Carrying on with the Tour de France of scrumptious edibles, next stop is Bordeaux. Call me stir-crazy, but I'm having a bloody good time (j'ai peut-être la bougeotte mais qu'est-ce que je me poile). Cannelés belong to a long tradition of making fiddly little cakes with improbable ingredients that almost get you arrested at customs. These obscure delicacies combine the exquisite chewiness of a crêpe-like batter with the unrivalled crisp of a beeswaxed (not bikini-waxed) crust. Heady aromas of vanilla, rum and lemon zest hug your tastebuds in the sultriest of embraces (there, now I'm beeswaxing lyrical, someone slap me please [flanquez-moi une mandale]).
Of course, tradition oblige, every housewife/bakery in Bordeaux and across France have their own take on the recipe, and it works for their set-up: molds, oven temperature and the like. One constant however is the traditional and idiosyncratically shaped copper molds. Unless you have a spare kidney for sale, it almost impossible to get them in the US. Grit your teeth and deal with it.
How can you tell whether a recipe is good or bad?
I'll help you.
[Teachers are like that. They like to give the answer straight after they've asked the question, to show their students they are still better than them. It's rewarding, in a cheap kind of way. Basic didactics - no, no, don't thank me, I'm always happy to share my teaching tricks with you lot.]
The following pictures (visual memory being the most widespread kind) will astutely rest my case:
So, with no further ado, to the ad hoc recipe. And I'll spare you the details of the recipe that DOESN'T work. But if you're good, kids, I'll show you a couple of pictures which will entirely redefine the concept of culinary disaster. Zen Chef kindly provided me with two different batches of the crepe-like dough (one of which, as mentionned, didn't quite pass), in exchange for the molds and beeswax, and I spent my Sunday afternoon trying to come up with something that remotely looked like cannelés.
2 cups milk
4 tbs butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 whole egg
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 vanilla bean
Zest of 1 lemon (optional but fancy)
1 tsp pure almond extract (ibidem)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup beewax
1/4 cup butter
Combine milk, butter, lemon zest, and the vanilla pod with its scraped beans, bring to a boil. Let it steep for 45 min. Whisk the yolks, the egg and the sugar, whisk in the rum and the almond extract. Then combine the flour, the milk mixture and the eggy mix until perfectly smooth. Let it rest for 24 hours in refrigerator (in a plastic bottle, to make pouring easier), or make ahead and freeze.
When you're good to go, turn the oven on at 425°F, and put the molds in the oven for about 10 minutes so they're nice and hot. Meanwhile, melt the butter and the beeswax in a saucepan - on low so that you don't make noisette beeswax. Take the molds out, and with a pastry brush, quickly paint the inside of the molds with a thin layer of the magic lubricant. Turn the molds over onto a grid so the excess beeswax drips out. [Nota: I didn't have a brush, so I ladled a small amount of beeswax in each mold (held with a towel) and coated the sides by *expertly* rotating them - yeah right (ben voyons)]. Let it cool down upside down a minute, then fill them up with the batter, leaving a third of an inch at the top for rising. Believe me, it rises bad [ça lève grave].
Put all the molds on a tray to catch potential overflows, and stick everything in the oven for 50 to 55 minutes. It is a long time, but it needs to caramelise, and there's nothing more unsightly than a chalky cannelé. Over the 50 minute lap, read Raising Frogs for $$$.
Take the tray out of the oven, let the molds cool until they can be handled, and unmold the cannelés. They slide out effortlessly thanks to the butter and beeswax coating. You say a little prayer for the hard work of the bees and you hope that it won't cost you an extra week in Purgatory for pillaging the poor insects' habitat in the very dead of winter.
Leave to cool about an hour so the flavours have a chance to develop, then munch away.They are best eaten on the day. Take it as a zen meditation practice on the transience of things in general, and of crispy crusts in particular.
Microscopic examination of cannelés provides reliable evidence that the stuff dreams are made of is indeed speckled with vanilla seeds and rum-flavoured. Well I guess now that's settled.
Top tip: wax doesn't come off easily. Correction: it doesn't come off at all. At best it transfers to something else. Make sure it doesn't tranfer to your clothes/towels/sponges because it's a pain in the backside (to say the least) to get rid of it afterwards (c'est râlant à nettoyer). You can try to plunge your utensils in boiling water, but then the pan will be coated with wax. The best option so far is just to wipe everything thoroughly with kitchen paper, and discard promptly before it transfers elsewhere.
Last but not least, kudos are in order: Marc hosted on Saturday the most uncanny party, getting us to chew on freeze-dried berries and eat raw lime and kumquats, proving that entertainment + bizarre doesn't necessarily result in burlesque dance shows with creative uses of body parts. Point made. Well done Marc and thanks a million.
Ah, and the cannelé horror picture show. Kids, don't watch.
No, I haven't completely lost the plot (je n'ai pas complètement perdu les pédales). The original recipe DID advise to prevent the cannelés from popping from their molds (they have a tendency to do that) by weighting them down with a cooling rack and a heavy pan. That didn't quite work out for me. Oh crap. Et merde.