comforting more times than I could count. It’s true that it’s hard not to feel taken care of with big bites of choux pastry in your mouth, but I don’t think I would have made the jump from bananas—which strike me as utilitarian—to comfort food on my own. But the flavor has a personal history for Russell, one that explains his affection.
“My mom loves to make bananas Foster,” he said. “When I was a kid, it was her favorite thing to do. She’d turn the lights off in the kitchen and make a big flambé. So whenever our family got together, we always had caramelized bananas on ice cream. It was a flavor that existed in my palette subconsciously before professional cooking, those dark notes of banana. As a cook, you tend to think about your cooking experience [when looking for inspiration]. But caramelized banana is a flavor that supersedes that for me.” For those of us lucky enough to nab a spot at PDF for dinner (and stay for dessert), that sentiment makes it to the plate.