I love custard with a passion. Custard in any of its glorious forms. Sometimes I think if I could be guaranteed custard in all its guises, it may well be my desert island food: hand me a pot of the most mass-produced custard and a spoon, and then give us our privacy, please.
For me, this stuff can do no wrong: thick dollops of cold custard on hot crumbles, streams of steaming crème anglaise, speckled with vanilla, and elegant slivers of custard tart, flecked with nutmeg and gently wibbling. Give me shivering soufflés with dusted lids, ice cream in any flavour, crème brûlées, unctuous and impossibly creamy, with a crisp, mahogany sugar shell. I’m not sure I will ever grow out of my early developed belief that there is no pudding in the world more sophisticated than a crème brûlée.
But the canelé goes one step further: it is essentially a custard cooked at a high temperature for a very long time until it forms its own crust, helped by a mixture of beeswax and butter. It is small enough and firm enough that it can be picked up easily. This is a crème brulee reimagined as finger food.
I was hesitant to write about these little cakes because making them properly requires moulds, beeswax and lengthy refrigeration. I generally shy away from writing about recipes which require specialist equipment or ingredients.
In theory, canelés should be made in individual copper moulds. Unfortunately these are both hard to source and prohibitively expensive outside of small French junk shops and patisserie-purpose boutiques. Silicone moulds are eschewed by those keen to produce ‘proper’ canelés; but the ones I have made to this recipe in silicone moulds remain glorious: a deep, dark burnished brown, with a slightly crisp, thick shell, and soft set custard within.
I would thoroughly recommend buying the mould. They’re much more affordable than their copper brethren, they fold up so can be shoved into small places in small kitchens, they go through the dishwasher and they give you the proper dimensions which in turn gives the canelés the best possible texture and contrast for the crust and custard. I use these ones. It is difficult to achieve the right shape without any canelé-specific moulds, as more standard moulds tend to be shallower. You can approximate canelés, however: use the deepest muffin pan you have, and cook for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 rather than the timings given below.
In terms of beeswax, I am both smug and lucky to have parents-in-law who keep bees, and in turn keep me in wax. If you are not as smug as me (likely, I am extremely smug), you can find beeswax at craft shops, farmers’ markets and brilliantly cheaply at this website.
For the canelés
450ml whole milk
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g plain flour
Pinch of sea salt
5 large egg yolks
175g caster sugar
For the beeswax coating
1. Heat the milk in a pan just until it reaches the boil, then take off the heat and stir in the vanilla and rum.
2. If you have a food processor, add the butter, flour and salt and pulse until it looks like small breadcrumbs. If you don’t have a food processor, rub these ingredients together by hand. Add the sugar and egg yolks to that mixture and pulse, or stir with a fork, until they are properly mixed in. Turn the processor onto a low speed, or gently stir, and begin adding the hot milk in a slow stream. Mix until the batter is just combined. Strain into a clean bowl through a sieve, cover with clingfilm (the clingfilm should touch the batter), and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.
3. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 190°C. Place the moulds on a baking tray and put them in the oven to warm through for five minutes. Melt the beeswax and butter in a small pan and paint it carefully onto the inside of the moulds; I find this easiest with a silicone brush. Turn the moulds upside down over a wire rack placed over baking paper to allow any excess to drip out. If your kitchen is as cold as mine, the beeswax will set almost instantly and you can plough on; if not, put the moulds in the freezer for fifteen minutes.
4. Remove the moulds from the freezer, and pour the batter into the waxed canelé moulds, filling them about 3/4 full. I find a funnel very helpful here. If you have more batter than you do moulds, you can return it to the fridge for later use. Bake for 1 hour 45; the silicone moulds need slightly longer than the copper, so if you’ve blagged some copper ones, take them out nearer the 1 hour 15 mark. Their bottoms should be a rich brown, and whilst they won’t be firm at this point, you should be able to press them gently with a finger.
5. Allow the canelés to cool in their moulds for five minutes, then turn the moulds over onto a wire rack (the silicone will still be very hot, so do be careful). The canelés will come out, but may need a little bit of silcone wiggling; they will firm up as they cool.
6. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
These should be eaten within a day or two of baking, or the crust will soften too much, but you’ll be lucky if they last that long. With the best of intentions to cart them across London, these were eaten one by one as the day passed. They are addictive and beautiful and next time I will make a double batch.
If you make these you will inevitably end up with a surplus of egg whites, try making these meringue hazelnut biscuits.
1. Sometimes, especially with silicone moulds, the canelés can rise up out of their moulds a little. If, after 30 minutes, they do so quite prominently (don’t worry about anything under a centimetre), gently wiggle them back into place, remembering that both mould and canelé will be oven-hot, so use an appropriate implement.
2. To remove beeswax from pans or crockery, fill it with water and heat it until the wax rises to the top. Place kitchen roll in a sieve or funnel and pour the water through it. The wax will cling to the kitchen roll and can be easily binned.
3. The key to canelés is to leave the batter to rest overnight, to reduce aeration as far as possible, so don’t miss that step. I know it looks like nothing’s happening, and it’s terribly boring, but trust me on this.