I spent the 4th of July in Paris last summer. I’m not particularly patriotic, but the 4th has always been one of my favorite holidays. I have a rich history of celebrating our country’s independence in the suburbs while watching a parade (sometimes booing at the Republican Party float), playing bocce ball and eating some delicious grilled food. All of this happens at the family home of one of my very best friends who comes from NYC to celebrate. I hadn’t missed these festivities in years. When we booked our trip to France I hadn’t been thinking much about dates but as it approached I realized- we were going to miss the parade. Of course Paris is a nice consolation prize, but I was disappointed I would miss the yearly tradition.
Bryan and I ended up spending the 4th in Massy, a suburb of Paris, with some friends of Bryan’s family. They and their friends and neighbors very graciously hosted a 4th of July celebration in our honor complete with tortilla chips and mini hot dogs (apparently our culinary contribution to world cuisine). They even barbecued in a brick oven in the backyard. It was a pretty magical evening. We had wine debates (Bryan’s dad brought some bottles from California, which the french seemed skeptical of) we sampled some amazing liquor that the french grandfather had made using plums (at least that is what I think he was telling me) and we met some great people who were very forgiving of how terrible our french was. Later in the evening as we sat in the candlelit backyard with our new french friends, the grandmother of the family brought out a tray of canelés for dessert. I had never tried one before but I fell in love with my first bite. She explained that they are a specialty of Bordeaux, where she is from. These very small little cakes, shaped like tiny bundt cakes or medieval towers, have a very crunchy and dark exterior that gives way to a custardy filling flavored with rum and vanilla. They are pretty close to perfection. Once again I was astounded by how much better the french are at living.
Imagine my delight when I discovered a jar full of canelés at the farmers market the week after returning from Paris. My favorite Chicago bakery, Floriole, was making and selling their very own version of the french confection and they were fantastic. I felt lucky to have found a supplier and never again visited the market without eating a canelé but I wanted to try making them at home. I researched recipes online and was mostly discouraged, although Clotilde  gave me some hope. Traditionally, canelés are baked in individual copper molds which are very expensive. Since I wasn’t ready to invest in copper molds, I bought a silicone tray. I knew it was going to be a major compromise but better silicone than nothing. It was worth a try.
It worked! Not flawlessly, but it worked. The batter tasted exactly right, it is a question of texture. After 3 hours of baking (the recipe called for 2) the insides of some of the canelés were still too wet. I know that is hard to believe, but it is true. I don’t know if this was a problem with my oven, the silicone molds or the recipe- but it didn’t stop me from eating them happily. I need to try these again, but I couldn’t wait to share my (relative) success and hope that you might like to try too. It seems like a delicious problem to pursue. The batter is ridiculously easy to put together and then it just sits in the fridge for a day or two before you bake them. If you are not up to making these yourself and you live in Chicago, call Floriole  and ask them to prepare you some tout de suite.
In other news: Speaking of France, check out the NY Times video  on the Bocuse d’Or, it is amazing especially all of the hats.
Canelés (adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup milk, the butter, and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until butter has completely melted. Set aside to cool slightly; remove and discard bean.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, rum, and remaining cup of milk. Add the flour and salt; whisk to combine. Add the hot milk mixture to the egg-yolk mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 day or up to 4 days.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the silicone mold on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Remove batter from refrigerator and whisk vigorously (batter may have seperated while chilling). Fill each mold to 1/8 inch from the top.
Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until caneles are dark brown, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When done, let cool for 10 minutes before removing from mold. Caneles should be served on the day they are made. Makes 8 regular canelés.