Canoodling with Caneles

January 10, 2011

I am in love — with a dessert! Not surprising with my sweet tooth, but I can’t believe I made it four-plus decades and living/traveling on four continents without ever having the pleasure of meeting this lovely French specialty, the Canele.

It’s like creme brulee in a caramelized crust. A magical custard baked in its own dish. Crunchy on the outside. Creamy in the center. Absolutely delicious.

Canele

 

I first came across them at the Oyster and Champagne benefit for Slow Food Eugene that I attended this past summer when I brought a “doggy bag” of them home for my husband. He raved about them for days. I intended to seek out the patisserie that made them — Eugene’s Caramel French Patisserie — but never quite got around to it.  And then, one day, there they were, right in front of me, at the holiday version of the Eugene Farmer’s Market’s. For five weekends of the Holiday Market, I visited the French proprietress, Barbara, and loaded up on multiple packets of these addicting delicacies, and they would all disappear within minutes of my arrival at home. Then the Holiday Market ended, and my husband and I were left going through withdrawals. I started researching recipes immediately.

Talk about overwhelming. There are dozens and dozens of recipes out there. Many of them use the same few ingredients, but the ratios are vastly different, as is the method of preparing the batter. Then there was the slight discrepancy in cooking temperatures and the huge discrepancy in cooking times — from 50 minutes all the way up to two hours — both versions at 400 degrees! Why? I’m guessing it’s because there are a lot of people out there trying to get this just right. I’ve never come across a dessert that has so much history and secrecy (the official recipe is reportedly locked in a vault in Bordeaux). Nor have I come across a dessert that could be so expensive to make! Twenty bucks for a single copper and tin mold at Amazon. !!! Fortunately, there’s a less expensive silicone version. Purists would surely scoff at the idea of using it, but at 1/8 of the price, we decided we could make do — at least until we find ourselves in France again and can import our own copper molds.

All that was left was to pick a recipe and start baking!

canele ingredients

So far, we’ve experimented only twice. Although neither was perfect, they were both a pleasure to consume. First thing we realized is that one silicone mold (8 pastries) would not suffice. The folks at Amazon were happy to oblige.

 

Silicone Canele Mold

Silicone Canele Mold

The ingredients are basic: milk, sugar, eggs, butter, flour, fresh vanilla bean, and rum — the latter being the only thing I didn’t have on hand, so I substituted amaretto. The first recipe I tried called for nearly a cup of butter — so much that the resulting caneles ended up being boiled in butter. Not that that’s an entirely bad thing, it just wasn’t the result we were looking for. We ate them, of course, and enjoyed every bite, but I started sifting through additional recipes online. The next version we tried called for only 3 tablespoons of butter, which worked out well. But it also called for a little less flour, which left the custard a little on the dense and moist side. I also think it could use a whole vanilla bean rather than just a half. And I’d like to have some rum for the next try, but I’ll have to decide whether to go for the 1 tablespoon in some recipes or the 4 tablespoons in others.

I should note that I’m not trying to improve on a centuries-old recipe — especially since I doubt any of the recipes online will perfectly match that secretive concoction. But I do plan on experimenting with versions and tweaking them until I come up with a personal favorite.

One thing I noticed is that the pastries aren’t as tall as they should be (and therefore denser), which I have a feeling is due to the custard not holding to the silicone mold as it bakes as it might on the copper and tin molds. Until I have $300 to invest in the fancy molds, I can deal with dense. On this last batch, I took one tray out of the oven after 80 minutes at 400 degrees (left) and baked the second tray in for the full two hours (right). (Other recipes call for 75 minutes at 375 on convection.)

 

Experimenting with Cooking Times

Experimenting with Cooking Times

My husband preferred the less-cooked version; I preferred the more-cooked, crustier version. Perhaps next time I’ll try somewhere in the middle…

Canele Crust

 

No matter what, all 15 of them went down very, very easily over the course of an afternoon and evening. (Yes, 15 of them, the entire batch, between the two of us! Perhaps we shouldn’t have procured that second mold. I’m writing this morning while exercising off a small portion of the calories from my treadmill desk — 342 calories burned and counting!) We tried them 1/2 an hour out of the oven and again at one hour (supposedly the preferred cooling time).

 

A Tray of Canele

A Tray of Canele

The few that remained after dinner, even though well past that 1-hour “optimum” cooling time, were perfect when paired with a glass of tawny port.

Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port

Needless to say, more experimentation is in order. I’ll gladly sacrifice myself (and my waistline) to this endeavor and eventually post a recipe. In the meantime, if you’ve never had the pleasure of eating a canele or two or three… I highly recommend Caramel in Eugene. (I didn’t see them on her website, so you might call first.) I also read raves online about Ken’s in Portland.

Bon appetit!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

September 12, 2010

I love a pasta dish that can be whipped up in half an hour. And when all of its ingredients are something I almost always have on hand, it’s even better. A few dishes that meet this criteria come to mind, such as Aglio, Olio, Pepperoncino — garlic and hot red peppers sauteed in a healthy dose of quality olive oil. Italians nicknamed this dish Pasta di Mezzanotte (Midnight Pasta) because it’s so quick and easy, it’s often the first choice when one comes home hungry after a night on the town. And there’s Penne and Broccoli, Tuna and Capers, Butter and Parmigiano, but my hands-down favorite is Spaghetti all Carbonara. It’s packed with protein and bursting with flavor. And when properly made, it’s creamy, deeply satisfying and the perfect choice for spur-of-the-moment guests.

30-Minutes or Less to Carbonara!

What you’ll need:

  • 1 pound Spaghetti
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small (not fine)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 slices good bacon (I prefer thick-sliced)
  • 3 – 4 eggs *
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons parsley (depends on your taste and how fresh and pungent your parsley is)
  • 1/2 cup fresh-grated Parmigiano cheese
  • Fresh ground pepper

* Properly made, this dish uses barely cooked eggs. As with past recipes I’ve posted,  using uncooked or barely cooked eggs comes with a warning: Although FRESH raw eggs do not usually carry Salmonella or other bacteria, it is possible. Such bacteria can be dangerous to small children, elderly, and sick people. Only use fresh eggs from a trusted source. (Thank you Ian!) If you’re not comfortable consuming raw eggs, you can buy pasteurized eggs or pasteurize your own (directions easily found online).

To Make Spaghetti all Carbonara:

  1. Start heating your pasta water and add a healthy dose of rock salt. (Eating under-salted pasta is like eating under-salted bread: bland, bland, bland. Serving a great sauce over unsalted or under-salted pasta will not do the meal justice. Remember, your pasta only absorbs a portion of the water, and therefore only a portion of the salt. The rest goes down the drain with the excess water.)
  2. In a frying pan large enough to hold the cooked pasta and the sauce, melt the butter and saute the chopped onions over medium heat. After a few minutes, when the onions soften but before they start to brown, add the bacon and the wine. Cook until the wine evaporates then remove from heat. As it is boiled rather than fried, the bacon will not (and should not) crisp. The time it takes for the wine to evaporate is plenty enough to fully cook the pork.
  3. Keep an eye on your pasta water. As soon as it boils, add the spaghetti and cook al dente.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the parsley, cheese and pepper.  (Beautiful bowl made by Eugene Saturday Market potter Amy Palatnick.)
  5. Strain the cooked pasta, reserving a tablespoon or two of cooking liquid, and add the pasta to the pan with the bacon, onions and butter. Turn the burner back on and toss with the hot oil. When the spaghetti is well-coated, REMOVE FROM HEAT. Add the egg, parsley and cheese mix and toss to mix well. Serve immediately, preferably with a loaf of crusty bread and a nice bottle of red.

DO NOT COOK THE EGGS. Spaghetti alla Carbonara should never NEVER never resemble spaghetti and scrambled eggs. The hot oil and pasta will heat the eggs and they may firm up in spots, but the sauce should still have a creamy appearance.

Buon Appetito!

Kitchen Tip: Parmigiano cheese condenses a sauce and will over-thicken it if too much is used. When recipes call for a lot of cheese, add it slowly so you can gauge when taste and consistency are in balance. In this recipe, where it’s mixed in with other ingredients, keep a few tablespoons of pasta water on hand. If the sauce dries out too much, toss in the pasta water a tablespoon at a time until it looks right.

Enjoy ~