The first time I tasted a cannele, the French pastry that is often referred to as a hand-held creme brulee, I was completely underwhelmed. The wonders of these pastries are frequently extolled by food writers and the rubbery, bland pastry I tasted was surely not worth more than a single word: bad. I tried many more, some better than others, but they never lived up to their hype, not at French bakeries, not at gourmet stores, not at restaurants “known” for them. Disappointed, I decided that the only way to really know whether a cannele was a dessert worth all the work was to make it myself. If it wasn’t any better, than I must not be someone who likes canneles in spite of their reputation.
I have since decided that unless you camp out at a bakery and run into the kitchen to eat these as soon as they come out of the oven, the only way to enjoy them is to make them at home. My homemade canneles had a crisp-chewy caramelized sugar crust and a smooth, custardy center that was definitely reminiscent of a creme brulee – albeit one with a lot more texture than usual! They are unique and very tasty.
Canneles are not something that can be whipped up quickly. The batter is easy to make, but must be prepared in advance and refrigerated for 24-36 hours before baking. Normally, cannele are baked in special copper molds that give them a signature look. These molds are pretty pricey, but luckily the cannele can be baked in muffin cups, too. This is one instance where I would strongly recommend using silicone (or buying silicone cannele molds) because these take nearly two hours in at 400F oven to form their caramelized crust, and it will stick to anything that isn’t extremely well greased. Traditionally, cannele molds are lined with beesewax to give them a clean release. Silicone needs no prep and you won’t end up with an overly chewy (or waxy-tasting, as some I’ve had have been) outer layer on your pastries.
I used a Paula Wolfert recipe for these and had great success with it. Prepare it the night before you want to bake and bake these the same day you want to serve them. They’ll still have the same flavor the next day, but they are at their very best when served still warm from the oven, with the contrast between crust and custardy center at its most distinct.
2 cups milk (lowfat is fine)
3/4 cup cake flour
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter, chilled
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
Heat milk in a small saucepan until it just starts to come to a simmer, but does not boil.
Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, salt and chilled butter in a food processor and pulse to combine well. Add in egg yolks and blend until mixture is uniform. With the motor running, stream in the hot milk very slowly. Stir in vanilla extract.
Strain mixture into a bowl or large measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Line a baking sheet with 12 silicone muffin cups or use a silicone cannele mold. Regular muffin cups can also be used, but must be greased well with vegetable oil or shortening to prevent sticking.
Divide batter evenly into muffin cups, filling each almost to the top.
Bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, until canneles are very dark brown and black around the edges (yes, it’s a long time!).
Turn out immediately on to a wire rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Canneles can be served warm or at room temperature.