Caramelized and crackling exterior, custard-like center
Canelés (sometimes spelled Cannelés) de Bordeaux are not easy, but the reward of eating a perfect one can make the three-day process and intense baking session worth it. Click through this slideshow to see what it takes to make perfect canelé at home. (Note: less than perfect looking canelé are still very delicious).
Steep for flavor
Making Canelé batter is a multi day process that begins with steeping the vanilla bean in hot milk and allowing it to chill for 24 hours.
Mixing the batter: prepare the eggs
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) at room temperature) with a fork, but avoid beating them. Add the butter to the eggs and stir with the fork slowly to incorporate.
Mixing the batter: strain the ingredients
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.
Mixing the batter: stir gently
Then, once all of the wet ingredients have been added through the strainer (do this for the milk to remove the pods from the steeped vanilla bean) gently stir the mixture with a rubber spatula, and allow the batter to sit for a few minutes to hydrate. There should be lots and lots of lumps.
Mixing the batter: At last, strain and chill
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 for no less that 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.
Prepare the molds
Place the molds in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. While they are heating up, melt the beeswax in a microwave safe bowl, for 30 second increments, stopping each time to stir the wax as it melts. Once it has fully liquified, add the butter and return to the microwave to melt until the butter has fully melted. Stir the two together. Remove the molds from the oven and brush the bottom and sides with the wax mixture.
Prepare the molds: remove excess wax
As you work, place the brushed molds 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.
Prepare to bake
Place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and place a baking sheet on top. Preheat the oven to 500°F. (You'll need to start out baking in a blazing hot oven 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 into the molds. Remember, avoid incorporating air into the batter, which will cause puffing in the oven.
Portion the batter
Once the oven is preheated, remove the sheet tray from the top of the stone and pull the molds out of the freezer. Pour batter into each, stopping just a centimeter from the edge of the molds. Place the cold molds on the hot tray, then place the tray directly on top of the hot stone.
Babysit the oven
Here's where this process gets maddening. You need to hang out by the oven, watching the canelés as they bake. After about 10 minutes, they will begin to rise up out of the molds, nearly an inch over the edge. When this happens, remove the mold from the tray with metal tongs and place it outside the oven, where it will fall back into the molds on its own. Once the canelé returns to its original height, put it back on the tray in the oven to continue baking.
Continue to babysit
This rising and falling process will continue, and you'll need to keep taking them out of the oven for the first 30-45 minutes, until you begin to notice that they have formed a skin on the outside that starts to take on some color. This skin will protect the canelé and keep it from falling over.
Watch for space
You'll know that you can stop moving the canelés in and out of the oven when the aforementioned skin forms, and the canelé shrinks a bit inside the mold, so there is space all around.
Turn down the heat, but still keep an eye out
Once the danger time has passed, you can leave the canelés to bake. 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.
After a while, the canelés will settle into their molds and the top will turn more and more golden as it bakes.
Dark golden brown, time to test
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.
Test 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 is still too light for my liking on top, so I return it to the mold, and the mold to the oven.
Test again until done
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 canele. This is an example of one made in a copper mold, that is still a bit on the light side.
Aluminum vs. copper
Pictured here, 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.
Other considerations with aluminum
The photo shows three canelés all baked in aluminum molds for the exact same amount of time and same 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.
Canelés, from copper
The canelés pictured 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.