When nuns aren't praying they seem to spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen engaging in butter-related endeavors. In fact, over the years many of them, like the cloister nuns across Andalusia, have baked to sustain themselves financially. (Sadly, just praying isn't paying the bills.) We've already talked about the French-Canadian pets de soeur, or "nun's farts" (appetizing, right?) and then there's always the favorite nonnevotten, or "nun's bums," a syrup-laden Dutch treat. Many butter tarts are so amazing because they're made with a traditional "nun's pie pastry." Nuns like sweet things—I think we can call this a fact.
My friend Krishna Brown, who used to run an online bakery called Shoebox Oven out of her teeny D.C.-area kitchen, introduced me to another nun-inspired dessert: the canelé.
The French cake shaped like an oversized thimble—and by oversized I mean two inches—has a dark caramelized crust and tender custardy innards. Legend has it that nuns in Bordeaux made these from leftover egg yolks from nearby winemakers who used only the whites to clarify their wines. Krishna is not a nun but I think the religious sisterhood would approve of her recipe. She experimented with many takes, including those from Chocolate & Zucchini, Foodbeam, La Tartine Gourmande, and Kuidaore, and some obscure French texts—she finally had her "aha" canelé moment.
They're not scary-hard to make but do require a canelé mold, good-quality rum, and vanilla bean pods are always nicer than the extract. Caneles are delicate little creatures. "One gram too much of something and you get alien-gremlin pod looking things," warns Krishna.
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini and a few other sources.
- 2 cups milk
- 3 tablespoons salted butter, diced
- 1 vanilla pod (split) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste*
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup good-quality rum
Combine the milk, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan and bright to a boil.
In the meantime, combine the flour and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Break the eggs in another smaller bowl.
When the milk mixture starts to boil, remove from heat and fish out the vanilla pod if using. Pour the eggs all at once into the flour mixture (don't stir yet).
Pour in the milk mixture and whisk until well-combined and a little frothy. Add in the rum and whisk again.
Let cool to room temperature on the counter then cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to three days. The next day (or the day after that or the day after that) preheat the oven to 480°F.
Butter the canele molds, sprinkle with sugar and chill. Remove the batter from the fridge: it will have separated a bit, so whisk until well blended again. Pour into the prepared molds, filling them almost to the top.
Put into the oven to bake for 20 minutes then without opening the oven door, lower the heat to 400°F and bake for another 40 to 60 minutes (depending on your oven and how you like your caneles). The caneles are ready when the bottoms are a very dark brown.