Like most obsessive bakers, I have a bucket list of classic baked goods I’d like to try out before I head off to the big bakery in the sky.
Some I’ve already made – laminated dough for danishes and croissants, choux pastry for eclairs and creampuffs, frosted layer cakes, ice cream sandwiches completely from scratch, and I even turned out a half-decent batch of macarons thanks to a class taught by the macaron mistress herself, Mardi at eat.live.travel.write.
One I hadn’t tried yet was the classic French cannelé, a little pastry with a glossy crisp mahogany-brown exterior and a soft custardy centre that’s part popover, part cake, and all awesomeness.
If you’re following me on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been baking batch after batch of cannelés for the last couple of months along with a few other bloggers, and sharing the results with the #projectcannelé hashtag.
As it turns out, cannelés totally live up to their reputation for being a crazy temperamental recipe that will drive even the most accomplished baker to drink.
Some batches were unevenly browned and crumpled on one side.
Some batches came out barely browned at all, and with a weird little peak on the bottom.
And finally, after several a half-dozen not-so-stellar batches… success. Perfectly browned all over, and with nary a crumpled side in sight. I probably baked these just a smidge too long, as evidenced by the not-as-custardy-as-it-should-be interior, but still worth bragging about.
The funny thing is that the basic cannelé recipe isn’t particularly complicated, in theory- it’s basically a crepe batter that’s been allowed to rest for a couple of days in the fridge and then baked in a lightly-buttered specially shaped mold at very high heat until a gorgeously dark mahogany brown on the outside, but still slightly moist and custardy in the middle.
The catch is that each of those elements is an important variable that can drastically affect the outcome. The rest time, the molds you use, the buttering (or lack thereof), the oven temperature… even a small adjustment to any of these will drastically affect the outcome.
There are many posts that discuss the art and science of baking the perfect cannelé in painstaking detail, so I won’t get into bother repeating them all here, but there are a few important tips that I’ve personally learned along the way:
- A well-rested batter is a happy batter. You can theoretically let your batter rest for just 12 hours, but it’s best if you let it sit in the fridge for at least 2 days or even up to 3 days before baking.
- Air is your enemy. Air can cause your cannelés to puff out of their molds like little soufflés, which is one of the causes of those crumpled sides I showed above. That’s why you should give your pitcher a couple of good hard taps before pouring out the batter, since it’s really easy to work too much air into the batter when stirring it.
- Good ingredients matter. Because there are so few ingredients in these puppies, you can’t afford to skimp on quality – use proper whole milk, good-quality unsalted butter, and real vanilla.
- A little butter’ll do ‘er. Beeswax is more traditional, but it’s also hard to find and tricky to work with. Personally, I found a very thin layer of butter brushed onto the molds was perfect. Just make sure you’re not brushing it on too heavily.
- Some like it hot. Really hot. Preheating the oven to 500F for an initial blast of heat and then immediately dropping to 450F got me the best results out of all the variations I tried. And since opposites attract, freezing the buttered molds for about 15-20 minutes and working with cold batter are also key.
I’m taking a short break from baking cannelés at the moment, mostly because my coworkers are pretty much flat-out refusing to eat yet another batch. I’m definitely not done, though… there’s always room to improve on perfection, after all.
Want to try your hand at this most frustrating of pastries? Here are some great posts to help you find your way:
- How to Make Macarons in Silicone Molds on eat.live.travel.write
- How to Make (Almost) Perfect Canelés Using Silicone Molds on Chez Pim
- How to Make Canelés (Cannelés) de Bordeaux on Serious Eats
- How to Make Perfect Caneles on Epicurious
Disclosure: I received a cannelé baking kit from Redpath Sugar as part of my participation in #projectcannelé. No other compensation was provided. Opinions, as always, are entirely my own.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1¼ cups sugar, divided
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3 tbsp Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
- 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
- Zest of 1 blood orange
- Melted unsalted butter, for the molds
- In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the milk, ¾ cup of the sugar and the butter to a simmer, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool to 140F, about 10-15 minutes.
- In the meantime, sift together the flour and remaining ½ cup sugar onto a piece of parchment or wax paper.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolk. As you continue to whisk, slowly pour in the warm milk in a steady stream. Dump in the flour, all at once, and whisk until you have a thin, smooth batter.
- Strain the batter through a wire mesh strainer into a clean bowl or into a pitcher. Using a sharp knife, split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Whisk the liqueur, vanilla seeds and orange zest into the batter. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and transfer to the refrigerator to rest for at least 12 hours or up to 3 days.
- Lightly brush a silicone cannelé mold with melted butter, and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 500F.
- Once the oven is good and hot, line a large baking sheet with parchment, then top with a wire rack. Place the cold cannelé mold on top of the rack.
- Remove the batter from the fridge. It will have separated into layers, so stir well to combine, then rap the container against the counter to remove any air that's been worked into the batter.
- Fill the molds to about 1cm from the top. Place in the preheated oven, then reduce the temperature to 450F. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature again to 400F and bake for 25-40 minutes longer, or until the cannelés are a very dark brown all over. (Don't worry if they start to puff out of their molds near the beginning of the baking process - they'll settle back down as they continue baking.)
- Place the baking sheet onto a cooling rack, and let rest for 10 minutes before attempting to unmold the cannelés. Turn out the cannelés onto the wire rack and let cool completely before serving. The finished cannelés will be best the day they're made, but leftovers will keep for a day or two, uncovered, in a cool dry place. (The outside will soften up slightly after a few hours.)