Caramelized crunch: the art of the Canelé

by convivialist

If you have never eaten a canelé, I advise you to book the next flight leaving in the direction of France. If this is logistically and/or financially impossible, then find the closest available Frenchman or Frenchwoman and beg. Unfortunately, there is also the chance that he or she does not own the proper canelé forms. Now, it becomes more difficult– but not impossible. Listen carefully. Get out your credit card and click on this link. Purchase forms. In one or two weeks, when a package arrives on your doorstep, unwrap immediately and follow closely the recipe that I am about to present. Try it a second time, because it is that hard to achieve success. By the third (maybe fourth) attempt at making canelés, you will be both thrilled and addicted.

The first time I tried these pastries, with their caramelized exterior and custard-like interior, my friend Benoit baked them. Benoit, an effortless genious in the kitchen, whipped up a batch of canelés like a French grandma who also happens to be a pâtissière. He insisted it was not as easy as it looked. First was the issue of the canelé forms, which cannot easily be secured outside of France. Second was the oven temperature and timing. To achieve that caramelized, almost crunchy exterior and soft chewy interior, one engages in a tenuous waltz with the oven thermostat.

This was well over a year ago, so when Benoit returned a couple of weeks back from France with a Silicone canelé form especially for me, I booked a lesson immediately. Just a note on the forms: traditionally canelés come from Bordeaux and are baked in copper molds, which are beautiful and produce a more even, professional result, but are very costly. For home baking of canelés, Silicone-coated Gastroflex molds will do. Professional patissiers will coat their forms with “white oil”, a mixture of melted beeswax and safflower oil, before pouring in the batter. If you have some beeswax lying around, knock yourself out, otherwise, coating the molds with cold butter will also work. Many recipes say that you don’t need any greasing if you are using Silicone molds, but following Benoit’s instructions, I felt that the cold butter coat even in the non-stick form equaled an extra level of caramelization.

When I asked Benoit to email me the recipe before coming over for our canelé session, he sent a list of the ingredients, but no instructions. Better, I thought, then I will just have to learn by watching, with no preconceived notions of how it should be done. Benoit, though, is a very intuitive chef- he mixes by feel and approximation, and he convinced me that canelé could also be made in this way. When the result consisted of clumpy batter with an odd greyish consistency, I still held onto the belief that everything would end up ok. Only now do I realize that he was testing me, that sneaky Frenchman with his sly and playful sense of humor. He didn’t think the American was up for making real Canelés de Bordeaux.

Later, though, Benoit sent me a more precise and instructive recipe and I had more success. So after some trial and error I present you with the following. Canelés are best eaten within six hours out of the oven. Enjoy for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee, or as a dessert with a glass of wine.

Recipe – Canelé

makes 16 small canelés

½ liter (2 cups) milk

1 tsp vanilla extract or ½ vanilla bean

50 g butter, plus more for the forms

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

100 g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar

2 Tbsp. good quality dark rum

1. Combine milk, vanilla extract or bean and butter in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Beat eggs and egg yolks lightly in a small bowl. Pour eggs onto the dry mixture but do not yet stir in.

3. Remove vanilla bean (if using) from milk mixture. Scrape the seeds out and return them to the mixture.

4. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the large bowl and whisk until well-combined.  Let sit for a few minutes. Add rum and stir.

5. Let the batter sit until it comes to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour, ideally a day (I simply couldn’t wait one day).

6. Heat oven to 270° C (500° F) and make sure it preheats well enough (you want it REALLY hot). Grease canelé forms with cold butter and set on a baking sheet. Pour in batter so that it comes to a bit below the top surface of the molds. Place baking sheet into the oven. After 10 minutes, turn down the temperature to 180° C (350° F) and let bake for another 50-60 minutes or until brown and caramelized on the outside and soft but not liquid on the inside.

7. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before de-molding.