Caramelized, Crispy, Custardy, Very Special Cannelés
If you have never heard of cannelés, Dorie Greenspan wants to rectify that right now. They somewhat defy definition. They aren’t a cake or a cookie. They are a singular pastry that requires a special mold, but the results are patisserie worthy. The name in fact refers to the shape of the mold as the definition is “channeled”. You can see from the image that they have little channeled ridges. All the better to create the outer crispy, caramelized texture and rich burnished color. Think of a tiny, sweet caramelized popover and you are getting close to the indefinable treat. You must make them and once you do, you will be captivated. Dorie takes you through the preparation technique, which does require an overnight rest for the batter in the refrigerator, so plan ahead. Read our in-depth interview with Dorie and also do not miss our full book review and her easy Fall-Market Galette. Both recipes are from Baking Chez Moi, which features the beautiful photography of Alan Richardson. I also chatted with Alan about his approach to food photography, which will be of great interest to food bloggers and anyone interested in cataloging what’s on their plate – and that seems to be everybody these days!
Excerpted from Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Photos Alan Richardson
It’s thought that these little cakes were first made centuries ago by cloistered nuns in Bordeaux; however, it’s a fact that they’re very beloved—and not just in Bordeaux, but in Paris, other parts of France, and in bakeries across America. They’re a sweet completely different from any other, so it’s easy to understand how they’d capture the imaginations of pastry lovers everywhere.
The name comes from the shape of the molds in which they’re baked: Cannelé means “channeled,” or “crenelated,” and the molds, traditionally made of copper, are beautifully ridged, flat on the bottom and slightly indented on top. The cakes are made from a thin batter, like the kind you’d use for crêpes, which is highly flavored with rum and vanilla and left to rest in the refrigerator overnight. When the cannelés are baked, the exterior becomes dark and firm, and the interior, a fascinating cross between custardy and chewy, remains very moist. Pull one apart, and you’ll find irregular pockets and holes—almost like the ones in a yeast cake, like babka or kugelhopf.
Traditionally, cannelés were made in copper molds brushed with beeswax, and they turned almost as dark as nuggets of coal. Today, most bakers use silicone molds and forego the beeswax. You can get that charred color with silicone and without beeswax, but I call them done when the bottoms are almost black and the sides a deep caramel. Silicone molds are available as minis, which I use, and large; if you use the large ones, you’ll have to adjust the baking time (and, obviously, you’ll get a different yield). Mini Bundt molds also make lovely cannelés.
This recipe was given to me by Joëlle Caussade, whose husband, Gilles, owns a lively Paris bistro, Le Petit Vendôme, where Joëlle makes the mini cannelés that are served with coffee.
A word on timing: The batter needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, so plan ahead.
Serving: Cannelés are traditionally served alongside coffee or tea and often turn up on trays of mignardises, the small sweets that are after-dessert desserts.
Storing: The batter needs to be refrigerated for at least 12 hours, but it can hold there for up to 3 days. As for the baked cannelés, they’re perfect the day they are made and still good, but firmer and chewier, the day after. Keep the cannelés in a dry place at room temperature. Lightly cover them if you like.
- 2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
- 1¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter
- 1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2½ tablespoons dark rum
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Melted unsalted butter, for the molds
- At least 1 day before making the cannelés: Bring the milk, ¾ cup of the sugar and the butter to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool until the mixture reaches 140 degrees F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, cool the milk for 10 to 15 minutes; it should still feel hot to the touch.)
- While the milk is cooling, put the flour and the remaining ½ cup sugar into a strainer and sift them onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. Keep the strainer at hand.
- Working with a whisk, beat the eggs and yolk together in a large bowl until blended. Whisking without stopping, start adding the hot milk, just a little at first; then, when you’ve got about a quarter of the milk blended into the eggs, whisk in the remainder in a steady stream. Add the flour mixture all at once and whisk—don’t be afraid to be energetic—until the batter is homogeneous. You might have a few lumps here and there, but you can ignore them.
- Strain the batter into a large bowl or, better yet, a pitcher or a large measuring cup with a spout; discard any lumps in the strainer. Whisk in the rum and vanilla, cover the container tightly and refrigerate the batter for at least 12 hours. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
- Lightly brush the cannelé molds with melted butter and put the pan in the freezer. The pan only needs to be frozen for 30 minutes, but if you put it into the freezer right after you make the batter, you won’t have to wait for it on baking day.
- When you’re ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Put a cooling rack on the sheet and put the frozen cannel molds on the rack.
- Remove the batter from the fridge. It will have settled and formed layers, so give it a good whisking to bring it back together, then rap the container against the counter to debubble it a bit. Fill the cannelé molds about three quarters full.
- Bake the cannelés for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes or so. Cannelés are supposed to get very dark—black really—but if you’re concerned that yours are darkening too fast or too much, place a piece of parchment or foil over the molds. When properly baked, the bottoms will be dark and the sides of the little pastries will be a deep brown—think mahogany. (I spear a cannelé with a bamboo skewer and pull it out of its mold to inspect it.) While the cannelés bake, they may puff above the tops of the molds, like popovers or soufflés, and then, as they continue baking, or when they’re pulled from the oven, they’ll settle down. Pull the whole setup from the oven and put it on a cooling rack.
- Let the cannelés rest in their molds for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack. (Resting gives the tender pastries a chance to firm so they’ll hold their shape when unmolded.) Be careful: Even though you’ve waited 10 minutes, because of the caramelized sugar and melted butter, cannelés are hotter than most other pastries. Let the cannelés cool until they are only slightly warm or at room temperature.