Frustration, Deprivation, Improvisation

Cannelé Colossus


It’s the bane of adventurous food-lovers everywhere. It’s worse than gastrointestinal bugs, worse than meat of unidentifiable origins, worse than smarmy waiters who try to convince you that the tourist menu is really, truly what the locals order. No, the worst part of traveling with a healthy appetite is not the host of unpleasantries you risk facing at any given meal, it’s actually the prospect of encountering something really, well, good.

Before you protest, think about it for a minute. What, after all, usually happens when you discover a new favorite food? You want to eat it again, of course. This would be no problem at all if you’d just discovered this new food at the bistro around the corner, but if your one and only taste was at, say, a street stall in northern Thailand, or a tiny trattoria on the south coast of Sicily, well, things start to get a lot more complicated. It’s not like you can jump on a plane and fly halfway around the world every time the craving hits. And cravings are tricky things, not only because they tend to grow rather than subside over time, but because they laugh in the face of your attempts to placate them with some pale, watered-down, locally-available facsimile of the real thing. No, these kind of cravings demand the real deal, something anyone who has ever laid awake at night thinking about the musical snap in the crust of that wood-fired pizza in Naples or the ethereal complexity of the sauce slathered on that rack of ribs in Memphis can painfully comprehend. It’s almost enough to make you swear off travel completely, if only to forcibly limit the length of the ever-growing register of frustration and deprivation it spawns (to borrow a term from the great food writer Calvin Trillin).

Although I have traveled and tasted considerably less than the venerable Mr. Trillin, my own register is certainly not wanting for entries. At one end are all the general cravings I suffer from since moving to Scotland: really good Mexican food; decent and affordable sushi; all those cheap and authentic Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Korean meals I used to take for granted when I lived in more culturally diverse places. These entire-cuisine cravings are potent, but they’re also pretty pointless unless I’m prepared to endure many backbreaking hours in the kitchen straining my own mole and pressing my own tortillas, which, let’s face it, due to my lack of experience rarely turn out that good anyway.

On the other end of the frustration and deprivation spectrum are specific foods – local specialties, usually, though a restaurant creation or two has been known to sneak in as well. These are things I actually feel I have a shot at recreating, and as long as I keep the number from any specific trip reasonably low, I am usually able to focus long enough to concoct decent approximations. Take, for example, my last trip to Paris. While nearly everything I ate there was good, two things continued to haunt my thoughts long after returning home. One was the salted caramel ice cream from Berthillon (which, by the way, I am this close to cracking); the other were those stubby little burnished-brown pastries from Bordeaux called cannelés, the closest thing I have experienced to licking a voluptuously silky crème brûlée from the palm of my hand.

I began researching recipes for cannelés almost immediately after returning and was delighted to discover that they’re not actually that hard to make at home. What stopped me cold, however, was the realization that they require special molds – special copper molds to be precise (other types exist, but consensus seems to be that they’re not worth it), costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 each. Multiply that by the eight or ten needed to churn out a batch of cannelés, and I had a major pit forming in the bottom of my stomach. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t spent that much money on kitchen equipment before, but I’ve never spent that much on kitchen equipment that only serves one, single, very specific purpose.

Finding this conflict between stomach and wallet irreconcilable, I tried to put off thinking about it, hoping that a lucky lottery ticket would solve the matter for me. But as the months passed, the lottery ticket failed to materialize and the cravings grew stronger, out of my desperation a crazy idea was hatched. What if I took the idea behind the cannelé and reinvented it into something, well, bigger? I mean, as long as there were still an abundance of crust and fluted ridges and a long stint in a hot oven, wouldn’t it be possible to just upsize this little delicacy using equipment I already had?

Well, the short answer to this long story is yes, it is – and it’s not only possible, it’s fantastic. Everything great about cannelés is present in this pimped-up version – the chewy, caramelly exterior, the soft, custardy interior, the subtle, fragrant sweetness – only that it’s served in slices. Though admittedly lacking some of the aesthetic charm of the original, it goes just as well with a cup of coffee to provide a little afternoon pick-me-up, and eats out of hand quite nicely too if grabbing some to go is more your style. It certainly won’t win any awards for authenticity, and probably will set some fingers wagging furiously in Bordeaux, but really, isn’t that an awfully small price to pay for feeling that much less frustrated and deprived?

Cannelé Colossus

No, your eyes did not deceive you – this gigantic cannelé is baked in a good old American bundt pan, which happily seems to be making a comeback in baking circles. Those of you outside of North America might want to try a Kugelhopf pan, which a bit narrower and taller but still has the same general shape (though they do tend to run a bit smaller so some recipe adjustments may be necessary). If all else fails I imagine a plain tube pan or even a savarin mold might do the trick – you’ll never know unless you try! Just make sure whatever pan you use is quite thick and heavy, to evenly distribute the heat during the long, long baking time. I should also point out that while the white oil is technically optional, it is important to giving the right texture and shine to the crust. Beeswax may seem like an odd ingredient but it is easy to track down online and costs very little – and is well worth investing in if you like cannelés the slightest bit!
Source: adapted from Paula Wolfert’s The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

for white oil:
1 oz (30g) beeswax
1 cup (250ml) vegetable oil

for cannelés:
2 vanilla beans, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups (1ltr) whole milk

2 cups (400g) superfine/caster sugar
1 1/2 cups (200g) cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (60g) cold unsalted butter, diced
10 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons (60ml) dark rum

equipment: a 12-cup (10-inch) heavy
-duty bundt pan

For the white oil, melt the beeswax in a glass measuring cup set inside a pan of simmering water. When completely melted, stir in the oil, a little at a time, waiting for the mixture to remelt each time before adding more. When all the oil is incorporated, remove the cup from the pan and let cool slightly. Rewarm the mixture before using, if necessary. 

Split the vanilla beans in half and scrape out the seeds, then throw the seeds and beans into a medium saucepan with the milk. Bring to a boil, then cover and set aside to cool to 183F (about 5-7 minutes). In a food processor, combine the sugar, flour, salt and butter and pulse until the butter is well distributed. Add the egg yolks one by one, pulsing just until the mixture starts to come together into a batter. With the machine on, slowly and steadily pour in the hot milk through the feed tube, discarding the vanilla beans. Strain the mixture into a large bowl to remove any lumps, pressing through any congealed egg yolk. Stir in the rum (and vanilla extract if that’s what you are using), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day preheat your oven to 400F/200C and center a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan with a thin film of the white oil (it should really be a fine coat, so wipe out any excess with a paper towel). Place the pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes, then remove and fill with the cold batter (give it a stir first to re-homogenize). Place directly on the center oven rack and bake for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 350F/170C and continue baking until the crust looks deep brown and smells caramelized, 2-3 hours more. How dark you let it get is actually up to you – the darker it gets the more bittersweet it will taste (you can unmold the cannelé and check its color periodically if you want to be sure; also you can loosely cover the top with aluminum foil if it looks in danger of burning). When it’s done unmold it immediately and let it cool completely on a rack. When it’s hot the crust will still be soft, but will harden upon cooling. The cannelé is best enjoyed at room temperature or slightly warm; the crust will soften over time but a few minutes in a hot oven should crisp it up again like new.


40 thoughts on “Frustration, Deprivation, Improvisation

  1. Hi Melissa, I’m a sucker for cannelé. Could have them anytime…Your cannelé colossus looks delicious.The bigger the better!Love- fanny

  2. Wow — this is completely new to me, and I’m looking forward to trying it. You’re absolutely right about discovering new tastes and new favorite foods when you’re far from home. But the taste memory is powerful, and if properly stimulated, it will definitely bring you back to that food you discovered!

  3. wow! i too have fallen under ths spell of this delicious baked treat. i thought i’d just have to pay for the pleasure at the fancy french bakery. and seeing as just yesterday i bought a four set mini bundt pan i think i might give this ‘pimped up’ version a go. thank you for doing all the research and giving it a go. it reminds me of the time i tried to make a very big gulab jamun cake… it worked… but boy was i sick afterwards. so much sugar!

  4. You are brilliant! I too have been put off by the cost of cannele molds … but now you’ve made it possible for me to enjoy them. You have my eternal gratitude!

  5. You are so inventive, Melissa:) I, too, fell for cannelés back in Paris almost a year ago. Luckily, my live-in fellow foodie K. makes me rather nice cannelés every now and then – almost like the real thing (we’ve got silicone molds, so it cannot be totally authentic). I’ve got a heavy Kaiser kugelhopf pan, which would be ideal for making a cannelé colossus:)Re: good Japanese food in Edinburgh – have you tried the tiny SushiYa (i think) in Haymarket? I went there few times with a Japanese friend of mine, and she approved. But Korean food, indeed, is hard to come buy. That’s where Korean coursemates became handy:)

  6. Melissa, I am completely stunned to see such a large display of canele. You had to know that this would send me into a tizzy what with my insane love for them! Next time I’m in Edinburgh, promise me, PROMISE ME! that you will make me one of these. I don’t care if we don’t eat anything else for days, I just want to sit myself down in front of this thing and get to work. Oy.

  7. You’re amazing. I saw this post and immediately ordered beeswax from texas. I love canneles, and I was almost ready to drop some serious cash on molds…I will happily give this a try!

  8. Hi, Melissa, I’m wondering what you do w/the leftover white oil. If I’m reading the recipe correctly, you use only enough to grease the pan, which I’m guessing is a small fraction of the 1 cup. (This is such a beautiful cake. Bravo!)

  9. Pille – Someone just recommended Sushiya to me a few days ago! Thanks for the second opinion – I’ll definitely check it out.Sally – It does make quite a bit, but it keeps forever (I have mine in the cupboard) so once you make up a batch you’ll have enough to fill your cannele-baking needs for some time to come.

  10. Genius! I have been wanting to make tem too but got stopped in my track everytime, precisely because of the molds…duh!…Now I have to decide which recipe to try.

  11. What a genius idea. I have actually had some luck with the much despised by food writers silicon molds. I mean, actually, I thought they were great, but I’ve never had the original…so probably they were not great enough. But this is so cool. Your success makes it evident that someone could make a nice, non-copper, affordable version of the individual molds, from some heavy material…and they would work fine! I hope someone does.

  12. I, too, love canneles and have found the most inexpensive place for the copper molds is at the Lemoine cannele shops, located in Bordeaux. On my trip to Paris last week, however, I was happy to discover one of their shops had opened in the 7th near Poujauran. You can get 12 copper molds for about 50 euros. Not bad.Please post the Bertillon recipe when you’ve got it cracked… one of the best scoops of ice cream anywhere!

  13. Melissa, you had me at "licking a voluptuously silky crème brûlée from the palm of my hand." Everything that followed was just a blur, really. I love the Calvin Trillin reference — he is perhaps my favourite food writer. Scrap that, actually, and let’s leave it at just "writer." It’s funny you mention Memphis barbecue in the context of the register of frustration and deprivation. My list most certainly includes the ribs from Cozy Corner barbecue in Memphis. No sauce there, however, just dry, but damn if that isn’t the best rib I’ve ever tasted. Crap! I’m pondering my register again….

  14. Sadly, I must admit that despite my travels in Europe I have not ever had cannelés. I have heard of them however, and your comments have me determined to try your improvisation. I do love traveling, but I must agree that leaving behind all those new tastes is terribly hard and it is even harder when you’ve lived for a period of time somewhere and must leave behind those things you’ve come to depend on (golden syrup comes to mind). As always your pictures and prose inspire. Thanks

  15. I first tackled cannele when I came across a silicone cannele mold kit at Sur La Table in the close-out section. I tried Paula Wolfert’s recipe but wasn’t happy with the results as they turned to charcoal following her recipe. I then began working with other recipes to much better success.There is a very long and good thread on cannele (Paula also contributes to it) in the food forum at to me though, that there is an older, more extensive discussion in egullet too, that you might be able to find.

  16. Melissa, not to put too fine a point on it, you are a genius. If there were a Nobel Prize for Culinary Wizardry and I were on the Nobel Committee, you’d be going to Sweden. You have given hope to all the cannelé cravers who don’t want to drop a wad on those little molds. Another one for the must-make list…

  17. What a fantastic idea. I was planning on splurging on canele molds before, but now think I might instead buy some bundt tins – more versatile that way. Thanks 🙂

  18. Did you use a convection oven? I tried to make this recipe the other day, and it was way underbaked in the middle after 3 hours 😦 I was using a copper, tin lined bundt pan. Any suggestions?

  19. Lisa, I was indeed using a convection oven, but mine was done considerably under the 3-hour mark which made me think 3 hours was about right for a normal oven. Based on your experience, though, I’ve revised the baking time above, and I’m going to give it a shot without the fan next time and see how long it takes. In any case, I think the crust is the best indicator – it should be quite dark, glossy, and feel substantial, like thick leather.

  20. Hi Melissa, I’ve made a batch of your recipe tonight and will be baking them tomorrow. I am wondering however if the outside is supposed to be *that* dark? I thought at first that you’ve covered your caneles with a layer of chocolate frosting! Did it taste a bit burnt? Also, the batch I’ve put in the fridge is quite watery, is it supposed to be so? Thanks so much, I can’t wait to taste this!

  21. Silvia, I’m sure your batter is fine – it’s supposed to be quite thin, like a crepe batter. As for the color, mine did turn out a *little* bit darker than I had intended, but it didn’t taste burnt – the crust was rather like a very intense caramel. Many people prefer their canneles this way, as there’s a nice contrast between crust and filling. You can, of course, remove your cannele a bit earlier if you want a slightly lighter crust, though I wouldn’t go for too light or you’ll be lacking the rigidity it needs to hold its shape. In any case, my fingers are crossed that it turns out, and please do report back with your experiences!

  22. So I did it… it turned out pretty good. Visually, it is similar to yours. The insides of mine was very custardly which strangely enough, I don’t prefer. I am amazed that the almost-black outsides did not taste as burnt as I had imagined it to be. You’re right, it tasted intense caramel with just a barely noticeable burnt taste.One interesting thing: during the baking time, there was a considerable amount of oil boiling around the middle of the mold around the flute, I ended up taking it out 2x to drain the oil. Did that happen to you?

  23. I had another failure 😦 I baked it for 4 hours total, and ended up with a proper outside, but a large upper air pocket and a mound of somewhat undercooked custard in the bottom 😦 I just don’t know what the problem is.Are you letting the batter come to room temperature before you bake it?

  24. Oh, dear lord, I have found my soul mate. I’m making this for my birthday tomorrow. I’ve made this in this manner a couple of times already. Heavens.

  25. Silvia – There are other recipes around that produce less-custardy canneles, which you might want to experiment with if you don’t like this one. See my answer to Lisa below for some possible sources. As for the oil, I certainly didn’t have that problem myself. Could the coating of the pan (did you use white oil?) have been too thick maybe? Lisa – that actually doesn’t sound at all wrong to me. Paula Wolfert’s version is indeed very custardy in the center (mine certainly was, though it may not be apparent from the photo), and the air pocket is something that happens occasionally even in normal-sized versions – check out this picture from her book. If you didn’t like it so soft, though, perhaps you might try another recipe that creates a breadier cannele – there are a few recipes interspersed throughout the thread on egullet I’ve linked to above, or you could try the recipe in Nancy Silverton’s ‘Pastries from La Brea Bakery’. EB, you crack me up – Happy Birthday to a newfound soulmate!

  26. Okay! Well- maybe the height/shape of my bundt pan is part of it too. I will experiment a little with other pans. Thanks for the responses 🙂

  27. I too am devoted to the canele. I do admire your initiative and resourcefulness in concocting the colussus. I suggest however that you spring for the silicone mold. Your colussus is monstrous visually and it’s without the felicity of perfect, individual portions of perfection.Silicone molds coated with beeswax and baked properly yield exquisite canele.Please scroll through my posts for more canele info:

  28. i don’t have a food processor.. any ideas of how i can make it??Try following Clotilde’s instructions here. Looks pretty straightforward! -m

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