Monday, September 10, 2012

Making Canele De Bordeaux.....Passion or Madness?? by *JS*

It was one of those days that I woke up and felt like I needed some stiff challenges in life. It must be the adrenalin that’s in my bloodstream as a result of a frustrating week at work. Maybe not so much the challenges……I basically needed a success story of my own….results to prove to myself that I am still capable……in the face of difficult challenges since I can’t achieve these attributes at work.

So I decided to embark on something that I am kind of familiar with..... which is all about culinary and gastronomy. Yes…..I heard about the small custardy stuff with a mahogany crust that has a glossy shin and served at high end restaurants as petit four. Its call Canele (pronounce Can Nuh Lee) and it’s origins lie deep in the Annonciades Convent situated on the left bank of the Bordeaux province in South Western France. 

There are indeed many versions as to whereabouts in Bordeaux did it originated but for now it’s unimportant. 

They say it’s a 10/10 on a difficulty scale and guess what…..that’s exactly what I needed….a stiff challenge and optimistically hoping for an equally good result.

As I picked up my iPad, a thought kind of echoed thru my head….
”how difficult(to make) can these cute lil delicious monsters be”?? 

I shrugged off those strange thoughts and type C A N E L E and pressed enter……there was shit load of information available. I filter and filtered thru the information and a couple of names seem to appear consistently. In particular one name seem to be most prominent. That’s the  French patissier and chocolatier Pierre Herme. 

Yes, he is the owner of the famous La Maison Pierre Herme in Paris. I have his book and I know for a fact his recipes are difficult and only for the most advance of chefs to try……Very similar to Thomas Keller’s  books. Now I am having second thoughts on my brave attempt at these hard crusted custard pies…….but however pride and the need to show results motivated me to the next level….yes, acquiring the canele moulds. 

Initially I opted for the silicone ones as it’s more easily available and definitely cheaper…….i have heard how good the copper (and tin lined) ones are but they say you have to sell your internal organs to acquire a set of those and I did checked and it’s true!! However i believe experience of others are invaluable so have an open mind and head.......listen and then decide on something that will give you the highest success rate.

I was kinda of lucky cos my sifu and mate was kind enuf to pass his to me….cos he has long given up on making these lil monsters  I am sure there are loads of “hand me down” or second hand copper canele moulds in the open market or eBay….haha. 

So off we go mixing the ingredients which consist of milk, butter and scraped vanilla pods, eggs, egg yolks, flour, icing sugar, salt and rum. The key is to ensure you incorporate as lil air as possible into the batter(unlike soufflé). So it’s very lil beating but mainly stirring. Even the eggs were sieved to break it up viz a viz stirring esp the egg white which takes in a lot of air when agitated. Then the batter is left to rest in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. This is to enable the protein to develop and also for the flour and water to react and produce gluten. 
The next day I prepared the white oil which consist of equal parts of oil (butter) and beeswax. This is for coating the canele moulds and it’s the beeswax that gives the canele the reflective and glossy shin. 
The coating process is also one where skill and lots of practice is required as you need to heat up the moulds to a “certain” temperature so the hot white oil will just stick on the internal of the moulds. 

Too hot and the wax won’t stick on….too cool and the wax will be too thick and the canele will taste like candle!!
After this process, the moulds will have to be frozen for about one hour in the freezer. 
I read the recipe with such accuracy (to the exact word) and temperature seems to be the main concern, the oven is then pre heated to max MAX….and the moulds filled up to about ¾ full and chucked into the oven. 

The idea of the high heat is to quickly seal the canele so it does not have time to puff up due to the gluten developing and the air that was incorporated. 
But guess what…….??
This was what I got!!! All puffed up and no mahogany glossy shin.
Well, this pic shows results that is far from acceptable. Despite the fact that my canele are not as photogenic as it should be….but I must say the taste was rather good…….but that’s when my mind was drawn back to the 10/10 difficulty scale……

yes, indeed it is very difficult to make…….i followed word for word….exact temperature…..tested the accuracy of the oven temperature with a digital thermometer probe and it was good to go……besides my oven is a SMEG oven, the pride and joy of my humble kitchen……what the F_ _ K did I do wrong?? Mr Herme….how come liddat??? Did you missed out anything in your book?? 

So I re-grouped and back to the drawing board. Dum dee dum dum…..500ml milk checked……50 gmns butter checked… vanilla pod checked……250 gms sugar…checked….opps, unchecked!! 

I reduce the sugar by 50% cos 250gms is too much…too sweet….not healthy!!! 

Was this the problem?? 

In baking, flour is the strengthener and sugar in this case is the weakener. Sugar and flour compete for waataa (water)…..and sugar wins all the time. 

In my case I remove 50% of the sugar. This gives the flour more opportunity to react with waataa (water) to form gluten….hence the puffed up caneles (air and gluten)!! 

In addition reduction of sugar also does not allow the batter to quickly form a caramelized crust which stabilized the batter, hence the soufflé caneles being the end result!! This is as much as my engineering mind can tell me for now. It’s all about the chemistry. Science can explain almost everything. Brilliant!!

So I embarked once again like a scarred but undeterred warrior still refusing to give in. Went thru the whole process except no reduction in sugar this time around. 

I placed the filled moulds in the oven and sat there nervously to watch the show once again. The first 30 mins seems like eternity and after 30 mins I inspected the canele and noticed it puffed a lil BUT the hard crust was forming and hence it could not puffed any more after that. 

By then I knew I had cracked “The Canele Code” and perfected Monsieur Pierre Herme’s Canele Recipe. I let it baked on for a while more at a lower temperature and inspected from time to time until its dark brown (not burnt) all over but still custardy and wobbly in the interior. 
Well…..prepare to see the results.
Nice huh :)

The mahogany crust and the glossy shin and the custardy centre. thats exactly what i was anticipating :)

It has been a long, difficult and steep learning curve but it was all worth it at the end of the day. 
So please do excuse me now as I do need a moment to bask in my own glory :)

P/S....BTW this post was written immediately after i successfully made these caneles!!


Christine said...

looking good...its hard to find caneles here..the only one i tasted is at Nathalie's Gourmet the texture inside

js said...

Hye Christine. The problem with caneles is that you need to eat them within like 4 hrs after baking otherwise it becomes chewy and hard :)

Christine said...

totally agree with that..sometimes i prefer it when it is slightly warm..

Anonymous said...

Can you share your recipe?

js said...

Txs anonymous for dropping by. Please provide your e mail address so I can send the recipe to you. Cheers.

Anonymous said... Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Can you share your recipe?

Unknown said...

hi there! can you send me the recipe please o please? :)

Cerita said...

Hi there, i am si in love with canele..
Can you share your recipe and the step by step method?? Thank you..
My email is

Cerita said...

Hi there, i am si in love with canele..
Can you share your recipe and the step by step method?? Thank you..
My email is