Need a new baked good in your repertoire? Try a stunningly simple French pastry whose dough is nearly as easy as pancake batter to concoct. The results will knock your socks off.
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Photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
| Credit: Photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

So you’re a person who likes food well done—or as the French say, bien cuit. You’re the one who picks the grilled cheese that’s just a little overcooked, with little lacy bits of almost-burnt cheese. You like your baguettes dark, and you like a good sear on your steak so its edges caramelize. If you make caramel, such as for tarte tatin, you wait till yours is good and dark gold. And you love Bananas Foster, or anything in which desserts are lit on fire.

Cannelés should be next on your list. The tiny French pastries with fluted sides are much easier to make than they look—just a little more difficult than pancake batter, although you need to refrigerate the batter overnight—and they’re much easier to bake than croissants or macarons.

Since making my first gateway loaf of bread, I’ve been more confident in the baking arena, so I’ve started flipping through cookbooks looking for what I want to eat as opposed to what I think I can execute without screwing up. Also, I figured, these days my kitchen is constantly covered in a fine powder of flour, so why not throw one more treat into the mix?

So it was that I landed on cannelés (sometimes spelled “canelés”). One legend says they date to before the French Revolution, when nuns made them in Bordeaux. Another says that locals living by the docks would scoop up spilled flour to make cakes for poor children. (For an excellent deep dive into their history and recent boom in popularity, read this Molly Wizenberg piece in The Art of Eating.)

Regardless, the petite cakes were once baked in brass or copper molds over high heat until their sugar content turned the outer ridges of the pastries black. Overcooked sugar became their signature taste—and it’s much more appealing than it sounds, because when done correctly, they also boast a creamy, popover-like texture inside with a prominent bouquet of rum and vanilla. Nowadays, one can spend hundreds of dollars on copper molds online, or you could do what I did and spend nine dollars and ninety-nine cents on silicone cannelé molds. I wanted to see if I could replicate the best I’ve tried (at Runner & Stone bakery here in Brooklyn).

I chose a recipe by Paris-based Dorie Greenspan, a favorite among home bakers whose recipes tend to be very precise. She didn’t disappoint, and I couldn’t have been happier. Although I didn’t have a metal mold to conduct heat, these actually turned out quite dark on the outside and custardy on the inside, especially when I tagged a few extra minutes on to the baking time. They flipped out of the molds easily, they travel well to hungry neighbors, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to show them off at every afternoon party, breakfast shindig, or housewarming fete I’m invited to over the coming months. That’s how much people love them.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.


Text: Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, (c) 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

This recipe was given to me by Joëlle Caussade, whose husband, Gilles, owns a lively Paris bistro, Le Petit Vendôme, where Joëlle makes the mini cannelés that are served with coffee.

A word on timing: The batter needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, so plan ahead.

Serving: Cannelés are traditionally served alongside coffee or tea and often turn up on trays of mignardises, the small sweets that are after-dessert desserts.

Storing: The batter needs to be refrigerated for at least 12 hours, but it can hold there for up to 3 days. As for the baked cannelés, they’re perfect the day they are made and still good, but firmer and chewier, the day after. Keep the cannelés in a dry place at room temperature. Lightly cover them if you like.

2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
1¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2½ tablespoons dark rum
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Melted unsalted butter, for the molds

At least 1 day before making the cannelés: Bring the milk, ¾ cup of the sugar and the butter to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool until the mixture reaches 140 degrees F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, cool the milk for 10 to 15 minutes; it should still feel hot to the touch.)

While the milk is cooling, put the flour and the remaining ½ cup sugar into a strainer and sift them onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. Keep the strainer at hand.

Working with a whisk, beat the eggs and yolk together in a large bowl until blended. Whisking without stopping, start adding the hot milk, just a little at first; then, when you’ve got about a quarter of the milk blended into the eggs, whisk in the remainder in a steady stream. Add the flour mixture all at once and whisk—don’t be afraid to be energetic—until the batter is homogeneous. You might have a few lumps here and there, but you can ignore them.

Strain the batter into a large bowl or, better yet, a pitcher or a large measuring cup with a spout; discard any lumps in the strainer. Whisk in the rum and vanilla, cover the container tightly and refrigerate the batter for at least 12 hours. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Lightly brush the cannelé molds (see page 222) with melted butter and put the pan in the freezer. The pan only needs to be frozen for 30 minutes, but if you put it into the freezer right after you make the batter, you won’t have to wait for it on baking day.

When you’re ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Put a cooling rack on the sheet and put the frozen cannel molds on the rack.

Remove the batter from the fridge. It will have settled and formed layers, so give it a good whisking to bring it back together, then rap the container against the counter to debubble it a bit. Fill the cannelé molds about three quarters full.

Bake the cannelés for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes or so. Cannelés are supposed to get very dark—black really—but if you’re concerned that yours are darkening too fast or too much, place a piece of parchment or foil over the molds. When properly baked, the bottoms will be dark and the sides of the little pastries will be a deep brown—think mahogany. (I spear a cannelé with a bamboo skewer and pull it out of its mold to inspect it.) While the cannelés bake, they may puff above the tops of the molds, like popovers or soufflés, and then, as they continue baking, or when they’re pulled from the oven, they’ll settle down. Pull the whole setup from the oven and put it on a cooling rack.

Let the cannelés rest in their molds for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack. (Resting gives the tender pastries a chance to firm so they’ll hold their shape when unmolded.) Be careful: Even though you’ve waited 10 minutes, because of the caramelized sugar and melted butter, cannelés are hotter than most other pastries. Let the cannelés cool until they are only slightly warm or at room temperature.