It’s all the rage, apparently. Though something as well known and classic as a canelé is, in my mind, immune to the trends and foibles of the mewling fooderati. Let’s get this straight, a canelé (can-eh-lay) is not just a chichi sponge cake baked into that characteristic fluted shape. If the dark caramelised shell doesn’t crackle like a chewy brûlée hiding a barely set lacey custard then it’s just not right! It’s these very properties that make canelés so special.
It’s quite a straightforward process really. Make, rest, pour, cook batter. So why doesn’t everyone make them? Like all the simple things in French cuisine, there’s no hiding place. Every step has to be perfect to get the perfect result. You can’t just put icing-sugar/caramel/cream/truffle/foie/kimchi on it and make it better. Here’s the method I use at the moment. I don’t make perfect canelé but I’m close and getting closer. The best I have to go by are the ones at Pierre Hermé on Rue Bonaparte in Paris. I’m almost there!
Make the batter
You want to eat them today? Forget about it, try in three days time. The batter needs to rest for that long. First warm these to 83C:
500g whole milk
2 vanilla beans scraped
In the meantime blitz the following in a large food processor:
100g plain flour
250g icing sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
Then add the following and process until the batter tightens (about 10 seconds):
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Stir the warm milk so the vanilla beans are distributed evenly then pour onto the batter with the food processor running. Let it run for 30 seconds to fully incorporate everything. Sieve the batter into a pouring jug or container then gently mix in 65g of the best rum you can find. Cover the jug or container and let it chill in the fridge for 3 days. This step is important, you need the batter to be well rested with no bubbles at all. Check the mixture daily, fold it through gently if it looks separated. If after resting there are still bubbles on the surface, skim them off.
Line the moulds
The batter is easy right? Well, it’s probably in the moulds why good canelé are so difficult to find. You can use silicon moulds and they look nice but you can’t get the really good crackling shell with them. If you’ve read this far then you know that metal moulds are the only way. If you see them buy them, they’re hard to come by. I have four generations of them, first lot were bought in Osaka, the last in Lyon (where good canelé could not be found). I bought a copper mould too to see if it makes any real difference, it doesn’t. Save yourself the 400% markup and buy the cheap aluminium ones.
The other reason why great canelé are hard to come by is beeswax. The moulds are lined with a melted beeswax and butter mixture (called white oil) that makes the shell so crackling and lends an earthy honey flavour. It’s also why I can never sell you a canelé because it seems impossible to get food grade beeswax in the UK. But you can get pure beeswax for non culinary applications and if you’re cooking it for yourself then that’s fine non?
For 20 moulds melt 30g of butter with 30g of beeswax and line the moulds with a thin even layer of the oil. You need to warm the moulds first in a hot oven and brush* the oil into the moulds lightly. Start at the top and let the oil trickle down to coat the inside. Do not let it pool too much at the bottom. If it does, reheat the mould and pour out the oil and start again. Chill the moulds in the freezer before using.
You can have the moulds and the batter prepared in advance. The last part is plain sailing. Pour the chilled batter into the chilled moulds. Do not fill to the brim, leave 1cm space at the top. The batter will rise slightly before dropping back down to the level you poured it. Bake at 190C for 70mins. But this really is dependent on your oven. If you have a weak oven you may need to crank up the heat to 220C for 20mins initially to compensate for the cold batter and moulds before dropping down to 190C. Just remember you’re looking for a evenly caramelised crust that’s not burnt and most importantly a custardy centre. Repeat and adjust timings and temperatures to suit your oven.
Tap out the canelés from the moulds while they’re still hot, do not let them cool as they’ll stick.
There’s a perfect moment to eat a freshly baked canelé, it’s about 10 minutes out of the oven. Just above room temperature, cool enough so that the shell is at the perfect crackle but the custard is warm and wobbly. Get in!
When you get the hang of it, try flavouring the batter with other types of liquor; Cointreau, whiskey, Kahlua even Malibu. Inject your canelé with salted caramel or a fruity coulis if you must, it’s a good way of disguising a poorly baked custard!
* Beeswax butter oil solidifies like a mother, your brush will be no good for anything else. Do not pour away surplus oil down the sink, soak it up with kitchen towel and throw it in the trash.