For anyone fond of custard creations like crème brûlée or flan, you are hereby forewarned about canelés. On first glance, they don’t look like much. Not known for perfect shape or artful finish, the crisp little cakes may appear more like pâtisserie rejects—some malformed, with exteriors ranging from extremely dark to downright burnt.
But, if there is heaven in a bite, this would surely be it. Beware: it takes only one to set off a profound physical and/or spiritual reaction. It may also make your eyes bug out and simultaneously cause you to swoon.
Canelés are not new; they have been around France for centuries—and could be one of their better kept secrets. These charmers have a fascinating pedigree. Hailing from the Bordeaux region, the crepe-like batter was originally baked in tin-lined copper molds, brushed with bees wax. Turns out the bees wax provides a natural non-stick coating, along with a lovely hint of honey flavoring.
It was discovered that baking them in a very hot oven caramelizes the exteriors to resemble something like the tops of crème brûlée. Meanwhile, their interiors develop an enchanting cake-like custard filling. It is this contrast in textures and flavors that yields a package in a class of its own. Without competition.
Once on the canelé trail, I was thrilled to discover that there are alternatives to the horrifically expensive copper molds. Silicone molds are also available; they are affordable, easy to work with and provide surprisingly good results. As far as baking with beeswax, that is still to come; I buckled and added a bit of honey to my batter as a tasty alternative. Food grade quality beeswax is available on line at a number of websites.
Canelés are delicious anytime (from personal experience). Of course, the French enjoy canelés with a nice glass of wine, but they are equally delicious with coffee, at breakfast, a mid-day sweet, as a fine dessert, or, you name it…
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp butter, plus 1 Tbsp butter for molds
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup less 2 Tbsp sugar (variation: ½ cup sugar + 1/3 cup honey. Add honey to milk to equal 2 cups)
¼ tsp salt
3 eggs, room temperature
Special tools: Small canelé baking molds
- Scald the milk and butter until bubbles form on edge of pan (183 degrees), remove from heat and add the vanilla. Cool to warm.
- In medium bowl sift the flour, sugar and salt together and make a well in the center. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork and pour them into the center of the flour. Add the milk mixture and stir with a spatula to incorporate the wet with the dry. To remove lumps, pour mixture thru a sieve into a holding container. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, preferably 48 hours, and up to 3 days.
- The day of baking, brush silicone molds with butter. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
- Gently stir the cold batter to re-combine; it will have separated. Place the molds on a wire rack over a baking sheet and fill the molds with batter about ¾ full. (Return batter to refrigerator.)
- Set molds on rack over baking sheet in oven, close door and reduce heat to 425 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. If browning unevenly, reverse the molds. Close the door and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Bake for an additional 45 to 60 minutes, until very dark brown, almost burnt. Continue to reverse the molds every 20-30 minutes.
- Let canelés cool in their molds (about 10 minutes) on wire rack — this will help them firm up and avoid collapse. Remove from molds, place canelés on their sides on cooling rack; they will become crisp and more stable as they cool. Wipe out molds with toweling to remove any baking debris and repeat; it is not necessary to brush the molds with butter for 2nd Yield: about 36 canelés.
Canelés are best eaten the same day. To freshen, reheat in 450 degree oven 5-10 minutes.