The Best of the Best:
Bosie Tea Parlor Dominique Ansel Bakery Runner and Stone Epicerie Boulud
Up until very recently, a good canelé was not easy to find in New York City. The pastry, which originated in the Bordeaux region of France, features a thick caramelized sugar crust that gives way to a tender, custard-like interior that's permeated with the aromas of rum and vanilla. Although it's made with only six ingredients (eggs, sugar, flour, milk, vanilla, and rum), it's one of France's most interesting and surprisingly sophisticated pastries. And to my mind, it's a more fun eating experience than plenty of other fancier desserts.
Even now, though it's gained exposure and is coveted by pastry enthusiasts, canelés only make regular appearances in about 16 bakeries around New York—and in many, only on the weekends. We've spent the past few months paying repeated visits to them all to find the very best.
The Makings of a Perfect Canelé
Three things make up a perfect canelé:
Crust: The single most important feature of a perfect canelé is a well-baked crust with just the right amount of caramelization. The exterior should have a decisive crunch but also be delicate, not burnt. Most sub-par canelés suffer from soft or leathery crusts.
Interior texture: The best canelés have an interior that's a cross between custard and cake, moist but not soggy or runny. A well-baked sample will feature a honeycomb-like crumb.
Aroma and flavor: You should smell aroma and rum before taking your first bite. But once you pierce the crust, the combination of vanilla, egg, and rum should be almost overpowering. (To accentuate these flavors, many chefs leave split vanilla beans and rum in the batter for one to three days before baking.)
A Question of Molds
Before we go on, let's talk molds.
A canelé's amazing crust is made possible through special baking molds that allow surface sugars to caramelize over high heat. Traditionally, the best molds were made of highly conductive copper, but more recently many chefs have taken to cheaper and easier-to-maintain silicone molds.
Many members of the pastry old school maintain that copper molds still make the crispiest, crackliest crust. Award-winning French pastry chef Francois Payard (who does not sell canelé in his New York City patisserie) doesn't mince words: "The best way to make a canelé is with a copper mold. You can't make a true canelé in a silicon mold, it's a bastard canelé. In a copper mold you get the perfect caramelization on the sides and they're cooked perfectly."
But not everyone agrees. At Breads Bakery, which makes quite a popular canelé, the bakers claim: "We used both copper and silicone molds, but we conducted several blind taste tests and couldn't tell the difference. We bake fresh canelés throughout the day, and to keep up with demand we chose to use the mold that was easier for our bakers to handle." That is: silicone.
Indeed, some of New York's top restaurants—and at least four on my list below—use silicone molds. But you should decide for yourself, so I've noted which molds each bakery uses below.
The Best of the Best
Bosie Tea Parlor
Bosie might be one of the most underrated pastry shops in New York City. Helmed by Top 10 Pastry Chef award winner Damien Herrgott, Bosie only makes about a dozen canelés each day. But if you really want to experience what this pastry is all about, pay them a visit.
Bosie's canelés have a crust that strikes the perfect balance between crunchy and delicate. They have a slightly blistered appearance that's lighter in color than most. Inside, specks of aromatic vanilla beans are visible. These canelés are sweet, but not vanilla pudding sweet. ($3. Copper molds.)
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Cronuts may draw the crowds, but regulars and pastry fanatics know that canelés might be Dominique Ansel's finest pastry. The shop, which bakes 200 each day over three staggered shifts, can take at least partial credit in popularizing the pastry in New York. Ansel's canelés features a classic dark mahogany color and an extra-thick crust. They're also characterized by an extraordinary vanilla aroma from Tahitian vanilla beans. The very scent of these—even inside a paper bag—will make your mouth water.
The canelés also keep their crunchy texture marvelously well. Buy them in the late afternoon and they'll still be crunchy by evening. ($3. Copper molds.)
Runner and Stone
Runner and Stone in Gowanus has made a name for itself with its superb breads. But its canelés, only available on weekends, are just as worth a trip.
This canelé has a dark brown color and a distinctive matte finish thanks to a brushing of clarified butter on copper molds and it may feature the crunchiest crust on this list. The vanilla aroma is more subtle and light than Ansel's or Bosie's offerings. ($3. Copper molds.)
We've featured Epicerie Boulud on these pages many times, and for good reason: they sell a wide range of fantastic pastries and sweets. When fresh, their canelés are every bit as good as the best in the city, boasting a distinct rum and vanilla bouquet and a perfectly baked interior. Boulud's canelés are the most uniform of this group; each one is identical day in and day out, a hard thing to do with a craft product.
But a cautionary note: get these pastries before noon; their crusts soften significantly as the day goes on. ($3. Copper molds.)
Pastry chefs, residents of Queens, and just general French pastry fans have been traveling to this superb bakery in Jackson Heights for years. After 10 a.m. on weekends the bakery offers what is without a doubt the best deal on a first-rate canelé in the city; each is just $2. When fresh, these canelés offer a delicate but crunchy crust that satisfies. The crust is slightly thinner and the vanilla flavor less robust than our top four picks, but these are minor nitpicks. If you're planning a visit from another borough, call ahead to see what time they expect them to be ready. They will also take advance orders. ($2. Copper molds.)
We're huge fans of Lafayette Bakery's pastry and breads. Pastry Chef Jennifer Yee's tarts and desserts are among the best in the city, so it will come as no surprise that Lafayette's gorgeous mini-canelés are also excellent. Lafayette bakes their shiny mahogany-colored canelés multiple times throughout the day, so you know you're always going to get one that's fresh.
Resist the temptation to pop the whole pastry in your mouth at once; smaller bites let you appreciate their rich vanilla flavor. The mini pastries also offer most crust and less soft interior, if that's your preference. (Three for $4. Silicone molds.)
Since opening only 15 months ago, Breads Bakery has solidified its reputation for excellent pastry, bread, and (crushingly delicious) babka. Their very popular canelé is sweeter than most and has a particularly dense custard interior. The shiny crust is thin but has an excellent snap. Vanilla beans are used liberally and their spots are visible to the naked eye, resulting in a highly aromatic and flavorful pastry. Breads offers multiple bakings throughout the day for freshness. ($3. Silicone molds.)
Paris Baguette sells an ever-changing selection of excellent and reasonably priced baked goods. Their small, sweet canelés offer a compelling value in Manhattan at $2.25. Similar to Breads Bakery, this canelé has a dense, sweet, almost pudding-like custard. Real vanilla beans provide ample flavor. The crust is not as crispy as some may prefer, but the satisfying custard earns it a spot on this list.
Now with five locations and multiple bakings throughout the day, this is definitely New York's most accessible canelé. ($2.25. Silicone molds.)
Though Bouchon Bakery offers a wide array of exceptional sweets, they only recently began offering mini-canelés. These are without a doubt the crunchies canelés on this list. The crust is very crispy and thick, which leaves room for only a small amount of custard inside. But these mini-canelés are expensive: they cost $3 each, which is the same price as most bakeries sell a full size pastry. (Copper molds.)
Canelé By Céline
Canelés By Céline is the only canelé-only bakery in New York and the only shop on this list to offer multiple flavors (12+), sizes, and savory options. Their extra-shiny mini-canelés are sweet and very crispy—especially early in the morning. The interior is as close to perfect as you can get, striking a nice balance between custard and cake.
Some purists might question the need for so many different flavor options when rum and vanilla yield such a great product. However, after many visits to Céline, I'm certain true canelé fans will enjoy the variety as I did.
If you're looking to go beyond the typical canelé flavor, go for the dark chocolate or lemon, which each compliment the pastry's rum and egg flavors. The savoy Parmesan version is also worth a try.
Célines colorful canelés look beautiful in a box and make a perfect gift for a dinner party. Sweet mini-canelé sare 3 for $4.90. See their website below for complete pricing information. (Silicone molds.)
Make Them at Home
If you want to try making your own canelés, check out our recipe here.