Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Most Delectable Sweet Treat You've Probably Never Heard Of

So….what the heck is that fuhnk-ay lookin’ thing??

Why, glad you asked.  It’s a silicone canelé mold.

What’s a canelé?

Why, glad you asked that as well.

A canelé (or alternatively, a cannelé) (pronounced KAH-nuh-lay), is an absurdly delicious, incredibly rich, creamy yet crispy, custardy yet caramelized, sadly ephemeral “cookie” (or really, I think, but what do I know, more of a tiny, tea-cake type creature) that are originally from the Bordeaux region of France.  Canelés can be eaten for tea, for breakfast, as a dessert, a snack, or what I think is most intriguing….as a nibble with a cocktail or an aperitif wine!  I can so totally see that.

They are typically baked in a tin-lined copper mold, the interior of which is coated with bee’s wax to allow the canelé to slip out.  The batter is essentially a rich crêpe batter, but heavy with sugar, which causes the caramelization of the exterior (which gives you the lovely, crust effect), and without the bee’s wax, you could never remove the canelé from the mold.

Actually, even WITH the bee’s wax, removing the canelé from the mold is a crap shoot.  Thankfully, the culinary gods have given us silicone molds.  Those babies make it a snap to make canelés, and get what the French have coveted for a century or so.

I first heard about canelés on a culinary chat board site I frequent, the eGullet Society Forums.  You’ll also find a link to the main page over to the right.  It’s a cool site, and if you’re not familiar with it, you should check it out.  It’s got a wealth of information from a lot of people who really know their stuff.  At any rate, a while back there was an entire, fairly long, discussion thread about canelés.  And they sure sounded intriguing to me.  Seriously, what’s not to like about a little, two-bite sized nibble of eggy, sugary, custardy goodness, surrounded by that caramelized sugar crust?

Well, except for that whole bee’s wax coated mold and sticking thing.

The *good* news is...the batter is absolutely, stone-cold, dead-bang brainlessly simple to make.

The *bad* news...the molds are hard to find (*I've* certainly never seen them in all my culinary store haunts) and that pesty bee's wax coating/sticking issue.  But I still saw canelés somewhere in my future.

Fast forward about a year, and as I was browsing in Trader Joe’s one day (shout OUT to Trader Joe’s my absolute FAVORITE store !), what did I espy with my little eye in the freezer case?  Why… canelés !

Did I buy them?  Is Frank McCourt a crook (sorry, bitter LA Dodger fan joke there….) ?  Yeah, I snapped them right up.  I couldn’t wait to try them.  So that night, I thawed a few, popped them into the nuker and waited to be wowed.

They were….OK.  No, they were better than OK.  They were….good.  Sort of.  In a processed, frozen food kind of way.  But there was potential there.  I could only figure that, if they were so close to glory in their processed, frozen food state, they really *MUST* be magnificent made properly, and from scratch, by hand, in small batches.

But I figured I’d never actually know that because of that whole bee’s wax thing…..or the trip to France.

Fast forward another 6 months or so, and I bought myself a beautiful cookbook (actually, calling it a cookbook is like calling the Grand Canyon a little valley with a river at the bottom….) called Chez Jacques by Jacques Pépin.  Jacques Pépin is my second most venerated culinary icon, right after his good friend La Julia.  Plus….he’s got that sexy accent (I’m a sucker for an accent….).  Plus….he’s really good looking.  He goes right into my “hot chef, and I don’t mean hot because of the oven’s heat” category.  (See earlier entry, re John Besh).  But I digress….

Chez Jacques is actually a coffee-table art book, from which you can totally not only cook, but find inspiration.  In addition to being a culinary hero, Pépin is quite an accomplished artist, and all around cool dude.  He’s figured out how to live well, and he’s not in your face about it.  You won’t find his tablescapes at Target, or his craft supplies at Michael’s, he just goes out and does it, writes about it, and then shuts up.  The photography in Chez Jacques is amazing….I can’t remember when food has looked so good.  Pépin’s artwork is beautiful, and the stories and philosophy behind the recipes are moving and revealing.  It’s a great book, and not just for the recipes.

But *IN* those recipes was this true find (although I have a TON of others flagged to make).  Canelés.  And, and, AND a source for the silicone mold that wouldn’t need that pesty bee’s wax seasoning.

Avec, canelés !!

You start with some milk (whole fat, please) and some butter, that you blast together in the microwave until the milk is warm and the butter melts...

I melted in right in a 4 cup measure with a spout.  You’ll see why in a bit…..

Here’s the rest of the cast….

That’s 2 eggs, sugar, all purpose flour, vanilla and dark rum (ok, really, DARK RUM, now what could be wrong with this??)

In another bowl, combine the egg, the yolk only of the other one, some vanilla and some rum.  Mix it up well with a whisk

and then combine it with the egg/yolk.

In yet another bowl, mix together flour and sugar.

Slowly add about 1/3 of the egg/milk/rum (rum…..yummmmm) mixture to the flour and sugar.  If you add it all at once, you risk a lumpy batter.  NO good.  Whisk it thoroughly to combine the liquid and the dry.

It should be nice and silky.

Once you’ve got that first bit of liquid mixed into the flour, there’s no more worries about lumps, so just pour the rest of the liquid on in, and whisk it on up.

Now….I transferred the batter back to the large measuring cup,

because I *KNEW* that I’d eventually be trying to get this batter into the leeeeeeetle tiny openings on the molds….

and I figured that pouring lip would give me an advantage, and I will always take any advantage I can get.

Now, cover the batter, in whatever vessel you choose, with a sheet of plastic wrap, and stash it in the fridge overnight.

Here’s the full bottom shot of the mold.  All those nooks and crannies will help with the crusty caramelized sugar action going on while it bakes.

Next day, heat your oven and find your canelé mold.  Since its silicone, as we saw in the header shot, it’s a bit, well, floppy.

Put it on a baking sheet to keep it stable while you’re handling it.  Next time, I think I’ll use a slightly larger pan.  I think the small, compact size of this one inhibited the even browning of this batch.  You’ll see it when I turn them out.  Some are nice and caramel-y, some are a little pale.

Yeah, there’s my favorite, small, skanky sheet pan again.  Just to be sure you were watching….

Fill the molds with the batter.  This recipe will make about 22 canelés, and as you can see, the mold only has forms for 18.  That means you’re going to have batter left over.  You could make a second batch, or if you have a ramekin or mini-Bundt pan, you can use that to bake the excess batter.  Just be sure to spray it really well with some non-stick spray (or grease it really well with oil or butter).  Don’t ask me how I know that it’s a real issue to get the finished product out if the mold’s not well lubed….even if it’s “non-stick”.

And after baking.  You can already see how nice and crispy and brown the edges and the bottoms are.  That’s the canelé goodness baby !  And yes, just imagine how much sloppier the mold would’ve been If I hadn’t had that pour spout on the measuring cup.

Let them cool, in the mold, on a rack for a few minutes, then turn out and cool completely on the rack before serving.  Just sort of push down, gently, on the bottom of the mold if they want to stick.  Even with the genius that is silicone, they still want to stick.  All that sugar….

The only down-side to canelés, now that we’ve avoided the whole bee’s wax issue, is that they do not keep.  Most assuredly, absolutely, positively they do not keep.  You pretty much need to eat them the day they’re made.  Fortunately, that’s not a huge problem, because they’re so delicious.

Are the real deal better than frozen?  Is Frank McCourt a crook (sorry, it’s that bitter LA Dodger fan in me again…)?  Yeah, they’re way better.

Here’s the actual recipe.  By the way, the silicone mold is made by a company called “Gastroflex”, and I got mine on Amazon.  Just search “canelé molds” and you’ll get the hit.  It was less than 30 bucks, and well worth it.  These little pastry gems really are quite excellent.  You’ll be amazed at how strong the rum taste is.

Canelés de Bordeaux
From Chez Jacques by Jacques Pepin

Makes 22 canelés

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup dark rum
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar

Put the butter and milk in a large glass bowl and microwave for about 1 minute, until milk is warm and butter melts.  Combine the egg and egg yolk, vanilla and rum in another bowl, and combine well with a whisk.  (I added just a tiny pinch of salt, too….I always add a hint of salt to my sweet stuff.)  Add to the milk/butter mixture and mix well.

In another bowl, large enough to hold all the batter, combine the sugar and flour.  Pour in about 1/3 of the egg/milk mixture, and mix well with the whisk.  The goal is to make a thick mixture that becomes very smooth as you whisk.  If you add all the liquid at once, you may get lumps, and need to strain the batter to eliminate them.  Add the rest of the liquid to the thick mixture and whisk it in; at this point there is no more danger of lumps.  Cover batter and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat your oven to 300°F.  Fill each cavity in the Gastroflex mold with the batter.  Bake for about 30 minutes at 300°F, then increase the heat to 400°F.  Bake another 40 minutes or so, until the canelé are puffy, dark brown and crystallized on top and around the sides.  Let cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, then unmold and cool on the rack until serving time.

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