You often hear it said that cannelés are small, eggy “cakes”. Don’t you believe it. Cannelés are custards (with candy-like crusts) and need to be treated as such. I know what you’re thinking: Joe, what kind of custard gets baked at 525 degrees Fahrenheit? That answer is a HIGH HEAT custard, wise guy, and just like a low-heat custard, precautions must be taken to prevent a cannelé from absorbing too much heat too quickly, lest it form lots of bubbles, expand and ultimately break into a grainy, syrupy blob. I’ll explain on the way. Let’s get moving!
First, get your ingredients together. Combine the milk, butter, rum, vanilla and salt in a saucepan and brig it to the boil over medium heat.
While the milk mixture is heating, whisk the egg and yolks in a large bowl.
Add the sugar…
…and whisk it together. Yes, you can use a whisk. People making cannelés worry a lot about air bubbles, and while you don’t want too many air bubbles in your batter, overly rapid heating is the thing you really want to guard against.
When the milk mixture reaches the boil, take it off the heat and pour about half into the egg mixture.
Stir it in with the whisk (don’t whisk it too much), then add the rest of the hot milk. Stir it to incorporate.
Now promptly sift the flour over the hot mixture…
…and stir that in. Resist the urge to whip vigorously, we’ll take care of the lumps later. Anyway, so what are we doing here? A couple of things. We’re gently coagulating some egg proteins, but more importantly we’re gelatinizing starch. Which is to say, using wet heat to make the flour granules swell and fall apart. What’s the good of that? Well along with all the sucrose molecules, the starch is going to help keep the egg proteins from curling up too tightly in the heat (which would cause our custard to break). But more importantly the gelated granules are going to insulate those proteins when the batter hits the oven, so they don’t heat up too fast.
I know what you’re thinking: what can a little starch do to insulate a material as sensitive to temperature as egg? Oh, you’d be surprised.
Anyway, now pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to press out the flour lumps. You could probably do the mixing in a stand mixer with the whip if you wanted, as long as it was on low speed. I didn’t test that but it seems to work for other bakers, and it would eliminate the need for this step. Oh, if you’re really feeling confident in your cannelés you can stir in the seeds of a vanilla bean here (cut the extract down by half in that case). As with all custards, real vanilla makes these sing.
Just press the last few lumps through.
Stir it, pour the batter into a pitcher of some sort and refrigerate it at least 24 hours and up to three days if that’s more convenient.
While you’re waiting you can make your “white oil” which is a beeswax lubricant that’s traditionally used with cannelés. It’s not strictly necessary, though it does give the cannelés a nice shine and a distinctive flavor. Just combine an ounce of beeswax (available from most honey sellers at farmer’s markets) with an ounce of butter and two tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Melt it all together and let it cool to the point that you can comfortably touch it.
Why is it called “white oil”? I’m thinking it’s because it looks like this when it cools completely. Re-heat it in the microwave when you’re ready to use it. About 30 seconds on high should do it.
You can paint it on your molds or just use your finger. Guess which method I favor?
On baking day preheat your oven to 525 degrees Fahrenheit, or 500 if that’s all the higher your oven will go. Lubricate the molds if you haven’t already. When the oven is ready, remove the batter from the refrigerator. Skim off the foamy layer that’s on the top and discard it.
Now give the batter a gentle stir.
Fill the molds with the cold batter almost to the very top. I could have gone a touch higher here. No biggie.
Bake them for 15 minutes at 525 then lower the oven to 400 for about another half hour until they look like this. They’ll dome a little in the oven but when they cool down a bit the tops may fall inward slightly. Knock them out while they’re still hot.
Here’s what you want the inside to look like. These are about perfect. Crunchy on the outside, soft, eggy and aromatic on the inside…very, very nice.
And now word about forms. I regret to say that while I struggled mightily for a formula that worked as well in silicone, I was unable to do it. Here’s how my best recipe performed.
Not awful, but not great either. The crusts didn’t form as well, plus as you can see from the above photo they rose out of their molds midway through baking. Why do they do that? Because of overly rapid heat penetration. The silicone lets too much heat in too fast, causing rapid expansion and eventual settling.
This is what they insides of the silicome baked ones looked like. Decent, not great. The double whammy of silicone is that later on in the bake they don’t transfer as much heat as metal, so you don’t get the crispy crusts. Or at least I didn’t. Dang!
All of which is to say that if you want to make good cannelés it seems you really do need to pay up for metal molds. So far I haven’t found a source for the less expensive aluminum molds that many French bakers use. Which leaves North Americans with no other option but copper…and those little buggers run $20 apiece. Ouch. This recipe makes ten.
Since this batter will keep well in the fridge, and because these custards only take 45 minutes instead of 2 hours, you could get away with buying five and baking them in batches. That reduces the expenditure to $100. Still…beeswax, copper molds…I admit these are not very “Joe”-like sweets. Still they’re excellent, not to mentioned gratifying to make since they have a reputation for being “impossible”. I feared them greatly myself. But having finally figured out what’s under the hood where cannelés are concerned, I’ll be making them often.
Did I mention they go great with red wine? They do!