Why It Works
- A coating of beeswax and butter creates an outer skin that will help protect the shape of the canelés as they bake.
- Baking at high heat from the outset encourages this skin formation, especially on the bottom of the mold.
I'm typing this post from the floor of my kitchen, where I've been sitting for the past 30 minutes with my forehead pressed against the glass of my oven door. As I write, it's 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and this post was due days ago. It's been three weeks since I began working on canelé, and this is what they've reduced me to: crazed, unable to pull myself away, and struggling to put down words that might help you, gentle reader, avoid the madness to which this pastry has driven me.
Up until a few months ago, canelés were just the stuff of pastry legend, known only by their reputation for being fussy and difficult to make in that just-so way. A trip to New York City's Dominique Ansel Bakery sparked my obsession with the pastry. Holding a perfect one in my hand for the first time, I could only make guesses as to how the baker had achieved such a glassy, caramelized exterior contrasted with an impossibly custardy center. Such a delicious mystery to unravel, I began daydreaming in canelé. I couldn't wait to do it myself.
It turned out, I was not alone. A Google search revealed that this was well-worn territory, and my friend MaryKate, a veteran of the pastry department of Sullivan Street Baking Co., had been at it for some time, too. Since she already had the necessary equipment (a set of aluminum molds) and the knowledge she'd gained from many attempts under her belt, she volunteered to help me get started. We had major issues with the canelés rising out of their molds, slumping over the sides, then charring bulbously on top. They were delicious, but they didn't score any points in the beauty department. I was disappointed and determined to get it right.
Weeks wore on, and I attempted canelés again and again, obsessed with perfection. I tried new batters, at all different temperatures in different parts of the oven. I tried water baths. I broke down and bought six of the damn copper molds because I had to know. I obsessed over advice generously dispensed from my pastry chef idols via Twitter, and swapped secret emails with friends at the best bakeries in New York City. The advice only made things more dizzying. For every chef who swears by beeswax, there is another who prefers a spritz of non-stick spray. Some tout silicone (I was out of money for a high-quality silicone mold—that will have to be a project for another pay period) while others said, "copper or nothing." At the end of the day, the lesson was clear: Each baker has a method that works for them, and that's the way to canelé perfection. This is my method; it may not work for everyone, but it works for me, and I've found peace with that idea.
If you attempt canelés at home, it's important to keep these principles in mind:
- A coating of beeswax and butter, frozen to the molds before baking, helps create a protective outer skin that will help protect the shape of the canelés as they bake. Beeswax can be purchased on the Internet or at the honey stand at a farmers' market.
- High heat at the outset encourages skin formation, especially on the bottom of the mold. To facilitate this, bake on a preheated baking sheet.
- Many people on the internet advise baking until they are nearly black on the tops. I advise against this: There's a big difference between caramelized and carbonized, in flavor, texture, and appearance. I'm happy to put up with some blond patches to avoid a charred, burned bottom part.
- Copper really is the best if your goal is the perfect canelé. However, aluminum is pretty good too, and if you're okay with canelés that are a little less than perfect, the ones baked in aluminum are still plenty delicious and cost a fraction of the price of those baked in copper.
- Practice makes perfect, and mistakes are still delicious.
See below for some more tricks and what to expect during the baking process, then try it yourself, if you dare.
Mixing and Straining the Batter
It's critical that you avoid aerating the batter each step of the way when mixing. Start off by breaking up the eggs (which should ideally be at room temperature) with a fork, but avoid beating them.
Instead of beating the ingredients into the batter, which risks incorporating too much air, pass all of the wet ingredients through a strainer into the dry. Use a rubber spatula to push them through.
Then, once all of the wet ingredients have been added through the strainer, gently stir the mixture with a rubber spatula, and allow the batter to sit for a few minutes to hydrate as you clean the strainer. There should be lots and lots of lumps.
After the batter has sat for a few minutes, pass it through a clean strainer. Push all of the lumps through with a rubber spatula, which will help mix the batter without adding extra air. Then, rest the batter at least 24 hours, or preferably 48 hours, covered in the fridge. This resting time helps hydrate the flour, dissolve the sugar, and gives the proteins in the eggs time to change so the texture of the canelé is just right.
Preparing the Molds
After brushing the preheated molds with the butter-beeswax mixture, place them upside down on a cooling rack placed over a sheet of plastic wrap to allow the excess wax to drip off. You don't want to get too much wax in the molds, or you'll end up with a waxy film on your tongue. Once the wax has cooled to a solid state, place the molds in the freezer for at least 2 hours. This is an important step that helps the wax stay solid long enough to properly coat the outside of the canelé while they bake.
Preparing to Bake
Place a baking sheet on the center rack in the oven. You'll need to start out baking in a blazing hot oven (500°F/260°C) to develop the outer crust. When the oven is ready, remove the rested batter from the fridge. It will have separated, so you will need to gently stir it before portioning it into the molds. Remember, avoid incorporating air into the batter, which will cause puffing in the oven.
Once the oven is preheated, remove the baking sheet from the oven and pull the molds out of the freezer. Pour batter into each, stopping just a centimeter from the tops of the molds. Place the cold molds on the hot tray, then place the tray directly on top of the hot stone.
Turning Down the Heat
Lower the temperature of the oven to 400°F, and bake for approximately 45 minutes more. Since you've had the oven open and the canelés have gone in and out, you'll need to rely on what you see to know how much more time they require.
Testing for Doneness
After a while, the canelés will settle into their molds and the tops will turn more and more golden as they bake.
When the canelés shrink back into their molds almost to the point where they started, AND the tops are getting very dark, but not burnt, it's time to test one for doneness.
Use the tongs to pull a test canelé out of the oven. Allow it to sit in the mold for a couple of minutes before turning it out onto the rack. The canelé in the photo above is still too light on top for my liking, so I return it to the mold, and the mold to the oven.
I continue to test the tester canelé until it is the right color, then I remove the rest and allow them to sit for a few minutes before unmolding. There is a broad range of colors for canelé. This is an example of one made in a copper mold that is still a bit on the light side.
Aluminum vs. Copper
Pictured above: The difference between a canelé baked in an aluminum mold and one baked in a copper mold (same exact baking time and oven rotation). The size difference of the mold puts the aluminum at a disadvantage.
The photo shows three canelés all baked in aluminum molds for the exact same amount of time and rotations in the oven. The biggest shortcoming with aluminum molds is that the coloring is wildly inconsistent because aluminum is not as good at conducting heat.
These canelés were made in copper molds. The results are very satisfying, but you must ask yourself: Are these worth 20 dollars per piece? For me, the satisfaction of getting it right in the end was worth it.
This recipe was cross-tested in 2022 and lightly updated to guarantee best results. For canelés with a crisp, glossy crust, we adjusted the oven temperature and timing in the recipe.
17.6 ounces whole milk (498ml; about 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
10.6 ounces confectioners' sugar, sifted, divided (301g; about 2 1/2 cups)
1.8 ounces unsalted butter, cubed (51g; about 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)
1 (6-inch) vanilla bean with the seeds scraped
2 large eggs (3.5 ounces; 100g)
2 large egg yolks (1.2 ounces; 34g)
4.4 ounces all-purpose flour (125g; about 1 cup), sifted
1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
1 ounce dark rum (28g; 2 tablespoons)
2 ounces pure beeswax (57g; about 1/4 cup)
2 ounces homemade or store-bought clarified butter (55g; about 1/4 cup)
2 days before baking: In a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat, whisk together milk, half of the sugar, butter, and vanilla bean pod and seeds. Bring milk just to a simmer, gently whisking occasionally; turn heat off when the edges begin to bubble.
Place eggs, yolks, and remaining half of sugar in a medium bowl; gently whisk just until combined but avoid incorporating too much air. Gradually and gently whisk warm milk mixture into egg mixture until combined. In a large bowl, sift together flour and salt. Place a fine-mesh strainer over bowl with flour mixture; pour and press egg mixture through strainer; reserve vanilla pod for later. Add rum to the bowl. Very gently whisk batter until combined; avoid incorporating air. Wash and dry the strainer, then push the batter through the strainer with a rubber spatula. Return vanilla bean pod to batter; press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cover bowl and allow batter to rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, or preferably 48 hours.
1 hour before baking: Set oven to 350°F (180°C) and place the metal (either copper or aluminum) canelé molds inside for 10 minutes. While molds are heating, place beeswax in a plastic, microwave-safe container and microwave in 30-second increments, swirling each time, until beeswax is fully liquified. Add butter and microwave until it has fully melted, then stir until you have a solution of butter and beeswax. (This may also be done on the stovetop in a saucepan, but because cleaning beeswax from pots is an unsavory activity, using the microwave is highly recommended.) Remove molds from the oven and allow them to cool for 1 minute. Set up a cooling rack with a piece of aluminum foil underneath. Pour wax mixture into 1 mold all the way to the rim; pick up mold using a kitchen towel or kitchen mittens and quickly return beeswax mixture to container. Invert mold on top of the cooling rack and allow the excess wax to drip off. Repeat with remaining molds. Once the wax has cooled back to opaque, about 5 minutes, use a kitchen torch to evenly heat outside of molds, allowing more excess wax mixture to drip off. (Alternatively, place molds on a baking sheet, open side up. Bake for 2 minutes; invert molds on top of cooling rack to remove any excess wax.) Once molds are cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes, place on a cool plate or baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes.
Once it's time to bake: Preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Place a baking sheet in oven and let preheat 30 minutes. Remove molds from freezer. Remove and wring out vanilla bean pod; very gently whisk batter until homogenous, avoiding incorporating any air. Transfer batter to a plastic deli container or a wet measuring cup with a spout. Fill molds almost to the top with batter, leaving a centimeter of space at the top of the molds (about 65 grams each). Remove preheated sheet tray from the oven, line with aluminum foil, then place the filled molds on the heated tray, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake for 15 minutes.
Decrease temperature of the oven to 400°F (200°C) and bake until caneles are deep golden brown, about 40 to 50 minutes, loosely covering with foil to prevent excess browning if needed. (If caneles have not settled back into molds during the initial 10 to 15 minutes of baking, carefully remove from oven one at a time;use a wooden pick to gently pull caneles away from sides to release steam trapped underneath and help push them back down. To check for doneness, invert 1 mold onto a cooling rack. If you are pleased with the color, let the canelé cool on the wire rack for 30 minutes. If you are not, return the canelé to its mold and bake for 5 to 6 minutes longer. The canelés are best if consumed no more than 5 hours after baking.
Canelé molds, metal tongs, baking stone, kitchen torch (optional)
We also strongly recommend using a scale for all pastry projects.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 144g||185%|
|Saturated Fat 57g||286%|
|Total Carbohydrate 245g||89%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||12%|
|Total Sugars 136g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|