Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Great Cannelés Pretenders*

I have long wanted to make cannelés at home.  For those of you who don't know what a cannelé is, let me do my best to explain.  A cannelé is a small French cake/pastry that is the specialty of the Bordeaux region.  Flavored with vanilla and rum, cannelés are known for their amazing texture.  The outside of a good cannelé is defined by a deep, dark caramelized crust that half-cracks, half-gives way to a rich, custard-y, chewy interior.  You can easily become addicted to these things, especially if you've ever had them fresh.

The problem with making cannelés is that they are typically made in very specific copper molds which give them their distinct dome-like shape.  They also have a glisten or a shine to them that is due to the light coating of beeswax which you are supposed to give the molds before pouring in the batter.  Given that copper cannelé molds and beeswax are not cheap things to come by, I never attempted to make these myself.  But then, this summer, by a stroke of luck, my grandmother (who lives just outside Paris, in France) stumbled upon some silicon cannelé molds that she forgot she had.  I knew, from avid reading of other food blogs, that silicon molds are not as good for baking cannelés, since they don't provide the same deep caramelization and beautiful crust, but I appreciated the gift.

Then, I found an extremely detailed post from another food blog that I read about how to make the "perfect cannelés."  At the same time, I found someone who said that they had made cannelés that turned out just fine in a muffin tin.  And the two things melded together in my mind into one giant scheme.  Plus, I wanted to try out the silicon molds and see how large the difference was between the cannelés they produced and the cannelés produced by metal pans.

The resulting "pretender" cannelés were delicious.  The long resting time really allowed the scent of the vanilla and rum to permeate throughout the entire pastry.  The muffin tins resulted in a slightly uneven caramelization, with the sides getting much darker than the bottoms, but they were addictively good.  I ate them both hot from the oven and once they had been allowed to cool.  After 10 or 15 minutes of cooling, the cannelé caramel crust becomes firmer, and the custard-y interior becomes more chewy, in a deliciously contrasting way.  The crust will soften overnight so there won't be much of a contrast anymore, but you can pop them into a 400F oven for 5 minutes, or you can enjoy them as they are.  My family didn't bother with the reheating step, since we found them great as they were.

The batter in the mini cannelé silicon molds did not caramelized ideally at all.  After their baking time was over, I actually gave the mini cannelés a brush of butter and popped them, naked, baking into the 400F oven to caramelize some more.  My roommate looked at them and called them "little minions."  They were as tasty as they were cute.  If you are using silicon molds, I suggest you heat your mold first, not butter it, and then pour the batter into the hot molds.  The results from the muffin tin were much closer to perfect, however, and that is the method I will be using in the future when I repeat this recipe (because I definitely will be repeating it).

The recipe was definitely a huge success, even when used to make "pretenders."  My family was asking for more of them the second we finished the last one, and we've had real cannelés before.  I really liked the caramelization that I got from the muffin tins, and I will definitely be making these again.   Don't make the same mistake I did and live without these delicious little beauties simply because you don't have copper molds and beeswax.

*For those of you who are too young to know, the title to this blog post is actually a reference to a song by The Platters.

Cannelés Pretenders
adapted from Tartelette

2 ½ cups milk (I used a mix of skim and 2%)
50g salted butter
1 vanilla bean (or alternatively, 2-3 tsp of vanilla extract)
3 large eggs + 3 large egg yolks
300g granulated sugar
1 tsp sea salt (a little less if using table salt)
150g all purpose flour
6 tbsp rum

Combine the milk and butter in a pot. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into the pot. Throw in the remainder of the bean as well. Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil. As soon as the milk starts to bubble and foam, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. (Note: If you are using vanilla extract, wait until later to add it, when adding the rum)
Add the sugar and salt to the milk mixture and stir.

Stir the eggs and yolks together with a spatula.  Do not beat it.  You want to incorporate as little air as possible.  I follow Chez Pim's method and use a strainer to pass the eggs and yolks right into the flour. I know it sounds crazy, but it really works, and you don't have to press down on the eggs at all, as they are so dense and heavy their own weight will push them through.

When the milk mixture is just a bit warm but not so hot – cool enough to stick your finger in it and keep it there a few seconds without burning yourself – remove the vanilla bean halves. Don’t throw them away! Instead, put them in a plastic bowl/container large enough to hold the batter. Pour the warm milk mixture into the bowl containing the dry ingredients, and gently stir together until well-blended. You’ll see plenty of lumps in the batter, but that’s fine for now.
Strain the lumpy batter into the bowl you put the vanilla bean in earlier, pressing the lumps through until you get a totally lump-free batter. Add the rum (and vanilla extract, if using) and stir until combined.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or put a lid on your container) and place in the fridge to rest for at least 24 hours.
When the batter has rested, preheat the oven to 425F and divide it evenly among 12 muffin tins, generously coated with butter. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour.  You will have enough batter for another 12 muffins.  Bake these the next day.  See the difference between 24 hours and 48 hours of rest?  I say to do this because fresh cannelés are delicious, and this gives you two rounds of them.  If you have two muffins tins to use, go ahead and bake these all at once if you find it more convenient (but in that case, I would give the batter a full 48 hours of rest).

Yields 24 muffin cannelés.


  1. These cannele pretenders are better than the real thing.

  2. Miam miammm! Cannele's! They are so delicious! Your recipe seems doable, not too hard! I will try them soon!