If you haven’t eaten a canelé before, you’re missing out. The tiny but mighty pastry usually sits around 5cm in height and is known for its caramelised shell and soft custard centre. The canelé has roots in the Bordeaux region in France where it has remained a pâtisserie staple. However, it hasn’t had the same impact as a croissant or pain au chocolat in Australia — yet.
Hospitality speaks to April Bae from The Flour and Fred’s pastry chef Elodie Marion about the canelés recent appearance on local shores, selecting the right mould, the importance of baking in stages and technical difficulties.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Discovering a foodstuff that hasn’t already been flogged to death is a rarity, but the canelé may very well be one of them. Australians are known for being world travellers who typically return having tried a number of new delicacies, so it was only a matter of time before chefs began recreating canelés for the local market.
Fred’s in Paddington, Sydney, recently launched a breakfast offering, and thought the canelé would be the perfect addition. “When we were deciding on the approach to breakfast at Fred’s, head chef Danielle Alvarez wanted to create a European feel to the offerings,” says Elodie Marion. “We thought the canelé was an under-represented pastry in Sydney and it would make a statement.”
For ex-Rockpool pastry chef and The Flour owner April Bae, an overseas discovery inspired her to launch her own business that focused on canelés. “I tried a canelé, and the shape, flavour and texture was so interesting,” she says. “They’re a masterpiece of texture and flavour when made well, so I started to research them and make authentic canelés.”
While the canelé’s appearance is deceptively simple, there are many factors that go into making a sublime pastry. There are just eight core ingredients — milk, butter, vanilla, rum, eggs, flour, sugar, flour — needed to make a good canelé, but there’s plenty of room for error, or “pressure points” as Marion calls them. “Like most areas of baking as opposed to cooking, it requires following a detailed recipe accurately,” she says. “For example, the temperature of my oven can’t be off by a degree or I run the risk of the texture of the canelé being incorrect. Similarly, when preparing the mixture, if I heat the milk component to an incorrect temperature, the canelé will invariably ‘mushroom’ in the moulds.”
Bae agrees, and says achieving uniformity is another touchpoint when making canelés. “I don’t think they’re technically difficult, but it’s hard to get the same consistency,” she says. “They’re simple, but difficult to get right.
FLAVOUR VS TEXTURE
So what makes the canelé so special? It really boils down to a crisp exterior teamed with a flavour that showcases both rum and vanilla on an equal playing field. “It’s mellow but rich at the same time,” says Bae. “Good-quality milk and flour are important along with free-range eggs and cultured butter. Raw sugar also adds a caramel flavour.” For Marion, the flavour is all about sharp vanilla and boozy rum “while being perfectly crusty on the outside and chewy in the middle“, she says. “The lingering caramelised crust stuck between your teeth is my favourite part.”
BREAKING THE MOULD
The canelé is traditionally made in a French copper mould, which yields the best results. Copper moulds provide even heat distribution, resulting in defined lines and a crisp exterior the pastry is known for. However, copper comes at a high cost, with one mould hitting the $25-plus price point. Opting for copper also means each mould needs to be coated in butter or beeswax to ensure the mixture doesn’t stick. Marion uses copper moulds, which Bae also prefers, but canelés can also be made using silicone, which is a more affordable option. “Copper is quite expensive in Australia, and I think you can make good-quality canelés with silicone moulds,” says Bae. “The batter is the most important thing.”
THE PREP PROCESS
Like most baked goods, dry ingredients and wet ingredients are kept separate until the final mix. The temperature of specific ingredients is also essential to ensuring a successful bake. “The most important part of making canelés is the temperature of the milk,” says Bae. “If the milk is too hot, it cooks the flour and it will come out like a soufflé.” Bae combines the dry ingredients before adding in the milk and the rest of the wet ingredients. “You don’t want to overmix the batter,” she says. “You’re looking at a batter that’s just well combined.”
There’s an extra step involved in the preparation of the batter at Fred’s — ageing. “I heat up milk, butter and vanilla,” says Marion. “I then combine an egg mixture consisting of whole eggs and egg yolks and sift through flour and icing sugar.” The chef goes on to add rum to the mixture before it’s strained and aged over a two-day period.
The canelé cooking process isn’t a matter of setting the timer and walking away, in fact, there’s probably not much time to do anything besides stare into the oven window if you want a perfect product. Canelés are cooked at a high temperature for a short period of time before the temperature is bumped down. “I set the oven to the highest temperature, around 240–250 degrees Celsius,” says Bae. “I reduce it to 210 when I put them in and cook for about 15 minutes. Once they’re boiling, I reduce the temperature to 180 for 10 minutes until they’re brown. You need to check the colour and make the decision when you need to stop baking.” Marion cooks canelés for 10 minutes at a high temperature before lowering, and continually rotates the moulds until they’re ready.
Expect to see more canelés appearing on local menus as consumer awareness continues to rise. As they say, you can’t go wrong with a classic, and it doesn’t get any more classic than a pastry with hundreds of years of history behind it.
Image credit: The Flour