Forgive me if I say that when I saw the first Beard Papa's open in my neighborhood, I shrugged and kept on walking. A store that specialized in cream puffs? Not my thing. Cream puffs were fine, but I couldn't say that I had ever craved one, or that I would choose one over the cookies and cakes that waited mere minutes away. When I moved, I carried that attitude across the country to San Francisco, where I noticed another cream puff specialty store in my neighborhood. Except this wasn't a chain, and the word started to roll in: Pacific Puffs is good.
I gave it a go. The store, located at the intersection of Fillmore and Union streets in the Marina, is cute but sparse (in other words, be prepared to take your puffs to go.) Most of the space is filled by the pastry case, which is filled with pleasantly irregularly shaped balls of pâte à choux pastry, some dusted with sugar and some iced with chocolate. That first experience, in which I devoured a Classic puff, got me hooked. To my surprise, I now crave cream puffs.
Though on second thought, it might not be that I didn't like cream puffs before, it's that creating a good cream puff is deceptively difficult. The pâte à choux must have a thin but discernible crust that gives way to an airy interior. It may be the vehicle for the flavored interior, but if it's too thick or crumbly or stiff, it ruins the entire experience.
The interior of a cream puff is, you guessed it, the cream. It too must have the right texture: not so thin that it's watery and makes the pastry soggy, but not heavy, and, good lord, not closing in on custard (that would be a different sweet all together.) Most of all, it's the flavor generator, so it needs to win you over with its taste, whatever flavor that may be. From there, the choice of powdered sugar or icing is optional but, given how few components we're working with, any flaws in flavor or texture are pretty immediately apparent.
Pacific Puffs has nailed the balance in a puff, and they imbue those interiors with flavor. For example, the interior of the Classic puff is flavored with rich Madagascar bourbon vanilla and the seasonal Pumpkin has actual flecks of squash. Of course I wanted to make sure that the puffs I've had weren't just an aberration, so I decided to try the entire line.
Click through the slideshow above to see all the flavors at Pacific Puffs.