Canelé…or can’t I?

Mini Pound Cakes

No. I didn't.

When I was a kid I had the most amazing wanderlust. This was, of course, in the days long before the internet, so I would buy pre-posted postcards at the Post Office and send them off to different companies requesting the most current brochures they offered. A few days later an envelope bearing my name would be on our doorstep. In those days travel brochures tended to be small tri-fold affairs, and I would voraciously unfold them like I was studying a map of buried treasure from a far-away island.

My favorites were ones from the steamship lines—in those days ships still looked like ships as opposed to the “hotel-with-a-smokestack” look they have now. I found it all endlessly entertaining.

I still do and evidently I’m not alone. There’s a thriving market for old ocean liner merch on ebay. A few years back I bought an enormous linen tea towel that had been sold as a souvenir on the famous liner “Queen of Bermuda.” I paid about three bucks for this pristine, colorful 1961 item, with the thought of having it framed to hang in my kitchen. The good news is that it hangs there as planned. The bad news is that it cost me an arm and a leg to have it framed. Add a couple of zeroes to the cost of the tea towel and you’ll get the idea. Oh well, I can honestly say that in all the years it has been hanging in my kitchen it has never lost its ability to make me smile.

My other passion as a kid was cars. This was during Detroit’s heyday. If you had money you lusted after names like Coupe de Ville and Corvette. A6? E300? Where’s the romance there? (Not that I’d turn my nose up at either of them, ahem.) New car showrooms always managed to stock enormous, glossy brochures, and if my little feet didn’t find me in a showroom, there was always the annual Auto Show.

The irony is that as an adult my travel wanderlust has all but evaporated, as has my interest in cars. There are probably multiple reasons why travel has lost its allure, not the least of which are: an ever more dangerous world, and the sheer discomfort of travel in the twenty-first century. For me the glamour of air travel is now all wrapped up in one question: does the airline have little seatback TV’s? Yes, that’s me. I’m the guy who goes on vacation to…watch TV.

Cars have lost their glamour because the air got polluted and gasoline got expensive, so the only guiltless pleasure behind the wheel is to drive an electric car or a hybrid. Zzzzzz.

My adult wanderlust is centered on food. This food wanderlust is, thankfully, easily explored within the walls of my own kitchen, and is at times, a bit silly. Let’s visit one of the sillier examples, shall we? (Grab your coffee: you’ll need the caffeine.)

I have no recollection of how the idea to make Canelés got into my head. Canelés are little pastries from Bordeaux that, like so many things in life, seem simple and straightforward, yet in truth require a strict observance of technique, timing, and practice. Also, the recipe requires the use of food-grade beeswax. Sans beeswax they are simply not the same thing, and disregarding the requirement is a little like saying that it doesn’t matter that Lucille Ball had red hair. No, wait, that’s a bad analogy. It’s a little bit like saying that it doesn’t matter if a Hershey Bar is made of chocolate. Okay, still not a great analogy, but you get my drift.

The beeswax in the Canelé is melted, often mixed with a bit of butter, and brushed into the Canelé mold. This serves to keep the batter from sticking, but also imparts a delicate flavor, a glossy sheen, a burnished warmth, and ever-so-slight crackle to the outside of the finished canelé.

The batter itself is a bit like a custard, and is definitely a close relative to the popover or the Yorkshire pudding. The common practice is to mix the batter, then allow it to rest for 24 to 48 hours. Here, unfortunately, are the shoals upon which my attempts to make Canelés have foundered. I never think to plan ahead. The sitting time is considered as essential as the beeswax.

I’ve been very motivated to try baking these, and even invested in a special silicone Canelé mold. It sat in my kitchen, in its box, in its Sur la Table shopping bag for weeks as I would trip over it, each time cursing it for being in the way, and myself for not having tried to bake Canelés yet.

Finally, I took the mold out of the bag and out of its box and declared that this would be the weekend when I would finally bake Canelés. And then I didn’t. But knowing that once unboxed a cake pan must be used (a cardinal rule in my kitchen), I decided to bake something a bit simpler, just to test the mold. Welcome, friends, to the department of reduced expectations.

My first thought was to bake Petit Fours. My second thought was that they are too icky, jammy, and sweet. What about something simpler…a l’il something to have with coffee. A nibble.

The result is a yummy little cake, dispatched with two or three bites. To give them a bit of finish, the little cakes are turned out of the canelé mold as soon as they are removed from the oven and dredged in superfine sugar mixed with just a hint of cinnamon. The silicone canelé mold gives them just a bit of crust and the sugar a sandy crunch. They’ll remind you of little raised doughnuts from some groovy country bakery.

Yeah, go ahead. Dunk them.

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Here’s the Mini Pound Cake recipe. (I’ve also included information on buying the Canelé mold.)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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