If you are an avid cook in San Francisco, chances are you've been to the eclectic little second-hand kitchen-supply shop on Divisadero Street called Cookin'. If you've never been, prepare yourself for a retail experience like no other. The shop is probably 7-800 (maybe more?) square feet in size, but it feels like 200 square feet. Why? Because there is an insane amount of stuff crammed in there. Floor to ceiling stacked with towers of cake plates, cast iron, fondue pots, cookie cutters, meat grinders, vintage appliances, tart pans, and martini shakers. I can't even get to the chocolate molds. I mean I could probably get to them if I were willing to scale a mountain of wooden spoons and spatulas.
If you ever visit Cookin', here are some suggestions:
-Move very slowly. If you are typically in a rush, or you have a tendency to flail your arms when you walk -- this place is not for you. You will knock things over and it is embarrassing. Also, leave any backpacks or big purses at home.
-Chances are you will be greeted by the words, "what are you looking for?" from somewhere behind the piles as you enter the shop. That is usually owner Judith Kaminsky. Take her up on her offer to help you. Somehow she miraculously remembers where every single item in the store lives, and how much it is going for. Help her help you.
-Forget trying to negotiate with her on pricing. She is as tough as nails. I've had my eye on a stunning set of french cake molds - an 8 or 10 piece set, big cake all the way down to tiny, in a soft five-petal flower-ish shape. I'm sure there is a proper French culinary name for the type of set it is, but I can't remember. I just know it could make the cutest cakes in the world. She wants something like $500 for the set. I'm sure she brought it back from France on one of her frequent acquisition trips. I'm sure it is rare, one of a kind, and no longer being made....but even I can't justify spending that much on a cake set. After I first saw it, I spoke to her about it, and it was clear she wasn't budging on price, ever. So the cakepans still sit there, kneeling at the alter of the vintage Le Creuset section, now a year or two later.
So, for better or for worse, this place is a walkable three blocks from my front door. I was in there last week looking for a special kind of glass for a photo shoot when I spotted a blast of pink on the floor in the midst of all the pots. It was a new French cookbook by famed patissier, Gerard Mulot. The photographs were stunning, the recipes looked delicious - galettes, macaroons, mousse, and millefeuille. The only problems: I would have to dust off my high-school French to translate the recipes, and the price tag on the book was $65. I sucked it up, paid for it, and then went home to pick a recipe to try.
If you've ever tried canneles (pronounced cah-nah-lays), you know how delicious they can be. Deep, dark, crusty, caramelized outside - rich, creamy, sweet, custardy inside. People sometimes call them portable creme brulee. I had never tried to make them before, so I had no idea what an ordeal and education I was in for. The recipe in the Mulot book looked simple enough - it was a single page, and translating it was a breeze. I bought 4 tin-lined copper molds, and I was in business.
In regards to my method on this site, I usually follow the recipes I'm trying verbatim, until I run into trouble - then I might go in and try to figure out what the problem is (missing steps in the recipe, deviation from traditional methods, inaccurate cooking times, etc). I ran into trouble in a couple of places with the Mulot recipe. As I started off, the batter was fairly simple, and came right together - right up until the end when I added the flour. Even after mixing, the batter was quite lumpy. This is where I first headed back to my reference materials and realized that Mulot might have been giving us readers "broad strokes" when it came to instructions on how to emulate his famous pastries. I mean, I came across a reference to Paula Wolfort's SIX PAGE cannele recipe, which I desperately wished I had on hand at the time - as I was clearly missing some pivotal information here. Many recipes recommend straining the batter and also letting it rest, refrigerated, for 24 hours before baking. That solved my lump problem.
Other differences - the mulot recipe uses butter to grease the baking molds, many recipes use beeswax which gives the crust a distinctive crunch, texture, etc. There are whole diatribes about which pans to use. I was really happy with my copper molds - even without the beeswax, the crust, crunch, and color of the canneles in the end was good. (I later made Paula's version with beeswax and they were amazing)
Baking times and temperatures: When I followed the Mulot recipe to a tee, I was to bake at 400 for an hour and a half. No overnight rest for the batter. My first batch was a sad little batch of canneles (I was only making 4 at a time, so it wasn't a big deal). The little cakes burnt like charcoal on the tops, and shrank up to stubby little pale nubs inside the molds. I decided to let the batter rest, and try them again the next day in a 375 oven. They turned out great - easy fix.
I hate to say it but at the end of the day making canneles is kind of a bitch, so if you are impatient, this isn't one for you. Find a local patisserie that makes them well and enjoy them fresh.
This following recipe is essentially the Gerard Mulot version/batter that I then adapted to get the canneles you see above (in picture). I'll try and make note of where this version of the recipe differs from the Mulot book. If you are interested in exploring canneles more in depth, you can read more about baking them on this great eGullet thread. There are also recipes in Nancy Silverton's Pastry Book, as well as Pascal Rigo's American Boulangerie book. I used my kitchen scale to weigh out the sugar, flour, etc down below.
Canneles de Bordeaux
2 cups whole milk
9 ounces sugar
1 vanilla pod, split
2 ounces butter
6 ounces flour
2 egg yolks
3 teaspoon dark rum
Butter for the molds
Preheat the oven to 375.
In a medium saucepan heat milk, sugar, vanilla, and butter. I brought it just to a simmer. Let cool completely and remove vanilla pod.
When milk is completely cool add the egg yolks and rum, and then gradually add the flour. Mix until dough is soft and no flour lumps (this is where I strained it).
Butter molds with melted butter and let stand for 2-3 minutes. Spoon batter into molds (I filled them just below the rims).
Cook for about 1 1/2 hours. To check for doneness after about 1:20 - every five or ten minutes I would quickly open the oven, grab one of the molds and slip the cake out of the mold to see if the crust deep inside the mold was browning and done. If it wasn't finished I would quickly pop it back into the mold, and back into the oven. The bases get really dark, so it is hard to tell if the rest of the cake is finished any other way. Resist the urge to pull them out early, they really do need a long time to bake properly.
Makes 12 canneles.