Beeswax: The secret ingredient for cannelés
I'm a little obsessed with cannelés, the pretty little Bordelaise cakes that are so deeply caramelized on the outside that they look burnt, yet have a dense, rich custardy interior. I've hit every bakery in town that has them. On my last trip to Paris, I was at Eric Kayser's Latin Quarter boulangerie when they opened their doors at 7 a.m. —and back again 20 minutes later for another bag. (I still have one of those that made it back from Paris in my freezer. Prototype? Talisman? Maybe both.) But I'd never made cannelés until last week, when a friend (also with a cannelé obsession) brought me back a brick of beeswax (right) from the honey stall at a local farmers market. Beeswax?
Beeswax, according to Paula Wolfert's cannelé recipe in her cookbook "The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen" is one of the secrets to creating that glossy, dark crust. Melted, combined with safflower oil and brushed in a very fine film onto metal cannelé molds, the "white oil" helps in the caramelization process. So I followed Wolfert's recipe, using the individual metal cannelé molds we had in the Test Kitchen. Copper molds are the best, but they're insanely expensive; the orange silicone molds that look like muffin tins work okay, but, as baker (and blogger) Dorie Greenspan wrote in an e-mail, "The silicone molds are, as the French would say, 'efficaces,' but you can't use beeswax in them and you don't get that dark, dark crust." OK, then. The first batch, baked at 400 degrees for 2 hours (as Wolfert directs), were a little too black. But the second batch, baked for 1 hour and 20 minutes, were perfect (above, left). A glossy burnished exterior; moist, almost like a popover, on the inside. And they were surprisingly easy to make.
If you don't feel like making them (or heading to Paris), there are plenty first-rate cannelés in town, at Cafe Surfas (plain, chocolate and banana), La Brea Bakery, Boule (plain and chocolate), EuroPane and LA Mill. And Sumi Chang and Adrian Vasquez (of EuroPane and LA Mill, respectively) both use beeswax when making their superb cannelés. Are they better that way? You decide — preferably with a demitasse of espresso.
EuroPane, 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828. LA Mill Coffee Boutique, 1636 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 663-4441.
— Amy Scattergood
Photos by Amy Scattergood