The candé de Bordeaux (a.k.a. cannelé bordelais) is a magical bakery confection, a cake with a rich custardy interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell. It’s a brilliant construction, developed long ago by an anonymous Bordeaux cook whose innovation has been subjected to three hundred years of refinements.
Nearly black at first sight, bittersweet at first bite, the crunchy burnt sugar canelé shell makes an exquisite complement to its smooth, sweet filling, fragrant with vanilla and rum. Small enough to eat out of hand, these little cakes have recently gained cachet after years of neglect to the extent that they may one day rival the popularity of crème brûlée in the category of caramelized French sweets.
Canelé de Bordeaux is the “politically correct” name for this recipe. Additions or alterations to the recipe will run afoul of the canelés gendarmes, transforming the baked product into cannelés bordelais.
Canelé batter must be prepared ahead two or three days before baking. If you prefer, you can make it two weeks in advance and freeze it; thaw in the refrigerator. Both the batter and the molds must be very cold before baking. While this recipe is long, it is not difficult.
Rinse a saucepan with cold water. Add the milk and set over low heat. Heat to 183°F on a candy thermometer, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the butter, cake flour, and salt in a food processor; pulse until combined. Scatter the sugar on top; pulse until mixed.
Add the egg yolks; pulse until the mixture begins to tighten.
With the machine on, quickly and steadily pour the hot milk into the mixture in the food processor. Strain the batter through a very fine sieve into a clean container, pressing any congealed yolk through. Stir in the rum and vanilla and let cool to room temperature; then cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
About 6 hours before serving, lighdy brush the interior of each canelé mold with “white oil”. Set crown side up on paper towels to avoid pooling of the oil in crevices. Place the molds in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the chilled molds 1½ inches apart on a baking sheet. Gently stir or shake the batter, then fill each mold almost to the top. Place on the lower oven rack. Bake until the canelés are deep, deep brown in color, or, if desired, almost black, about 2 hours. Remove from the oven. (If using a convection oven, bake at 375°F for 1 hour and 15 minutes for deep, deep brown canelés.)
One by one, use an oven mitt to grasp each hot mold, firmly rap the crown against a hard surface to loosen the cake, and tip out onto a rack. Let cool to room temperature before serving, about 1 hour. If any canelés resist unmolding, bake5 to 10 minutes longer; if necessary, use a toothpick to loosen. For a shiny exterior, lightly brush the sides of cooled, baked canelés with a little flavorless oil.