By: Philip Saneski
For those of us fortunate to have discovered the canelés de Bordeaux, you know they’re addicting when perfected. Rustic yet elegant at the same time, I describe it to the unknown as a mash-up between a churro and crème brûlée. Its batter has the consistency of heavy cream, which is why canelés are characterized by an intensely caramelized exterior and moist, custard-like interior.
While exact origins of the canelé are debatable, we know during the 17th century nuns in the Bordeaux region of France—specifically the town of Bordelaise—started baking these petite French pastries with donated egg yolks from wine makers who used egg whites to clarify their wines. Canelé popularity grew and local craftsmen, called canauliers, dedicated themselves to baking these regional pastries. Canauliers discovered they could achieve a hard crust and keep the custard moist by seasoning copper molds with beeswax, which is by far the most technical aspect to perfecting the canelé. At the turn of the 20th century, an unknown cook elevated the traditional recipe by adding rum and vanilla beans. It was during this time the canelé circulated throughout Paris, where their popularity became magnified globally. Today canelés are still known as one of the world’s ultimate texture contrasts.
As oppose to a cupcake or a cookie, 300 years of refinement has led me to believe the final outcome must be perfect, or else it’s illegal to even call it a canelé. In fact, it’s rumored the actual town of Bordelaise is trying to trademark the canelé to where you can only enjoy them in Bordelaise (cronut, anyone?). Sure, the concept of perfecting something is scary, but I’m happy to share my secret to flawless canelés every time. Hint: no beeswax necessary!
Canelés de Bordeaux
375g Caster Sugar, sifted
225g High Protein Bread Flour, sifted
100g Egg Yolks, room temperature
One Vanilla Bean, seeded
Like aromatic bread, time is an ingredient in properly preparing the canelé, especially their copper molds. To my knowledge, France is the only place in the world you can specially order them, and they’re expensive. A set of six copper canelé molds can cost between $130 and $160 not including shipping. That being said, don’t bother with the silicone molds; you’ll never achieve a perfectly crusty exterior.
Once shipped and received, place copper molds in a pot large enough so they are all touching the bottom, open side faced up. Completely submerge molds in grapeseed oil and heat at 400° F for one hour, similar to a cast-iron skillet. Cool in oil. Pull and place molds on a rack and sheet tray in a refrigerator open side faced down so oil can properly drain overnight.
What I do next to prepare the copper molds is my secret to consistently perfect canelés, and they probably would never do this in France. Actually I’m hoping no pastry chef trained in Paris or Bordeaux is reading this right now. In spite of that, after weeks of ending my shift in serious frustration, multiple attempts of properly coating the molds with several types of beeswax, and canelés out of the oven so sticky they wouldn’t even come out of their molds, I accidently found a way that worked.
Once drained the next day, lightly spray PAM (yes, that cheap cooking spray) into the copper molds and brush an even lighter layer of store-bought butter on only the sides. Turn over the molds open side down to remove excess butter, and chill in the refrigerator again overnight—or after 12 hours. If you brush too much butter or butter gets onto the tips of the molds, your canelés will not caramelize evenly. Similarly, if you make fresh butter, use it in your batter and not for your molds. I got lazy one time because I didn’t want to travel the few extra steps to the walk-in for a stick of butter and fresh butter was closer to me. When the canelés came out of the oven the next day they were sticking to the molds, and this is after I had been making them seamless for months. The fresh butter molds were the only different variable, and it’s impossible to start this over from scratch as canelés cannot be made “on the fly.” The same is true if you chill your molds for only a few hours or cheat by throwing them in the freezer then the refrigerator.
As your molds chill overnight, make your canelé custard base. Gently melt butter (store-bought or fresh) in a saucepan. While waiting, combine milk, bourbon and vanilla bean in the mixing bowl you will use later. I prefer bourbon to rum because I like to add smoky flavor aromas to anything pastry. Once butter is fully melted, add liquids to the saucepan over medium-low heat. Place egg yolks into your now empty mixing bowl. Remove your liquid from heat when reaches 110°F on a digital thermometer. This should take about two minutes, five minutes is too long. Since butter melts between 90°F and 95°F, heating your liquids too slowly will cause the butter to coagulate, and you’ll have to reincorporate your butter back into the batter, increasing the risk of overmixing. Contrarily, if your custard is too hot, let it cool to 110°F or else you’ll have scrambled eggs that caramelize unevenly. Once ready, temper about one-third of your batter into the mixing bowl where you previously placed your egg yolks (so you don’t end up with cooked eggs in your custard), then the remaining liquids.
Uniformly combine sifted sugar and flour together with salt for your dry mix. While whisking liquids on lowest speed, add one-third of dry ingredients to the mixer. Once dry mix is added, finish custard on second lowest speed until fully incorporated, about ten seconds. Strain into a container through a chinoise and cover with plastic wrap overnight so little skin forms at the top. Perfect canelé batter has to rest untouched for 24-36 hours.
After the copper molds are ready and your custard is properly rested, lightly spray your molds again with PAM cooking spray and strain your canelé base one more time right before you are ready to bake. Fill each mold with exactly 80 grams of batter, making sure to gently swirl the base in between each addition. Bake at 385°F for 62 minutes. They will soufflé slightly around 30-35 minutes, and come back down when they’re almost done. When your oven timer goes off, flip the copper molds onto a different sheet tray so they can cool faster. Immediately clean the molds with a damp towel, and chill for two hours so the PAM cooking spray and store-bought butter can be applied. Canelés are best enjoyed at room temperature. Their exterior stays crunchy for almost two days and interior stays moist for longer.
As you can see, the perfect canelé is the ultimate test of patience; but it’s worth it. No matter where you are, when people eat the canelé they look at it astonished in between every bite, wondering if indeed it is the world’s ultimate texture contrast. So now when those people ask what’s your secret to the perfect canelé, you can say it’s none of your beeswax!