Forgive me Reader, for I have sinned. I have committed a most egregious act of blasphemy and shamed an entire country.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
…Just a whole region. Bordeaux to be exact. It’s the region of France known for a small but lovely pastry known as the canelé.
Have you met the canelé? I hadn’t until three years ago when my friend Steve asked if I could make them for his birthday. I had no idea what they were, but after tasting Steve’s fried chicken and greens, he could have asked me to bake him something appalling and against my morals [like cake pops] and I would have agreed. His cooking is just that good.
Not one to turn down a baking challenge, I got to Googling [who needs to research lit for the grad degree you're working on when you could be researching French pastries, amiright?]. It seemed canelés were not an endeavor to be taken lightly. For one, they involved fancy [read: expensive] copper molds, which are sold individually. Silicone versions didn’t deliver the signature texture–a crisp, caramelized exterior and a custardy interior. Plus, there were oven temperature changes, long baking times, small batches and mold coatings to consider. Undaunted, I headed to the best kitchen store in the entire universe, purchased 6 heavy-duty aluminum molds for $30, found a recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini and got to work.
The first time I made canelés, I had no idea how they came out. I had never had one. So, I turned over the caramel-colored custard-cakes to Steve to lay his judgement upon them. It turns out, they were spot on. A caramelized shell that cracked when bitten into it with an inside that was not quite cake and not quite custard, but bespeckled with vanilla bean flecks and had a hint of rum flavor. He was delighted, to say the least!
It’s never a good thing when I get a difficult thing right the first time, because it usually means I will be overconfident the second time and fail miserably. And wouldn’t you guess it? That’s exactly what happened. The canelés clung to the insides of the molds for dear life. I did everything exactly the same way the second time, but my canelés were torn to bits by the time I pried them from the tiny pans.
Not to be defeated by the French, I set out to make them again last fall. When I originally looked into it, blogs and recipes using copper or aluminum molds talked about coating the molds with ‘white oil,’ or a thin layer of edible wax. Having just moved to the city, I was able to finally get my hands on edible beeswax, and hoped that it would be the answer to my problems. It wasn’t. The wax hardened quickly and formed too thick a layer on the molds. The batch I made in the wax-lined pans were misshapen and unappetizing. They found a home in my trashcan. I went back to using melted butter to line my pans. I was met with mixed success.
Recently, I decided to revisit them. A year wiser, and no longer twitching from the thought of research after finishing my field exam, I scoured the internet for answers. I watched countless YouTube videos of French chefs making them. I read 400+ comments on a CHOW thread. I even saw Les Miserables, hoping it would inspire me to take on the French. After enduring 3 painful hours of Russell Crowe singing, I couldn’t get those minutes of my life back, but I could at least take revenge by conquering the canelé once and for all. Revenge was sweet, and in this case, a little bit coconutty.
In my interwebbing, I stumbled across a few mentions of mixing beeswax with oil to make a thinner ‘white oil’ that I hoped would be the answer to my prayers. A few Google searches about smoke points later, and I got the brilliant idea to use coconut oil mixed with beeswax. To amplify the coconutty flavor and make sure it was more than just a subtle nod, I also substituted coconut rum for the traditional dark rum. There’s one recipe with coconut substitutions below. If you want traditional canelés, don’t use anything with the word ‘coconut’ in it. Otherwise, join me in blasphemy and get crazy with your canelés! Simple enough, right?
Notes, Tips & Helpful Hints
**The batter develops in flavor the longer you let it sit. It should refrigerate for at least 24 hours before using. 2 days is better. 3 is lovely. Also, give yourself time to bake these–they take an hour to an hour and five minutes per batch of six. If you can shell out mad moneys for more molds, the baking time may vary. I bought these on a grad school stipend, so six is what I have experience with. If you only have a few molds, you can either devote a few hours to making them, or make 6 per day for a few days.
**For the “white oil” I tried two methods: one with 2T of edible beeswax mixed with 2T of canola oil, the other was 2T edible beeswax mixed with 2T of coconut oil. There was not a noticeable difference in color, but if you’re a canele purist, you may notice the flavor of the caramelized outer shell is just slightly different than what you’re used to. Also! Be sure to coat the molds quickly; if you wait, the wax will harden and go on too thick if not at all. I’d also recommend reheating the white oil after waxing a few of the molds, as it cools quickly.
**A number of sites recommended freezing the molds once they’ve been coated. I never have and didn’t this time and they were fine. In fact, I simply waited for the molds to cool before coating them with white oil again. Once that hardened, I filled the molds with batter.
**After the canelés have baked, unmold immediately to prevent them from sticking. The molds will be extremely hot, so I recommend handling them with oven-proof gloves or a thick kitchen towel. The canelés should come out of the molds fairly easily. The most common place they got stuck, if at all, was near the opening of the mold. You can either gingerly pull the canelé away from the sides of the mold or carefully run a toothpick around the edge to loosen.
- 2 C whole milk
- 2 T cold salted butter, cubed into small pieces
- 1 vanilla pod, split or 1½ tsp good vanilla extract
- ¾ C all-purpose flour, sifted
- ¾ C sugar
- 3 eggs
- ¼ C good-quality dark rum OR coconut rum, such as Malibu
- edible beeswax [for coating]
- canola oil OR coconut oil [for coating]
- -canele molds
- -edible beeswax
- Sift flour and sugar into a medium bowl. Add eggs. Do not stir. Set aside.
- In another medium bowl, add cubed butter. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla extract, or vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped into pan. Cook over medium heat until scalded (around 183-5 degrees F). Remove from heat, remove vanilla bean (if using) and pour over cubed butter. Stir until butter is completely melted. Allow to cool until just warm to the touch.
- Pour mixture over eggs & flour/sugar mixture. Whisk until combined. If mixture is lumpy, pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
- Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 3 days.
- On the day you’re ready to bake the caneles, pre-heat oven to 480F.
- [If you're using silicone molds, you don't need to prepare them. Ignore everything about white oil and skip to the Add the Batter steps].
- In a small saucepan, combine 2T edible beeswax with 2T canola oil and cook over medium-low heat until melted. Remove from heat.
- Using a pastry brush, and working quickly, coat each individual mold with a thin layer of white oil. If you let the white oil sit, the wax wil thicken and harden. Check for any uncoated areas and dab them with wax if necessary.
- Remove the batter from the fridge. Separation is natural, so be sure to stir the mixture a few times until it comes back together.
- Fill each mold with batter, leaving a half inch at the top of each mold.
- Place molds on a cookie sheet and place into pre-heated oven on the second to top shelf.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 480F. (Caneles may rise above the sides of the mold, but will fall once the temperature is lowered–don’t panic!). Rotate the pan.
- Lower the temperature to 400F and bake for 30-35 minutes more, until the tops and edges are dark brown.
- If using metal molds, unmold immediately onto a cooling rack. If you’re using silicone molds, wait 10 minutes before unmolding. Allow to cool completely before eating.
- Once molds have cooled, repeat process (coat molds with melted white oil, fill with batter, bake) until all batter has been used.