Cannel�s bordelais recipe

Rosa Jackson reveals the French love affair with cannel�. This fluted cake may be served for breakfast, for tea or as a dessert...

At first glance, it’s not the most spectacular pastry in the French repertoire. Blackened on the outside and sometimes a little dumpy and misshapen – though ideally it should stand straight and tall, with all the dignity of a Bordeaux aristocrat – the cannel� hides its secret well. The magic of this apparently simple cake lies in the contrast between the nearly burnt caramel crust and the custardy centre, reminiscent of a rich bread pudding. Bite into a warm, rum-and-vanilla scented cannel� once and you will find yourself forever seeking them out in French pastry shops, often at the expense of more obviously glamorous cakes.  

My love affair with cannel�s began at one of the oldest p�tisseries in Paris, Stohrer, whose wafting scents of butter and almonds have long stopped me in my tracks. I’m not sure why I chose this small fluted cake over the more exotic Ali Baba, a rum baba variation with pastry cream and raisins, but it was a decision that I would repeat many a time. Recently, while sorting through some old French food magazines, I happened upon Stohrer’s recipe for cannel�s. Naturally I was suspicious: cannel�s are notoriously difficult, some say impossible, to make at home, and I couldn’t see why Stohrer would want to give away its secrets.

I should go no further without saying that cannel�s by no means originated at Stohrer. Their story began far from the world of luxury food shops, on the quays of Bordeaux where ships brought in sacks of flour and bottles of rum from the French colonies. It’s thought that in the 16th century an order of nuns used stray flour and leftover egg yolks from the clarification of wine (which required only egg whites) to produce this thrifty cake for the poor, which may have been wrapped around a sugar cane and fried in pork fat. �Both the order and the recipe vanished during the French Revolution, but a relative of this cake became popular during the 19th century.

The cannel� took its current form only in the early 20th century, when some enterprising local pastry chefs rediscovered and adapted the recipe, creating the copper mould that now defines this pastry. Today, a group of Bordeaux pastry chefs insists on distinguishing the true canel� de Bordeaux (with only one n’) from the cannel�s bordelais sold elsewhere in France. Having visited one of the city’s most famous canel� shops, Baillardran, I can confirm that they have elevated this modest cake to an art form. If the canel� Bordeaux involves a secret recipe that is actually locked away in a vault, the more flexible cannel� is not so difficult to reproduce if you can overlook slight imperfections (my first batch failed to caramelise on top).  It’s essentially a sweet cr�pe batter, enriched with egg yolks and butter and left to rest in the refrigerator for at least 24, but preferably 48, hours. The batter thickens as it rests, and the contrast between the cold batter and the hot oven ensures that the cakes puff up like Yorkshire puddings, then fall as they cook.

An ingredient I was surprised to come across in the Stohrer recipe was beeswax, which is mixed with butter and brushed on to the moulds to create a glossy, caramelised surface. It so happens that the honey man at my market sells inexpensive blocks of pure beeswax, but it’s also available in health food shops.

Should you have trouble finding it, there is no need to be put off from trying this recipe – a three-Michelin-star chef told me that his pastry chefs use non-stick cooking spray with perfect results, and I’ve found that butter works in my silicone moulds. If you do use beeswax, be sure to place your moulds on a tray to catch the wax that will inevitably spill over the sides; it’s highly flammable.

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If you want to do things properly, you should really invest in some beautiful copper cannel� moulds, which are available at E. Dehillerin in Paris and other good kitchen shops. I have to confess that I have only the silicone ones, and was happy enough with the results that I feel no immediate need to rush out and buy the copper version. The wax is nearly impossible to remove completely, but it’s fine to leave some in the bottom of your moulds for the next batch (of which there will be many). Cannel�s bordelais recipe This fluted cake may be served for breakfast, for tea or as a dessert (a warm cannel� with ice cream is heaven). Eating it with a fork is considered slightly pretentious, though acceptable if the cannel� is served for dessert. For 16 cannel�s

•  500ml milk •  50g butter •  2 whole eggs •  2 egg yolks •  250g white sugar •  125g flour •  The seeds of � vanilla bean •  2 tbsp rum •  50g butter and 15g beeswax for the moulds (if beeswax is hard to find, you can substitute butter or non-stick cooking spray)

1. In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk with the butter cut into pieces. When it starts to boil, remove from heat. 2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and whole eggs. Add the sugar and flour and whisk until smooth. Add the warm milk-butter mixture bit by bit, stirring constantly so that the batter is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and rum. 3. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours. 4. Remove the batter from the refrigerator and heat the oven to 210�C, with a tray in the middle. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the beeswax (if using). Using a silicon brush if possible (it will be far easier to clean than a traditional brush) coat the moulds with the hot butter-beeswax mixture. Place them in the fridge for a few minutes so that the mixture sets. 5. Place the moulds on the hot tray and, using a small ladle, fill each one to about three-quarters full. Return the tray with the moulds to the oven and cook the cannel�s for about 1 hour, until they have risen and fallen. Halfway through, turn the tray around so that they cook more evenly. Before unmoulding them all, check one to see that it has browned all over. If you have used beeswax, unmould the cannel�s on to a rack placed over a plate to catch the wax, which is messy. Cannel�s are best about an hour after they have come out of the oven, but they can also be reheated or flamb�ed with rum to restore their crust.