Friday, February 1, 2013

Quest To Canneles Part I - Trials and Tribulations

So what is a cannele exactly? It’s a small, heavenly French cake. Delightfully crispy on the outside, smooth and custardy on the inside, and scented with vanilla and rum, the cannele is a creme brulee in cake form. I had my first at a Paris Baguette in New York and luckily, they were quite fresh and as crisp and custardy as they were meant to be. After the first bite, I was hooked.  Unfortunately, subsequent visits to Paris Baguette yielded ones that were chewy and gummy, unfit for satisfying my cravings. It was at this point that I embarked on my quest to attempt to make them.

So this post is about my first attempt at making the dessert. Prior to baking, I did quite a bit of research (there’s an extensive ~ 11 page discussion on egullet). 

Apparently, copper molds work the best, but they’re about $20 per mold. A pretty standard set of 12 molds will set you back about $240. The silicone molds are substantially cheaper, but general consensus is that results are inferior. Nonetheless, I am using and plan on continue using my silicone mold (a debuyer elastomold and I have a mauviel copper one for comparison).

The molds!
Canneles also require a rather unusual ingredient for a food item - beeswax. Yep, that’s right, beeswax, that stuff that’s used in cosmetics, candles, gun lube, wood polish and cutting board conditioners (the label on the beeswax also lists a whole slew of other uses as well). The beeswax is pretty important when making these; it helps the canneles develop that iconic crust so if you decide to make these, I suggest you get some nice organic beeswax blocks.  Weigh some out and mix it with some butter in a 2:3 beeswax butter ratio before melting it and use the mixture to brush the inside of the molds.  I melted the two in a ramekin (much less clean up) and used a silicone pastry brush for this; if you’re planning on making canneles often, get a dedicated pastry brush for this.  Beeswax is a pain to clean!

Anyways, some notes on my first run of these desserts. The canneles rose about an inch out of the molds while baking, the canneles were a bit dome shaped on the bottom, and the cakes were a touch too unevenly done (very dark on the bottom and a bit too pale on top). I speculate that the doming issue can be solved by leaving the molds out at room temp instead of freezing them. The souffle effect was probably caused by incorporation of air into the batter. Lesson learned - don't whisk the batter too vigorously and gently stir the ingredients together. Lastly, those pale tops. I noticed that this was a significant problem in the silicone molds (the one baked in the copper mold was browned quite evenly), so I’ll try compensating by baking the ones in the silicone pan on a lower shelf, closer to the heat source.
For the recipe, mine was a bit eggier than most; I combined Paula Wolfert’s and Pierre Herme’s recipes.  Measurements for the most part are by weight, but for you volumetric folks, I’ll try to get some volume measurements down in the next iteration of the recipe. Making canneles is a time consuming process, so prep the batter a day or two ahead. Without further ado, the recipe:
The canneles. Note the even browning on the one baked in the copper mold (leftmost).


- 15.5 oz whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 25g unsalted butter
- 220g white sugar
- 1/8th tsp salt
- 135g AP flour
- 1/8th teaspoons almond extract
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- 2 large eggs + 2 egg yolks
- 12 cannele molds
- edible beeswax (from a beekeeper or a honey shop)
- butter

1) In a saucepan, combine the butter, milk, sugar, and salt and heat over a medium-low flame. In a separate bowl, measure the flour and set aside.
2) When the mixture in the saucepan begins to steam, add it to the flour and whisk until smooth. Allow the mixture to cool before whisking in the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla extract, almond extract and rum. Then pour the mixture into an airtight container and refrigerate for 24 hours.
3) 2 hours before baking, combine butter and edible beeswax in a 3:2 ratio in a ramekin and melt in either a microwave or hot water bath (my preference as beeswax burns extremely easily).
4) Once the butter and wax have melted, apply a thin layer on the inside of warm cannele molds.  Set aside and allow to cool and solidify.
5) Preheat the oven to 400 F. Stir the batter as some of the flour may have settled to the bottom and then fill the molds ¾ way to the top.
6) Place the molds on a tray and bake for 1.25-1.5 hours. During the first 20 minutes or so, the canneles may start rising. If this occurs, remove canneles from the oven and allow them to fall before putting them back in.
7) After 1 hr 15 min, take one of the cannele molds out and remove the cannele to check the pastry. If the cannele has browned enough (this is really to taste, but they should at least be a nutty brown), remove the rest from the oven, release them from the molds and place on a cooling rack.  Cool for ~ 1 hour before enjoying. 

- James

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