And here it is! The recipe I promised you last Friday. There’s been so much talk on the blog about Canelès that I am sure by now your curiosity has been piqued. Considering millions are consumed everyday around the world a part of me wonders if it’s naive to think that this memorable little French confection needs an introduction. Nevertheless let me do my bit of public service and introduce to you the original Cupcake. If I’m not mistaken, Canelès may very well be the first cake to be baked in a cup. Literally baked in a long, fluted copper mould with a particular design, the Canelès distinctive shape is hard to miss, but so much more than its shape, it’s the eating that makes it even harder to forget. The sheer comfort you get from devouring this deliciously dainty delight, is worth every bit of labour invested over the last 300 years, to reach us wherever we may be today.
With so much attention given over time to Cremè Bruleè the famous custard with a cracking caramel “lid”, I suspect that it may be the reason Canelès have slipped under our the radar swinging back and forth in celebration. What I’m ranting about is a custardy batter that’s laden with a sinful amount of sugar and baked in a piping hot oven, for a fairly long time resulting in a crisp dark-golden edible mould, filled with a soft inner pillow, that when married together in your mouth, the contrast of the caramelised crust on the outside and the soft, delicate rum & vanilla infused creaminess on the inside, is nothing short of a match made in pastry heaven.
The truth is that I’ve never eaten Canelès out of a French bakery so I have nothing to compare it to. Neither have I found a single Pàtisserie in the regions of Italy that I’ve visited thus far who keep Canelès, hence my visit to France. But even there on the South East side, many bakeries did not have them, sadly so, because in those desperate moments after coming so far, and almost smelling the vanilla and rum in the air I would have paid anything to have tasted one from the hands of a French Pastry Chef. While Canelès originated in Bordeaux in the South West of France and have made its way around the world, Canelè making in its country of origin is somewhat of a Bordeaux tradition, and unlikely to be found in every part of France. I would have been more likely to find them in Spain than in France, since Bordeaux lies a mere 220kms away from the Spanish border, which I took the time to learn only later. I wondered about this and couldn’t reconcile why they are unpopular in certain regions of France prompting me to discover that in the 1980’s a group of 88 French Pàtissiers from Bordeaux formed a Confrèrie or fraternity to protect the integrity of the Canelés claiming that the original Canelès de Bordeaux is made with a secret recipe, shunning any variations that did not live up to the Bordeaux standard. Talk about a sense of gastronomic pride! This however did not stop the resufarcing of Canelès in fresh new flavours in other parts of the world, which is why the brotherhood took it upon themselves to remove the second “n” from the original spelling of the word “cannelès” to be able to distinguish their time-honoured brand from the rest. Despite their best efforts to keep this formula classified, other French pastry chefs who worked in Boulangeries in the Bordeaux region have happily let the cat out of the bag contributing to the fast growing popularity of this three century old confection in famous cities as far as New York where bakery owners are all too happy to turn them out in the thousands every day.
There’s many a memoir of how this little pastry first came into being and even today none of them have been proven to be the genuine story. A more well-known tale claims that a Frenchman who baked bread with flour and eggs, one day decided to add sugar to his mixture and “voila” the Canelè was born. Another interpretation bears similar traits to how the first Tarte Tatin was created, by sheer accident. I suppose the story there is that centuries ago a Frenchman making custard forgot about it on the fire and the result was a custard with an sugary-burned shell. I’m not sure I believe that one, because traditional custard has a lot less sugar in it than Canelè batter. This meagre observation is key in understanding the art of making Canelès. It is the considerable amount of sugar added in relation to the other ingredients that causes the pastry to form it’s shiny crust of cooked sugar. Folktale or fact this next legendary story is one I found most endearing and one the inner child in me chooses to believe. It is centered around a convent of Nuns who lived in the 17th century.
Shortly before the French Revolution a group of Nuns who worked in the region of Bordeaux, created Canelès from egg yolks granted to the convent by local winemakers who used only the whites of eggs to clarify the wine. The Nuns then used the egg yolks to bake something sweet to delight the orphaned children under their care. How divine! If this is true I can only imagine the love that filtered through the air in those moments when these delicious darlings were gifted to the children. I can’t think of a better way to prove to orphaned children that indeed God does exist and life is beautiful!
All said and done I will share my method of how to make life more beautiful with you, and while it may not be the esoteric Canelès de Bordeaux, it is tried, tested and trusted by me and until the day I get to taste The Authentic Canèles and compare differences I will joyfully share this recipe because it would be an injustice to keep it only for me. Usually Canelès are simply eaten as they are and perfectly so, but I prefer to enjoy them with an additional serving of liquid caramel to heighten the bittery-sweetness. That however is a preferred taste and is completely optional and most likely a culinary crime amongst the famous band of 88 Canelè warriors of Bordeaux. But this is simply my variation! There are quite a few hints and tips that you need to know before you tread with this, but don’t be discouraged by the notes because they are there to help you understand how the different components are going to work together to form the best result. The finest aspect of this confection is that it’s made with the simplest ingredients, in addition there’s the gratification that no heavy duty techniques are involved, making it fairly effortless labour for beginner cooks. While the most difficult aspect of this undertaking, is patience. This is a very delicate pastry that has taken over three centuries to find its way to you so work patiently. Do not try to hasten the necessary steps. Read the notes for further instructions and lessons as to why this pastry needs time and patience. I promise it will not disappoint you. Once you try them your loved ones will never let you rest again!
Happy Canelè Making!
Ingredients Makes 12
- 500ml whole milk
- 50g butter cubed
- 5ml vanilla extract/pod of 1 vanilla bean
- 20ml dark rum
- 20ml Grand Marnier
- 4 egg yolks
- 120g plain flour sifted
- 30g cornstrach
- 200g granulated sugar
For the Liquid Caramel
- 2 tbs granulated sugar
- 1 tbs water
For Greasing Copper Moulds
- 2 tbs soft butter
- 2 tbs beeswax mixture
- Bring milk, butter and vanilla to a boil in a small pot with a spout and set aside to cool for ten minutes.
- In a medium bowl, *seperate eggs and whisk yolks.
- Slowly *temper the yolks with the milk mixture by pouring the milk gently with one hand and whisking the yolks rapidly with the other until the milk mixture and yolks are homogenised.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients.
- Pour egg milk mixture into dry ingredients and whisk to combine to form a smooth consistency.
- Add alcohol and mix.
- Pour custard batter into a jug and leave in the fridge to rest for no less than 12 to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 240°C gas fan/ 260°C electric fan / 280°C conventional for no less than 20 mins (see notes)
- Grease copper moulds with beeswax adequately, followed by butter.
- Place the moulds on an oven tray. (see notes)
- Remove the custard batter from the fridge and whisk a few times to blend, this small step is very important.
- Pour custard batter into moulds leaving a 5mm edge from the top.
- Place in the oven and bake for 25 mins before lowering the temperature by 70°C accordingly – 170°C gas fan / 190°C electric fan /210°C conventional for 30 minutes until dark golden brown.
- Remove Canelès from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out.
- Allow to cool for a further 60 minutes unmoulded.
- In a small saucepan add sugar and water and boil until a very dark golden brown colour forms, with a bitter sweet taste.
- Remove caramel from the heat and drizzle over Canelès before serving.
Maestros Need to Know * The most preferred type of mould used for this recipe, is the fluted copper moulds they have been traditionally baked in for centuries. While the purists will never consider using anything else, there are silicone reproductions of the Canelè moulds that cost a fraction of its copper counterparts. The copper moulds are quite expensive and can easily start from 20$ per individual mould. A typical silicone mould which yields no less than 8 could cost 10$. The copper variation is traditionally used for its high conduction of heat which is extremely important for Canelè making. I’ve found that if you use a silicone mould and bake over a higher heat than normal, it will yield similar results. Another trick when using silicone for Canelès is to place the mould over a copper tray instead of a typical oven tray. While copper Canelè moulds can be likened to finding a needle in a haystack in Italy, Copper trays like the Farinata pan are widely used, so my Italian friends can take heed to this note. This is a good way to attain the heat a copper mould will produce, however if you do not have a tray made from good quality copper, then an common even tray will suffice. In every case a tray is mandatory to prevent the risk of spills and contributes to even baking. Silicone moulds as well as copper moulds can be purchased from online stores or local stores in your area specialising in baking equipment. * Greasing your moulds for Canalès is very important. If using copper, the rule is to grease the mould with a mixture of 50% vegetable oil and 50% beeswax and butter the moulds before filling. The beeswax mixture not only prevents the caramel crust from sticking to the mould but it also gives the confection a glossy shine. When using silicone it is usually not recommended to grease. * To clean copper moulds never use soap, they are an investment and must be taken care of with the strictest care. After use they should be wiped clean with a wet towel and left to dry or wiped dry. A note to remember is that sharp objects will damage the moulds so never try to use sharp utensils to unmould the pastries. * The baking process is long so prepare to be patient. I can not stress enough how important it is to get the baking temperature correct for making this pastry. It is not enough for me to simply give you a set temperature, without presenting you with the necessary finds, yet still expect your result to turn out beautifully considering that ovens vary. My best advice in this regard is as follows: Before baking ensure that the oven has been preheated for no less than twenty minutes. Personally I’m not usually this strict about preheating, up to ten minutes is enough as my oven heats rapidly. In the instance of Canelè making the preheating will determine your end result. If your oven is warm be prepared to have Canelès that will cook in an un-even way, typically forming an apex instead of a good all round even bake. Stringently the Canelè must bake at a fairly high temperature for at least 25 mins before the temperature has to be dropped. I begin to bake these in a convectional gas oven at no less than 240 degrees in the centre rack in a mid way position from the burner. This means that if you are using a convectional electric oven your oven temperature should be at set at 260 degrees in the middle rack for even heating for the first 25 minutes. If you are using a conventional oven, the initial 25 minutes should be set at 280 degrees. If your oven does not permit this temperature then turn the heat to the maximum temperature allowed and bake on the middle rack for 25 minutes. The reason behind this high heat is to ensure that the outer layers of sugar begin to caramelise as well as allowing for an aesthetic shape. This sets the stage for the formation of crisp crust. Once this is achieved the temperature must be reduced to allow for the custard to also bake. When it’s time to drop the temperature I lower the gas to 210 degrees and bake for a further 30 minutes and in addition to that I switch off the fan. I do this to prevent the Canelès from burning which is something that can happen quite easily if the heat is fan assisted at 210 degrees. By turning off the fan, I am permitting a long slow bake which is excellent to achieve a deep golden brown crust without burning. Now, many people will tell you that Canelès are supposed to have a burnt look, but in this regard I think it boils down to personal preference. For me the desired goal is to achieve dark golden brown tones with a crunchy crust and the contrasting softness inside without a chewy texture hence I developed this variation of oven temperatures. If your oven does not permit you to manually switch off the fan then I suggest that you continue the next 30 minutes of baking time at 190 degrees. By conventional standards that equates to 210 degrees for 30 minutes. *Once Caneles are removed from the oven you may leave it in its moulds to rest for 10 minutes before turning them out. Then for a further 60 minutes at room temperature to cool before serving. This procrastination is the easiest way to maximise the crispness of the crust. If you attempt to hasten this process by placing them in the fridge you will yield soggy Canelès instead. Patience is key to achieving the best result. *The same point can be made before the baking process. Once the custard batter is made, the general rule is to allow the batter to sit in the fridge no less than 12 hours, preferably 24. In this time the flavours of the vanilla and rum will intensify. In fact the more the batter rests the deeper the flavour. It can keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. *This recipe does not permit the use of egg whites. There are many recipes that suggest the use of both whole eggs and egg yolks but for this recipe it is not advisable to use the white of the eggs as they are a contributing factor to the bloating of the pastries resulting in some fairly odd shapes and sizes. The desired goal should be to attain the same sizes for all pastries and more importantly they must take the shape of the mould distinctively. *This recipe calls for a custard batter. When attempting custard it is important to remember to *temper your mixture. Tempering means to add the hot liquid to the egg yolks mixture slowly and in stages so that the eggs will thicken the mixture without scrambling, while whisking. Never pour the boiling hot liquid into an egg mixture all at once to prevent a lumpy “eggy” custard. Your desired goal should be to homogenise the liquid and eggs together to form a thickened but smooth consistency ready for the next step. *When separating eggs crack the egg gently in the middle with the back of a small knife under a grease free bowl. Carefully allow the white of the egg to fall into the bowl. Concentrate on the egg yolk by transferring it from one half of the egg shell cup to the other while releasing the whites into the bowl. Ensure that when doing this you do not let the yolk touch the cracked edge of the egg cup. This cracked edge is sharp and will break the yolk and it may drip into the bowl of egg whites rendering the whites useless for a meringue if desired. Once the whites are completely separated, from the yolk, pour the yolk into a separate bowl. Cover remaining whites and place in the freezer for use in other recipes. *While many Canelè recipes calls for the use of Rum, it is said that one of the secrets to the traditional Canelès de Bordeaux is the use of not one but two different types of alcohol as this recipe suggests. However if you do not have the second part of this alcoholic cocktail, you may very well replace it with the same measurement of Rum. *While most recipes insist on the use of the vanilla pod, I do understand that they are not always affordable. If using a vanilla pod slit the pod down the middle and remove the seeds using a sharp knife by running the blade down the open side of the pod. You may then place the remaining pod in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar while preserving the pod to be used again. If not using a pod, vanilla bean paste is the next best option. This is as good as using a pod and quite concentrated so use moderately. Second to that will be the option to use vanilla extract. This costs less than paste with less intensity than paste. And of course lastly we have vanilla essence, which is an artificial flavouring of vanilla and not commonly recommended. But of course the choice is yours!