To cap off the year I decided to try something new – baking one of my favorite pastries: Canelés de Bordeaux.
Canelés done right are an amazing creation – a crunchy, caramelized outer shell contrasting with a rum and vanilla infused soft custard middle. They’re also fickle, with a myriad ways for things to go wrong (mushrooming, white butts, sagging, etc.).
With the help of an excellent recipe that consolidates a bunch of research and tips from other bakers, I was fortunate to pull off perfect canelés on my first attempt. Canelés involve a number of steps that must be done carefully and in the right order, so attention to detail is critical, but there’s nothing particularly technically difficult about pulling them off.
A few notes on what I did:
I used 2-inch copper-coated tin molds from Darware. Metal molds are pretty much required if you want a good outer crust. These are considerably less expensive than the authentic French versions made by Mauviel or Matfer, and from everything I’ve read, metal is considerably better than silicone molds, which don’t give you the real deal. In the words of one French baker, silicone molds produce “bastard canelés.”
Aging the Batter
A critical step in every recipe – after making the batter you must let it rest for 24–48 hours. I left mine in an airtight container for about 36 hours, and it worked beautifully. The resting process lets the flour properly hydrate and gives time for the vanilla and rum to fully infuse the batter with their flavors.
I used organic beeswax and Kerrygold unsalted butter in a 3:2 butter to beeswax ratio for the internal coating of the molds. I weighed each item (90 grams of butter; 60 grams of beeswax) and then melted it in the microwave (90 seconds on high) in a glass jar. I then filled each mold to the top with the molten coating, dumping the liquid from each mold directly into the next one and topping up from my jar as necessary. The quantity I used will comfortably coat 16-20 molds.
When filling the molds with batter, you must leave 1 cm (~3/8 inch) from the top or else risk mushrooming / overflowing canelés. An even more precise approach, which I took, is to fill the molds to a specified weight – exactly 60 grams of batter each, in my case. In the 2-inch Darware molds this left the perfect amount of space from the top. During the early stage of baking (at 500° F) you might see the batter rise up above the top of the mold. Don’t panic – this can happen. After you reduce the heat (see below), the canelé should settle down again into the mold for the remainder of the bake.
Arguably one of the most critical steps. I tested my oven at various temps a day before baking the canelé and discovered that it averages 40-50° Fahrenheit hotter than the set temperature (i.e. 450° F set temp is actually 500° F). Using that info, I dialed in my actual baking temps. I started for 10 minutes at 500° F, then without opening the oven lowered the temperature to 375° F and left them in for an additional 45 minutes. I didn’t rotate the pan or open the oven at all, though some other recipes call for that. In the future I’d experiment with shortening the bake time by 5 minutes or so to avoid any possibility of burnt edges. One thing seems clear to me, though: you must start at a high heat to “shock” the batter and get the caramelization going. Starting too low will yield bad results.
Canelés are not uncomplicated, and they require several days from start to finish to pull off a successful bake, but these mini masterpieces are magical when executed well, so if you’re inclined to try, I encourage you to go for it! Happy new year!