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Cannelés

Cannelés

This year, I entered French Cannelés into the international category of the Chicago’s Best Baker Competition.  Cannelés are small cake-like desserts from the region of Bordeaux in France.  They have a crisp, caramelized exterior with a soft, custardy interior.  It was certainly one of the more challenging desserts I submitted to the contest, but my gamble paid off.  These cannelés were one of five desserts that I entered to earn the overall title of Chicago’s Best Baker in 2019.

Not only are these delicious little cakes quite unique in flavor and texture, but they also have a fascinating and controversial history.  It is not known exactly how they were first created. One theory states that nuns in the L’Annonciade Monastery made them from egg yolks provided by local wine growers. The other theory is that they originated due to a feud between two rival pastry guilds from the 18th century. The pastry feud became so prominent that the French government was forced to take action, eliminating pastry guilds all together.

Cannelés

Similar to many French desserts, cannelés can be a little tricky to make.  It took me multiple batches to figure out the perfect combination of variables for my kitchen.  These variables included the way to prepare the pan, the amount of batter to put in each cavity of the pan, the temperature of the oven, and the duration of time to cook each batch. Because ovens and kitchens vary, you may also have to fiddle around a bit to get a perfect cannelé.  I assure you, these cakes are well worth the effort and in the end, you will have successfully created a wonderful dessert from a country famed for their pastries. 

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Cannelé Ingredients
Ingredients for Cannelés:
Specialty Tools:
Making the Batter:

Combine the milk, butter, and vanilla bean paste in a medium pot.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from stove and cool to 100°F/38°C2.  It is helpful to gently stir the mixture while cooling so a film doesn’t form and this also helps increase the cooling speed.  I’m not going to lie to you, it takes a while to cool.  Be patient.  

While the mixture is cooling, and in between stirring times, prepare the dry ingredients.  Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.

When the milk mixture has cooled, temper the egg yolks by pouring a small amount of the milk mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly.  Then, pour the egg mixture into the saucepan and whisk to combine.  Pour in the rum and whisk.

Pour the wet mixture into the bowl with dry ingredients in thirds.  Whisk gently (don’t create too many air bubbles in this step), making sure to incorporate all of the dry ingredients on the sides and bottom of the bowl.  The finished batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Strain the batter through a sieve into an airtight container.  Do not skip this step!  Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the batter.  This will help it prevent a skin from forming.  Cover the container and refrigerate for 48 hours.  If you refrigerate for less (e.g., only one day) or you leave it for longer (e.g., 3 days) the finished product WILL come out differently.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be worse, although after making many batches in preparation for the Chicago’s Best Baker Contest, I can tell you that I was generally less impressed with the final product when I did not bake them around the 48-hour mark.

Preparing the Cannelé Mold:

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C.  We used an oven thermometer to ensure the oven temperature was accurate.  It took 30-45 minutes after the oven said it was preheated to actually reach this temperature.  I would highly suggest investing in an oven thermometer to ensure your oven is at the correct temperature before baking the cannelés.  Temperature makes a big difference with this recipe. 

Approximately 15 minutes before the oven is (truly) preheated, prepare the cannelé mold. 

Cannelé Mold

When researching how to make this dessert, I saw a lot of different ways that people prepare their molds.  I tried multiple methods and decided to use the “clarified butter only” option for the contest.  If you are interested in other methods read the note (#3) at the end of the post.  To prepare the mold, make clarified butter or buy ghee.  Melt a small amount of clarified butter, dip a clean finger into the butter, and rub your finger on the inside of the mold to get a very thin and even layer.  Using a brush was difficult to get a thin layer and there was frequently a pool of butter at the bottom of the mold. 

Cannelé mold

After covering each cavity with butter, place the pan in the fridge for 10 minutes so the butter sets.  Remove the mold from the fridge, bring to room temperature (about 10 minutes), and gently stir the rested batter to reincorporate all ingredients.  Don’t over mix because air bubbles make the cannelés dry.  Fill each cannelé depression with 65g of batter (approximately four-fifths full After covering each cavity with butter, place the pan in the fridge for 10 minutes to set the butter. Remove the mold from the fridge, bring to room temperature (about 10 minutes), and gently stir the batter to reincorporate all ingredients. Don’t over mix because air bubbles make the cannelés dry. Fill each cannelé depression with 65g of batter (approximately four-fifths full or roughly 4 tablespoons of batter).  Don’t fill the mold to the top because the batter will rise while baking. 

Baking the Cannelés:

Place the mold in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes4.  Rotate the pan (front to back), decrease the oven temperature to 350°F/177°C, and bake for an additional 45-50 minutes.  A few minutes can make a big difference for this recipe.  The edges will be a dark brown (don’t allow it to burn) and the bottom will be a light golden brown.  When the cannelés are in the mold, it is very likely there will be a small depression that forms as it bakes. 

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before turning them out.  Light tapping on the pan may be necessary to unmold them.  Cool the cannelés to room temperature before eating.  Cannelés are best the day they are baked as the exterior looses its crunchy texture over time.

Cannelés

Making cannelés is a little bit tricky, but the reward is well worth it.  These little cakes are so good with their crunchy, caramelized exterior and soft, custardy interior.  I ate WAAAAAY too many of these while practicing and I was so happy that Nabil was able to bring the extras to work so I wouldn’t devour them all and no longer fit into my pants! 

If you’ve ever made these before, please leave me a comment to let me know how they went. I’d never heard of them before this competition and I’m really glad I know how to make them now.

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Cannelés

Equipment

  • Cannelé mold
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Oven thermometer
  • Digital scale

Ingredients

  • cups (352g) whole milk
  • 3 Tbsp (42g) unsalted butter
  • tsp (8.5g) vanilla paste
  • 3 large (60g) egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp (38g) dark rum
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp (94g) all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup + 2 Tbsp (180g) granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp (1g) kosher salt
  • 1-2 Tbsp (14g-28g) clarified butter or ghee (for preparing cannelé mold)

Instructions

Making the Batter:

  • Combine milk, butter, and vanilla bean paste in a medium pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from stove and cool to 100°F/38°C2, stirring occasionally to avoid a skin forming.
  • While milk mixture is cooling, prepare the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • When milk mixture has cooled, temper the egg yolks by pouring a small amount of the milk mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan and whisk to combine. Pour in the rum and whisk.
  • Add wet mixture to dry ingredients in thirds. Whisk gently (don’t create too many air bubbles in this step) to incorporate all dry ingredients. The finished batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.
  • Strain the batter through a sieve into an airtight container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the batter. This will help it prevent a skin from forming. Cover the container and refrigerate for 48 hours.

Preparing the Cannelé Mold:

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C with the rack in the middle. Use an oven thermometer to ensure accurate temperature. Temperature is very important for this recipe.
  • Prepare the cannelé mold 15 minutes before the oven is preheated. Melt a small amount of clarified butter, dip a clean finger into the butter, and rub your finger on the inside of the mold to get a very thin and even layer.
  • After covering each cavity with butter, place the pan in the fridge for 10 minutes to set the butter. Remove the mold from the fridge, bring to room temperature (about 10 minutes), and gently stir the batter to reincorporate all ingredients. Don’t over mix because air bubbles make the cannelés dry. Fill each cannelé depression with 65g of batter (approximately four-fifths full or roughly 4 tablespoons of batter). Don’t fill the mold to the top because the batter will rise while baking.

Baking the Cannelés:

  • Place filled pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan (front to back), decrease the oven temperature to 350°F/177°C, and bake for an additional 45-50 minutes. A few minutes can make a big difference for this recipe. The edges will be a dark brown (don’t allow it to burn) and the bottom will be a light golden brown. When the cannelés are in the pan, it is very likely there will be a small depression that forms as it bakes.
  • Remove pan from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before turning them out. Light tapping on the pan may be necessary to unmold them. Cool the cannelés to room temperature before eating. Cannelés are best the day they are baked as the exterior loses its crunchy texture over time.
Notes:
  1. There are lots of different cannelé mold options.
    • Carbon steel with non-stick coating – This mold has a non-stick surface and seems to bake similarly to the individual copper molds.  This is the mold that I used, and I like it. 
    • Copper molds (individual) – Many people suggest that copper is the best material to bake cannelés due to their ability to conduct heat.  I didn’t use this option because they are expensive.  If you use these, you will need to place them onto a baking sheet to bake them.
    • Silicone molds – Inexpensive mold, however multiple people have reported that the exterior doesn’t get crunchy like the metal molds.  I haven’t used this, so I can’t speak to that.  (Back to “Specialty Tools” section)
  2.  If you don’t have a thermometer, you can use your finger.  The temperature should be lukewarm (i.e., slightly warmer than your body temperature).  If the temperature is too hot, it will scramble the egg yolks.  If it’s too cold, the mixture will not combine correctly. (Back to “Making the Batter” section)
  3. Alternative methods for preparing the cannelé mold.   
    • Beeswax only: Use a pastry brush to wipe a thin layer of melted food-grade beeswax onto the sides of the mold.  This option has a few downsides.  Firstly, food-grade beeswax is expensive and hard to find.  Secondly, it hardened almost immediately when it hit the silicone pastry brush and didn’t brush evenly into the molds.  To avoid this issue, some people pour the melted wax into the mold and then turn them over to remove the excess wax.  Because we used the pan rather than the individual molds, this was not easy, and it was messy.  Additionally, the wax-only method left a waxy film in the mouth after eating them.  This method was not a winner in my book!  
    • Beeswax + butter: This method combines the previous wax only method with more flavorful butter.  Use 1 part wax to 2 parts butter.  This method seems to be used the most when baking cannelés and I liked it as well.  It still had many of the same downsides as the “beeswax only” method (e.g., wax hardening quickly, difficult to use with a pan mold, flavor slightly affected by the beeswax).   If I had the individual molds, I might be tempted to use this method, however, I preferred the “clarified butter only” option.  The butter-only flavor was slightly better (in my opinion) and it was much easier to use, while still having a perfect texture.  (Back to “Preparing the Cannelé Mold” section)
  4. This amount is likely to vary across ovens and might need to be adjusted.  Leave them for fewer minutes if they rise too much.  Leave them for a few extra minutes if they rise too little.  (Back to “Baking Cannelés” section)
  5. This recipe was adapted from Dominique Ansel’s Cannelé recipe. You can find the original recipe in this book.

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