The Canelé Quest

Making canelés at home
Canelé de Bordeaux (a.k.a cannelé bordelais)
Canelés (or cannelés) are a little french pastry I've heard very aptly described as crème brûlée in bite sized cakes. Well, they aren't actually cakes (although some people consider the mini ones petit fours), but they are more solid than a custard. They originate from the Bordeaux region of France, but you can find them all over France and there are several celebrated canelé makers in Paris.

I actually don't remember the first time I ate a canelé. I do know that I didn't try them when I visited France, and to this day it bums me out. They hit my radar when I was working in Manhattan, but then I moved to Florida and didn't have one again for years. Then last summer I was watching French Food at Home with Laura Calder, and there they were. I was up to my elbows experimenting with macarons and I knew that canelés would be my next project.
I read dozens of recipes, from Pierre Herme to Paula Wolfert, and about a million bloggers in between. Chowhound has a completely mesmerizing set of posts ans discussions, if you are interested you can check it out here:

People argued about silicon vs copper molds, coating the molds with butter, coating the molds with beeswax, freezing the molds, you named it, people tried it. It was a little intimidating so I decided to go simple for attempt #1 and try making Laura Calder's recipe. She used a mini silicone mold, so I searched and found the same one. It looked simple enough, so I thought I would start there and build my way up to the larger, more traditional size. I ordered the larger silicon mold as well.

My very first canelé attempt, in the mold...

And out of the mold.
Good news was that the very first attempt yielded pretty good results. They were addictive and although they mushroomed and burst in crazy ways, they had a beautiful custardy interior and crisp shells. Bad news was that the crisp shells turned soft pretty quickly, and they baked very unevenly.

So I moved on to attempt number 2. This time I had followed the instructions of a blogger who had posted gorgeous pictures online. For me, the recipe was a complete dud and yielded the only inedible results of all my tests. The biggest annoyance of all? The recipe yielded beautiful "looking" results. So beautiful, I was excited to taste them, but then actually had to spit a bite out. The crusts were super thick, sure they look glossy, but they were both hard and gummy. Not pleasant.

Attempt #2 looks pretty, but tastes terrible.

Thinking I'd have more success with the batter using the mini molds, I tried those too, and still yuck.

Attempt #2 changing to smaller molds.

Looking back on it now, recipe number 2 had completely different proportions than #1, used powdered sugar (vs granulated in #1) and used proportionally way more butter.

I went back to reading and decided to return to Laura Calder's recipe with modifications. First, I decided to get copper molds (I could only afford 4) and also try coating those molds with a mixture of beeswax and clarified butter. This coating (many call it "white oil" and you will find many variations online) was supposed to be the thing that kept the outsides crisper, longer, and improved both flavor and texture.

So, armed with my new tools and tricks I tried attempt #3, the copper molds maiden voyage...

Interior shots...
Interior shots...

By attempt #3, the investment of time and money had started producing results. They didn't bake perfectly, but copper molds are like cast iron. They take a while to season. What I did notice was that my interior was almost at the perfect custardy but not soggy consistency, and the exterior had a beautiful crust that a) lasted longer than 5 minutes out of the oven, and b) crisped up again if you tossed them back in the oven.

For attempt #4, I used silicon and copper molds, coating the inside of both with beeswax, and yielded the best results. These were a beautiful, even mahogany (don't be afraid of how dark they are, they are supposed to be dark), the outsides were crispy, the insides gorgeous.

I'm hoping to get a step-by-step guide posted soon so you can make these yourselves. But if you already have made them, or have questions, please email me at the above email address.

Happy baking!

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