Category: Note

Canelés (Cannelés) de Bordeaux – the recipe, the madness, the method

Note: This post is Thinglink-ed, pass your mouse over the images to find out more.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Yes indeed there is, and it nearly drove me mad on the way to it. If you followed me on Twitter or Facebook, you couldn’t have missed the past few weeks of furious ravings, fleeting triumphs, and befuddled exasperations. Yes, I have been working on the famously fickle canelé (sometimes also spelled cannelés). And not just any canelé, mind you, but the Perfect Canelé. The one that has the perfectly, evenly baked crust the color of mahogany, perfectly, darkly caramelized but without even a hint of burnt. The one that’s crisp and shiny from just the right application of beeswax (yes, that’s what I said), contrasted with the creamy, custardy, sweetly addictive interior. The perfect canelé is what a crème brûlée wants to be when it grows up.

No, I wasn’t inventing a new recipe for it. And I surely didn’t invent the pastry itself. The Bordelais did it ages ago. Though how exactly it came about is still subject to debate. In fact even the name, and how many n’s precisely in the correct spelling is subject to passionate debate. I could recount the whole story, but I know you could google just as well as I do. So why don’t you just go read it yourself over at Wikipedia?

If you’re looking for a canelé recipe, the interweb is littered with them. Blogs have done it. Chow made a video about a search for one. The Chowhounds got a madness-inducing yet oddly mesmerizing thread on it. So did the discussion forum eGullet. Paula Wolfert, who could be called the goddess of the canéles herself, has a SIX-page recipe on it in her fabulous book The Cooking of Southwest France. She also generously published a truncated version of it on her website. My personal God of All Things Pastry Pierre Hermé has no fewer than three recipes published in his various books, including one made of chocolate (in his chocolate book with another one of my favorite authors Dorie Greenspan.) You could even watch a French (French-Canadian?) pastry chef make the canelés on YouTube. Though frankly judging from the results at the end of the video I wouldn’t recommend it.

The problem is, not one, none of it, worked for me reliably and perfectly. Not even when I followed each to the letter. Canelés are famously tricky to make, but it’s not until I tried that I realized how befuddling they truly were. All the recipes are deceptively simple, and not even that different from one another. Basically a sort of custard made of scalded milk, eggs, sugar, flour, and flavored with vanilla and rum, which is then bake in special tin-lined copper molds made specifically for the pastry.

One rather odd recipe, originally attributed to Michel Roux then later to Nick Malgieri, calls for condensed milk and milk powder, which made me suspect that it’d been created during a rather lean time in France, the war perhaps? Living now in time of abundance, I prefer fresh and less processed ingredients. I gave it a try anyway, just for the sake of research. It turns out pretty canelés, though strangely cakey rather than properly custardy. I also didn’t particularly like the flavor, so that was the end of that. Now I need to figure out what to do with all this non-fat milk powder I have left over!

The problem I had with the rest of the recipes was not so much the flavor. How could you go wrong with milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and especially the rum? But it’s in the consistency of the baking. I had the darnest time trying to produce the “perfect” canelés every time. The problems are also not recipe specific. I’ve had the same “soufflé” problem, for example, on pretty much all the recipes I tried – that’s when the batter expands too much during baking that it rises up and out of the molds, only to collapse into a royal mess the oven.

So I began to focus more on the method rather than the recipe. I tried changing the eggs to equal amount in yolks only, but found the results too eggy to my taste. Belinda, the pastry chef at Manresa cautioned me not to whisk the batter, despite what most recipes said. That made a huge difference, I now stir, and very gently. By accident I also discovered that even the age of the eggs made a difference. In the end, I settled on a slight adaptation of the ingredient proportions in one of Pierre Hermé’s published recipe, but tweaked the process rather heavily, borrowing from Paula Wolfert’s sage advice and also from that maddening Chowhound thread.

Perhaps the toughest part to work on was the heat. I found that baking at a very long period at a very high temperature produced canelés that were so burnt the crust was practically carbonized. Over the last few weeks I’ve been playing with different variables, producing canelés in all shades of a rainbow, making so many befuddling mistakes it drove me to the brink of insanity. But I stuck with it. Whether it was stubbornness or madness, I stuck with it. And you know what, I got it. Finally. Allow me a minute to bask in my own personal glory. C’est moi qui l’ai fait!

I’m going to try and explain my method to you the best I could. And let me warn you I’ll be wordy. This is going to be my Pad Thai for Beginners tutorial all over again. And just like the Pad Thai recipe, I hope that this canelé recipe will prove to be useful to just as many of you.

So, are you ready to give it a try? I hope I haven’t scared you off from making canelés all together. Really, please don’t. As you could see success is entirely possible! Just do it!

Let’s begin with a few important things you need to keep in mind in your quest for the perfect canalé.

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Pim’s 2010 Holiday Gift Guide

Come to think of it, I probably should call it Things-I-Love-And-Use-Myself-That-Will-Also-Make-Great-Holiday-Gifts Guide. I know it’s long and cumbersome, but it tells you so much more about the things that go into this guide I’ve put together for you. But before we even get to the guide itself, I’m going to introduce you to something else rather useful. It’s an image-tagging service called Thinglink.

Thinglink-ing chez Pim

Thinglink, from the brilliant minds of my friends Ulla-Maria and Jyri Engeström, makes image-tagging super simple. Any image on Chez Pim with Thinglike icon (4 black dots) on the top left corner has Thinglink tags in them. Roll over the image and you’ll see more dots popping up inside the image. Each dot is a link, on a thing, get it, Thinglink? Pretty brilliant, no? Point at one of those dots, you’ll see a small pop-up that tells you what the thing is and where to go to buy or learn more about it. Now images on Chez Pim help me tell stories and help connect you to useful things.

These are not advertising or sponsored links, by the way. Except for a small percentage of Amazon Associate Fees I get when I link to products on, I don’t make any money from these links. I simply point you to where I myself would buy or learn more about these items.

P.S. If you’re reading this post via an RSS feed, I’m sorry but Thinglink doesn’t work via RSS, so you’ll have to click through to Chez Pim to read and see the links on the images.

Now, let’s get on with my list, shall we?

Fiesta’s “Head Chefs” line of silicone kitchen tools for kids

I’ve only recently discovered these adorable kitchen tools, and now every kid in my life will get one (or more) as a present this holiday. I think one of the keys to get kids to eat well is to get them interested in food and in cooking, and what better way to do it than making it fun? Auntie Pimmie is going to be so popular with the kids this holiday, I can tell you that.

Tiny but not wimpy cameras

I am asked all the time what camera I use on the blog and when I travel. Here’s my answer, my absolute favorite camera, the one I carry with me pretty much all the time, is this Panasonic Lumix GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 lens. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a camera more, and I’m sure I’ve never spent money better than when I bought it. The Micro 4/3 format basically allows DSLR cameras to shrink to this size, which is just a bit bigger than your tiny point/shoot. This camera let me geek out all I want on a shot, by manually doing everything, or just set it to Auto and have the camera do the thinking for me. And with a lot of the controls on the outside – knobs and dials and things – it’s actually quite quick to switch from one mode to another.

The GF1 is the first small camera that made me leave my big Canon 5D-Mark II at home when I went to Japan and Australia earlier this year. That’s how good it is, and how confident I am with it. Panasonic just announced the launch of the next model Panasonic Lumix GF2 in January, so you might want to check that one out instead. I can’t vouch for it since I haven’t used it myself.

Shooting with the fixed 20mm lens will take some getting used to, especially if you’re accustomed to the point/shoot with 10x zoom or something. But the lens is so fast and so awesome that it’ll be worth it. If this still doesn’t sound like a good idea, you could buy the GF1 with a more flexible 14-55mm lens.

I’ve been poo-pooing pocket point/shoot cameras for a long time now. No matter how well they advertise their “low light” ability, it’s just never adequate for me. The new CMOS sensor that recently came on the market changed my mind completely. The quality difference between shots made with the old CCD sensor and the CMOS sensor is truly night and day. Pun intended. I’ve been playing a bit with the Nikon S8100, another pocket camera with CMOS sensor, but the one that I really, really like is this Canon SD4000IS. The guys at dpreview like it a lot too. (I hope he doesn’t read this but that’s what you-know-who is getting for Christmas.) If you take photos of food when you go out to a restaurant, then get one of these and put aside your massive, embarrassing DSLR for other occasions.

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This week chez Pim: of something old and some things new

Keeping the romance alive

What do you do when you’ve been blogging for the better part of a decade? You take a break, a breath, and then find a way to refresh and renew the love that inspired you to do it in the first place. That’s what I just did. Welcome to the new Chez Pim.

Moving to WordPress

Change is tough, changing blogging platforms even more so. I was with Typepad for pretty much the entire life of the company Sixapart. That’s a long, long time, and it’s been a great collaboration. I cannot thank the Typepad team enough for their attention and support in those years. I send my best wishes to them on their new path at Say Media. I cannot tell you what peace of mind it’s been, to know that no matter what my Typepad blog was always there. It ran how it should no matter how crazy my traffic spike and valley. I still recommend Typepad wholeheartedly to anyone who wants to start a blog without knowing or ever caring about what’s under the hood.

As comfortable as I was with Typepad, I’ve long outgrown the platform. I pretty much single-handedly built and tweaked the old Chez Pim templates by myself. With my scant skills, it’s like building a house with the help of duct tapes and gorilla glue. It wasn’t pretty, I can tell you that. Plus, as a hosted platform, Typepad wasn’t flexible enough for me to do what I wanted to do. It’s time to move on. Say hello to my shiny new WordPress blog.

Not just a new coat of paint

The new design is not just a new palette of colors and some nifty graphics. It reflects a fundamental rethinking of where online publishing is today. “Blogging” is breaking away from the stranglehold of chronology. Content is no longer just about what’s new and fresh and MORE. Now it’s all about relevance.

So, the new Chez Pim is no longer calendar-driven series of blog posts. Old contents that are relevant today are given just as big a lead-in as the newest post I wrote this morning. That’s what the picture carousel of top of the main page and each category page does. It features not only new content, like the video post of La Mamma’s braised rabbit that I shot in Italy, but what’s useful and relevant now. Chanterelles are coming into season again, the recipe post on pickled chanterelles from last year is welcome back on the main page.

Visual storytelling

The picture carousel is also about telling stories visually, which has become a real passion of mine in the last few years. I love going to cliché places but not bringing you back the same cliché frames everyone else sees. I went to Tsukiji market in Tokyo, but if you expect that shot of rows of frozen tuna at the famed auction, you’re in the wrong place. My Tsukiji is a bloody cutting board, a rusty scale, a bucket of tuna bones, and an old proprietress in her cubbyhole “office”. And I hope you enjoy this Tsukiji as much as I do.

More focused content

Breaking from the chronological mold to one that’s more subject driven will also help me better focus my storytelling. Pulling out the wine and drink posts onto their own page made me realize how little I’ve done on the subject I love so much. So expect to hear more, a lot more, from me on that. Also expect to hear more on the Travel section, you’ll be seeing handy city guides by me and my trusted friends from around the world.

Dinner @ 8

Perhaps what I’m most proud of, and the one we’ve worked the hardest on, is the new feature Dinner @ 8. I wanted to find a way to break from the norm of cooking blogs. Instead of presenting single recipes one at a time, Dinner @ 8 takes a holistic approach to cooking a meal.

The step-by-step guide takes you through the process of the entire meal, with steps from all the recipes woven and arranged logically and efficiently so you can put dinner on your table on time. And I’m not talking a semi-home-cooked silliness. I’m talking a proper debut menu of Dorie Greenspan’s recipes from her latest book, Around my French Table: 3 courses, 4 dishes to cook, all in 3 hours. Yes, you heard me the first time. Three hours. You don’t believe me? Here’s what Dorie herself said about this new feature..

“I’m thrilled any time Pim wants to cook from my recipes, but I’m thrilled and honored that she’s kicking off Dinner @ 8 with a meal made from my new book.

Pim explained a little about her site’s redesign to me when we met in San Francisco last month and it sounded pretty terrific, but nothing prepared me for how terrific it really is.  This morning she sent me a link to the site and I clicked through just as my husband walked past my desk.  He did a double take as he exclaimed: “What happened?  You’re sitting there with your mouth wide open!” What happened was Pim’s site!

It’s beautiful, of course – Pim only does beautiful– but it’s also chockfull of great information and tips, and it’s so sensibly and helpfully laid out, and so logical that it makes everything really doable and doable in 3 hours sharp.  I love this!

I know that I’ll be cooking along with Pim and I hope you will too.  I can’t wait to hear about your adventures.”

Dorie Greenspan, 10/13/2010

There is, of course, wine pairing suggestions for the meal. It wouldn’t be a holistic look without including the wines.

I didn’t do it alone

I couldn’t have done it alone. Meet my friend Ryan Wilke, pixel-pusher extraordinaire and véritable WordPress wiz. I cannot recommend Ryan enough. He’s fast, responsive, and crafty in some very astonishing ways. I should also mention how patient he is. I’m not an easy client to please. I knew precisely what I wanted and I wanted it precisely that way. And he managed it, every time. To Ryan, you amaze me. Thank you ever so. (Check out his site to see his take on the work he’s done on Chez Pim.)

And a giveaway, of course there’s a giveaway

This is, however, not one of those easy giveaways that you just need to leave a comment and then you’re eligible. Sorry. It’s a big prize, so you’ve got to work for it. What’s the prize, you asked? The winner will get a copy of Dorie’s new book, Around My French Table, and a copy of her last pastry book, Baking: From My Home to Yours (both courtesy of Dorie Greenspan). Plus, there’s more. From me, you’ll also receive two of my favorite pastry books, Desserts by Pierre Herme, and Paris Sweets, both also by Dorie. That’s $150 worth of books, and they will be priceless once they are signed and personalized to you by Dorie herself.

To win them, you must go to Dinner @ 8 and cook the Dorie’s French Supper menu. You don’t have to serve it at 8, eat at 7 or whenever you want, by all means. Just make sure you follow the steps and see if you could do it within the 3-hr time frame, more or less. You know, even if you’re 15-20 minutes behind schedule, you would still finish that meal faster than if you were to go at it by yourself.

So, go forth and cook, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself. You have until Monday December 6 to post evidence of that meal somewhere online. Your blog, your Foodbuzz, your Flickr, your Facebook page, anywhere you want. Go start a thread on Serious Eats if you must. Just post about it somewhere online, and then leave a comment and a link on the Dorie’s French Supper post to let us know. Dorie and I will pick our favorite 10, and will draw the winner from those 10 names.

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