Thursday, February 3, 2011
Note: This post is Thinglink-ed, pass your mouse over the images to find out more.
So, you heard me going on and on about how to make the perfect canelés. You got all excited and about to roll up your sleeves and head into your kitchen to play. Then you got to the part about how you’d need these precious little fluted, tin-lined, copper molds made specifically for these babies. And the part about how it’s $20 a piece. A single piece. To make a single canelé. Albeit a potentially perfect one. And you’d need 6 or 12 of them to do this properly. That’s when you stopped. The idea of selling your current or future firstborn so you could afford them didn’t appeal to you too much. I have good news for you. It is possible to make (nearly) perfect canelés using the inexpensive (ok, not so expensive) silicone molds. Read on.
This all began after a pretty spirited discussion with some friends, when they told me, in no uncertain terms, that, unlike me, they would indeed not exchange their firstborns for culinary achievements, I decided that I would give these silicone molds a try. In the spirit of research. Ok, actually, mostly to prove myself right.
I started googling around to see what others have done with silicone canelé molds. The resulting canelés I’ve seen are not so inspiring. I don’t need to name names or link links here, but I’m sure you all have seen them: oddly blond canelés with brown or black spots, with a crust so wimpy they don’t even hold the fluted shape of the pastry. If that’s all silicone molds could do I wouldn’t want anything to do with them.
After I got my hands on a couple silicone molds I began to see one reason why. Most canelé recipes supplied by the silicone mold producers just didn’t look very good. They seem to treat canelés as though they’re just another cake, suggesting baking temperature absurdly low and baking time ridiculously short. Most also suggest not coating the molds at all, or at best with only butter. That didn’t sound right. So I began treating the silicone molds with the same method I’d been successful with for my regular copper molds, resting the batter and baking at high temperature first then lower the temperature. The results turned out quite a bit better, I was able to make canelés that were crisp outside and properly custardy inside, but I still wasn’t fully happy.
Another problem with many silicone molds are the shape. Canelés baked in proper copper molds have pronounced fluted shape, but the first few I tried on silicone molds turned out oddly cylindrical, with hardly any fluted edge at all. They look so odd they might as well have been baked in popover pans or muffin tins. Part of the problem there is how flimsy some of the molds are. Most of them have very vague fluted edge to begin with. Once the batter expands in the soft molds as it bakes in the oven, there goes your hope for beautiful, characteristically fluted canelés out of those molds.
The silicone mold I ended up liking the best is the one from de Buyer. (In case you’re wondering, no, they’re not sponsoring this post. I bought it off of Amazon.) I already own a de Buyer silicone mold, for mini rectangular cakes. (That one, just for the record, I got in a swag bag from the Omnivore conference in Deauville last year.) I like the heft and the general quality of the pan I have, so I thought I’d give their canelé molds a try. The de Buyer molds turn out the nicest fluted shapes and generally the best looking canelés, so that’s the one I now recommend.
But I still had one last puzzle I wanted to solve. I already knew that the combination of beeswax and butter (or a neutral-flavor oil) was indispensable for canelés made in copper molds, but what about for silicone molds? Would they make a difference? So that was one last experiment to try.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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.
Monday, December 6, 2010
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 Amazon.com, 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.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Every fall, I wait with baited breath for the arrival of the gorgeous, bright orange persimmons at the farmers market. Persimmons are my absolute favorite fruit. I love them crisp and sweet, like the slightly squat Fuyu. I love them meltingly soft and luscious, like the acorn-shaped Hachiya we’ll use in this recipe. I even love them practically mummified, like the preserved Hoshigaki. I love them so much my childhood nickname was Persimmon. (No, you’re not allowed to call me that, not unless you’ve known me since I was five.)
A few years ago, my dear friend Liz Haskell sent me a surprised package just before Christmas. I opened it to find a not-so-pretty steamed pudding. You know, one of those dark, dark brown, sodden-looking things. Not exactly appetizing stuff, but I knew she was a great cook so I tried it. One bite into the dense yet super tender pudding and I was in love! It tasted like a sticky toffee pudding took a Hachiya persimmon on a honeymoon and made sweet, sweet love to it. Yes, that good.