Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Cunning Canele

Cunning Canelés
It was on the narrow streets surrounding Quartier Saint Pierre in Bordeaux, France that I fell in love. Amidst the myriad of cheeses, silky beef bourguignons and the roast chicken riddled bistros, I found my one true significant culinary other. The Canelé (alternate spelling: cannelés)
Made from a crepe like batter infused with vanilla and rum, then poured into copper cylindrical moulds and baked at fisson inducing temperatures, they are crunchy on the outside while custardy, soft and sensual on the inside. It’s the pastry equivalent of taking you up in a hot air balloon, landing you in a forest full of flowers, and reading to you the funniest and saddest story in a voice as soft as rain. It is without doubt my most favourite, most lusted after confection. And the best bit, amidst the glitz of macarons and pain au chocolats, is the absence of trimmings. The canele is simple and earnest and while it might require beeswax, special fluted moulds and at times determination of uber-foodie proportions, I implore you to try them. For the diligent baker, the pay off is spectacular…

Makes 20
You will need to start this recipe one day ahead

500ml milk (full fat please)
2 ½ tbsp butter, chopped
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped
100g (¾ cup) plain (low-protein) flour, sifted
Pinch salt
170g caster sugar
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk (super fresh) lightly whisked
1/3 cup good quality rum


Combine the milk, butter and vanilla in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer, add the sugar and stir until dissolved then set aside. Add the rum.
Add the flour and salt to a bowl. Pour over the whisked egg and milk mixture, (remove the vanilla pod if you kept in the milk for flavour) and stir. Let cool to room temperature then add to a pouring jug, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. (Some chefs leave the batter for up to 3 days).
Preheat the oven to 220C.
Butter the canelé moulds if they are made of copper (unnecessary if you're using silicon molds). Remove the batter from the fridge, it will have separated, so stir gently until well blended again. Pour the batter into the moulds until ¾ full. Place on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 200° C and bake for another 20 – 40 minutes (40 will result in a very dark brown caramel crust). Turn out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before eating. Best eaten on the day of making.

The moulds and preparation
The complexity of the canele is in the variables. There are the tangible ones that determine texture and taste: flour, eggs, butter, the copper mould, and the quality of the vanilla. And then the more elusive intangibles: judgement and intuition, experience and flexibility, common sense and skill. And of course, love.The copper moulds are difficult to get your hands on, but there is a silicon version available at specialty baking/kitchen stores that still offers a good result.

Traditionally beeswax is used to grease and line the moulds. I sometimes use almond oil or a flavourless oil rather than butter. I find the butter burns at the high temperatures too quickly and can give a much too dark end result.

History of the Canele 
Some say that during the XVIII century, nuns known as the Ladies of the Annonciade prepared the cakes with donated egg yolks from local winemakers who used only eggwhites to clarify their wines. Others state more humble origins, claiming the canele was created by Bordeaux residents living along the docks, who gleaned the low-protein flour from the loading areas and used it to make sweets for the children. To this day the actual derivation is still unconfirmed. Archaeological searches have never found a canele mould and no record of any repairs to canele moulds from that period have ever been recorded.

So the canele is something of a pastry folklore, its history and production a delicious odyssey stitched together by history, politics, religion and a bounty of village specific versions that are courted far beyond the boundaries of Paris. The origins and creators of the canele are highly contested; it’s method has been subjected to 300 years of refinement, and supposedly the recipe lies locked in a vault in the underbelly of Bordeaux, protected by a band of pattisiers who fiercely guard its’ secrets like the knight templars over the holy grail.In 1985, 88 Bordeaux patissiers formed a confrerie, a secret brotherhood, to protect the integrity of their caneles. They staged a “linguistic coup d’etat” by removing an ‘n’ from the original spelling (canneles) to differentiate their cake and protect its secret method of preparation from basterdised versions.  


  1. I can't wait to try these as a surprise for my boyfriend who absolutely adores these treats.