Sunday, July 24, 2005

Canele de Bordeaux, or is it Cannele Bordelais?

Stubby, almost-burnt brown in colour, a canele is not exactly the kind of pastry you look at and think "Whoah!". However, take one bite and you'll be an instant fan. A thin, crunchy caramelized shell holds a rich, wobbly, custard-like interior, warmly scented with vanilla and dark rum - many have likened the canele to a portable creme brulee. My first taste was at Jean-Luc Poujauran's jewel box of a bakery, esteemed by most to make the most definitive version in Paris. Suffice to say words fail me when asked to describe his revelatory sweet. This little cake hails from Bordeaux, where a confrerie or brotherhood of patissiers have been sworn to protect its secret recipe, to defend its integrity, and to distinguish their canele de Bordeaux - the official cake of the city - with its mysterious method of preparation from cannele bordelais, the generic term used everywhere else from Paris to Los Angeles. In The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, Paula Wolfert gives a fascinating account of the story and politics behind this peerless confection, including a recipe and clear instructions on how to season the molds.

Earlier this year, I finally made the plunge and acquired some tin-lined copper canele molds I had been lusting after since having first spied them some time ago - don't you love the idea of specially crafted molds designed with a singular purpose in life? And my justification for such a splurge? Well, I figured, if I did manage to learn how to make a proper canele, the sheer bliss that is the experience of sinking my teeth into its moist fragrant depths would be priceless...and the expense of acquiring the molds, surely a small price to pay. Perhaps I should also mention that on this particular occasion, I learnt that these were the last 6 molds in stock at the shop, that they were being held for another customer who wasn't quite certain if she wanted them, and that no, I couldn't have them just yet. A good hour of gentle persuasion and getting on the phone with the store manager (who wasn't around that day) ensued, and I was finally allowed to hand over the plastic. So, to whom it may concern who didn't want them badly enough to snatch up the molds when she had the opportunity, I would like to convey my deep gratitude and thanks.

I would love to say I've been making good use of the molds, feverishly baking up batch after batch ad nauseam until I'd perfected the recipe. Instead, given that I suffer from a mild case of culinary ADD, I baked every recipe I could lay my hands on (namely, from Wolfert's book, Pascal Rigo's The American Boulangerie, and Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery) in the first flush of triumphant mold ownership, got frustrated with my less-than-spectacular results, and promptly relegated the molds to the back of a deep drawer, very much neglected until a recent hunt for a missing pastry brush inevitably unearthed them. Feeling somewhat guilty, I gave the caneles another go. The recipe I remember being happiest with was Wolfert's. While less cakey or bready in texture than the others, it still wasn't as pronouncedly custardy as Poujauran's. While certainly more custardy relative to the other recipes, it wasn't so custardy that "custardy" would be the first adjective to spring to mind when you tasted it. I followed Wolfert's impeccable instructions for preparing the molds with beeswax (instrumental not only for ease of unmolding but, as she advises, to getting a proper crust), as well as her unusual technique of mixing the ingredients (she adds butter then eggs to the flour before the milk; the other recipes mix the butter with the milk before adding it to the flour and eggs) but tweaked the proportions (increasing the amount of butter and sugar, and decreasing the amount of flour) gradually in consecutive batches until the result came close to the texture I so well remember. I also tried using the batter after different periods of rest - a full 24-hour rest in the fridge results in a canele that's significantly improved in texture and flavour than one that's baked after only a few hours of rest. For a more rounded vanilla flavour, I've also infused the milk with split and scraped vanilla pods in addition to using pure vanilla extract.


Blogger eat stuff said...

Wow J!
These are truly spectacular! I have only ever heard or read about these delectable pastries.... I am so jealous, but glad that you have managed to perfect them. So when I get some molds I will know exactly who to ask ;)

4:36 pm, July 24, 2005  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

What a wonderful post. I've never tasted cannele bordelais and now feel compelled to do so. Too bad I didn't know about them when I was visiting Paris several years ago or, at least, Montreal a couple of weeks ago. Toronto supposedly has some "French" pastry shops (I use the term loosely, because I haven't really found any I like) that make croissants and pretty pastries so I'll look around.

Thanks for the fabulous photo and description.

6:59 pm, July 24, 2005  
Blogger Ana said...

Beautiful picture, as usual. Never tasted caneles before so I do not have a taste to remember, but it certainly looks like an interesting confection. The idea of using beeswax to prepare the molds is an interesting one.

7:39 pm, July 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I cannot resist caneles. Discovered them on a trip to Bordeaux some years ago. The smell is one of the nicest part about walking along the city centre. Most places let you choose from 3 degrees of brown-ness, my choice would almost always be the most burnt version.


8:26 pm, July 24, 2005  
Blogger Piggy said...

Hi J,

The canele looks yummy! :-) I have the recipe from the book, Pastries from La Brea Bakery but I can't get the mold in Singapore.. After reading your post, I'm sure that it will be on the top of my shopping list for my upcoming trip to Paris. ;-)

8:31 pm, July 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi j, those caneles look amazing. Did u get the copper canele moulds and beeswax from Singapore?

8:40 pm, July 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A daring attempt to make canale.. think there is a pastry shop here called Canale in Singapore - they do Canale for a S$1 a piece.. not too bad. However a store called Les Gourmandises (now defunct) years back were the first to introduced Canale to Singapore when Bordeaux wines were thriving at the time! Seen some canale moulds at Sebastiens Gourmet in Watten Rise. Nice photo - doesn't canale taste like goreng pisang or kueh kodok?

9:05 pm, July 24, 2005  
Blogger debbs said...

wow, who knew the skinny colleague who sat behind me loved food this much?
you're making me so hungry just reading all your description..

and please, let's try and meet up for lunch soon!
and come visit my site too -

10:22 pm, July 24, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi clare, thanks ;) welcome to ask anytime...

hi ruth, thanks...hope you find the caneles...

hi ana, thanks! the beeswax helps give the crust the requisite texture, and for the cakes to slip out a little easier

hi s.h, thanks for dropping by. i love the burnt version too ;)

hi piggy, in singapore, sebastien's in watten rise sometimes has the molds in stock. in paris, you can try dehillerin.

hi st, the molds are from sebastien's. the beeswax, which should be 100% natural beeswax (ie. no fragrances or additives), is a bit more difficult to locate - the stuff i've seen here at the healthfood/organic shops tends to be for ear candling...i cajoled a friend living in london to send some over. you could try mail order.

hi debs, thanks for dropping by! will be in touch real soon...

11:46 pm, July 24, 2005  
Blogger *fanny* said...

I love cannelés bordelais and i recently acquired some silicone mould which gives perfect, crusty and delicious cannelés.

6:08 am, July 25, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Another amazing post and photo. I love reading about your sneaky and determined shopping trips – first the spying of Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisine, now the canele forms:)
Never heard of seasoning the cake tins with beeswax before – but it sounds fascinating, if elaborate! We used to nick some of those beeswax discs from my granddad when we were younger and kept them in our rooms – they smelled sooo divine! Now I try to bring some beeswax candles back whenever I go home - these beat any aromatherapy candles one can buy in shops..
Again, haven’t tried – or heard of – caneles before, so that’s something else to add to my mental list of things to try. Thanks!!!

5:56 pm, July 25, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi amy, thanks...paula wolfert's books are wonderful...cheers,j

hi fanny, thanks for dropping by. glad to hear the silicon molds worked for you...

hi pille, thanks!i love the scent of beeswax too...for a little while, i was also crazy over this line of beeswax and honey based natural cosmetics called burt's bees -lovely lovely products...especially if you adore the scent...

7:11 pm, July 25, 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oh my J, caneles sound so complicated, I doubt my itzy mind can handle the whole process. Looks like I am reduced to reading ur post and looking at ur photo!!

9:25 pm, July 25, 2005  
Blogger santos. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:02 pm, July 26, 2005  
Blogger santos. said...

hi j! i keep coming back to drool over your mee siam; i didn't realize you have a new post :)

i've never heard of caneles but i'll be sure to be on the lookout for them in the future. i'm sure, however--despite the fact that i've never tried one--that when i come across one, i'll be comparing it against your version: [sniff] that was okay, but it's nowhere near as crispy/creamy/caramelly/wobbly as j's! :)

2:06 pm, July 26, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi cath, the recipe is not difficult - just rather tedious and time consuming ;) cheers,j

hi santos, thanks for your kind words...glad to see i'm not the only hardcore fan of crispy/creamy/caramelly/wobbly eggy sweets ;) cheers,j

hi daphne, thanks for visiting. lovely to finally meet - shame we didn't get a chance to actually chat! next time...cheers,j

5:52 pm, July 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J - I'm not a big fan of canneles, but yours look irresistible! I have a bad habit buying cake moulds even though I know I'm not going to use them - your moulds look beautiful...

11:54 pm, July 27, 2005  
Blogger boo_licious said...

Wowee, I am a fan of the canele especially when you described it as a "portable creme brulee"!

Hmm, wonder if I can ever get my hands on one in Malaysia as I doubt I will have your infinite patience and skill to make them myself.

5:47 pm, July 28, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi keiko, i am very familiar with the cake mold-acquiring habit you speak of ;)

hi boolicious, thanks for dropping by...if you ever visit singapore, you can visit canale or baker's inn to sample their versions...cheers,j

10:23 pm, July 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, found you through, only wish I had found you earlier. Your photos are amazing, I'm assuming that -- in addition to your being a professional chef, you are also a food stylist?

I first tasted canneles at Boulangerie Bay Bread in San Francisco. I instantly fell in love, only wish I could recreate the entire experience at home as you can't find any where I live (and I lack the molds, and the expertise, and... ). Maybe I should visit Singapore just for them hehehe. I'll be checking back often to read up on your posts!

11:52 pm, July 31, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi mel, thanks! am not a chef...just greedy...never been to bay bread but have pascal rigo's book, which i love...cheers,j

1:04 pm, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi j, I'll have to look for his book then! I've tried making these before, with silicon molds (EEK I know) I got from a specialty store thinking they would work, sadly I must've made a mistake, they must only be for jellies and such as they never browned (or maybe I made a mistake making it). They tasted quite good though, and I tried the recipe again with muffin molds, definitely browned but they weren't that pretty (plus the sides stuck to the pan). I envy your cake-mold collection :) thanks, mel

1:30 pm, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi j, I'll have to look for his book then! I've tried making these before, with silicon molds (EEK I know) I got from a specialty store thinking they would work, sadly I must've made a mistake, they must only be for jellies and such as they never browned (or maybe I made a mistake making it). They tasted quite good though, and I tried the recipe again with muffin molds, definitely browned but they weren't that pretty (plus the sides stuck to the pan). I envy your cake-mold collection :)

may I post a link to your journal on mine?

thanks, mel

1:31 pm, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi mel, i had tried using silicon molds before, but like you said, had problems with getting the caneles to brown correctly...sure, you can, i'd be honoured ;) checked out your livejournal, love it! can i post a link too?

2:06 pm, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi soycap, thanks for visiting, and your kind comments. cheers,j

2:48 pm, August 09, 2005  
Blogger Altaf said...

Delicious photos. I would really like to taste cannelles as soos as possible.

2:28 pm, August 10, 2005  

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