When it comes to pastry, you cannot get more "classic French" than cannelés (pronounced "can-eh-lay"). They come from the Bordeaux region of France, where they are a regional pride. And rightly so, because they are absolutely delicious accompaniments to tea, breakfast, or as a dessert.
They are surprisingly simple pastries, needing only basic ingredients–milk, flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and vanilla. But baking them at high heat in ridged fluted molds transforms them from a liquid batter to deep golden brown treasures. The outer shell is crunchy and crisp while the inside is delicious custard.
For reasons that escape me, Cannelés are still rather rare outside of France unless you are lucky enough to have a bakery around that sells them. The task is left up to passionate home bakers to make them. I make them quite often. Cannelés are one of my favorite pastries, a privilege they don't share with many others. I highly recommend giving them a try.
- 500 grams whole milk (17.6 ounces, 2 cups)
- 50 grams butter (1.7 ounces, 3.5 tablespoons)
- 250 grams white granulated sugar (8.8 ounces, 1 cup)
- 150 grams bread flour (5.3 ounces, ~1 cup)
- 3 egg yolks (100 grams, 3.5 ounces)
- 3 grams salt (0.1 ounce, 1 large pinch)
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 50 grams cognac or dark rum (1.7 ounces, ~1/4 cup)
I personally prefer cognac for cannelés, though rum is the traditional liquor. It has a unique aroma and taste which give the cannelés more character. Rum tends to be a little more bland in the final product. You want to use a medium quality liquor for cannelés as a cheap one will come through and the nuances of a very premium liquor will be lost in baking anyway. This is true of most pastries.
For lining the molds, you will also need to melt a mixture of:
- 50 grams butter (1.7 ounces)
- 50 grams beeswax (1.7 ounces)
You will need some special molds in order to make cannelés. Copper molds will yield the best result, but they come at a high cost ($10 - $25 a piece). Copper is a highly conductive metal, which will transfer the oven heat to the batter quickly and consistently to form a dark brown crust.
Other metals will have a similar effect, though neither aluminum nor steel come even remotely close to the conductivity in copper. The inexpensive alternative is silicone. Silicone molds work well enough, but will never yield a perfect canelé. They also require some extra time in the oven for an uneven result; the middle of the sides will always be less cooked than the top or bottom. If you can afford them, spring for the copper.
Grade A vanilla beans (optional)
Pastry brush for brushing the molds
Kitchen scale to measure ingredients
Whisk for the batter
You can skip the beeswax in favor of butter or even nonstick spray, but it's not recommended. Beeswax seals the cannelés for a longer shelf life and forms a crust for a crisp shell. And while there is no added flavor, it does give a nice mouthfeel.
Heat the milk, butter, and vanilla to a rolling boil then turn off the heat. Allow the vanilla to steep while you prepare the other steps.
At this point, the batter will be very liquid. Finally, whisk in the cognac.
The cannelés will rise in their molds like a soufflé before collapsing back into their molds, so be sure there is a pan below to catch the excess butter that will drip out. You might have to take the cannelés out to slightly cool if they rise too high over the top. This quick-rise period at high heat will help to start the browning process for the crunchy outer shell. It will continue to crisp at the lower heat while forming a custard inside.
You want a very dark brown color. When they look brown ready to come out, let them bake for 10 minutes longer. Cannelés bake to a very deep brown, much more than you are used to with other pastries. If you are worried they are starting to burn, you can always unmold one to check. You might be surprised by a blonde interior, especially if using silicone molds.
It's extremely important to unmold the cannelés while they are still hot from the oven. The heat will drive out steam and keep the exterior nice and crisp.
Enjoy your cannelés the day-of when they are crispiest. If you used beeswax, they will last a bit longer. Do not cover or refrigerate them or they will lose their crunchy shell.
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