Return of the Soupspoons Sunset (Canneles de Bordeaux)

Once upon a time there was a cafe and a young girl. This cafe was called "Soupspoons" and served French bistro-style soups and sandwiches. They also had a well-stocked pastry case. The girl visited every so often and loved a particular dessert called "Sunsets." These little domed disks were not quite cake, nor cookie, nor crepe, but somehow a combination of all three. They had a chewy, deeply caramelized crust and a vanilla scented, crepe-y interior.

One day, the cafe closed. The girl was sad that she couldn't buy the Sunsets anymore. Being an (anonymous) foodie, she went on a search for the recipe. As it turns out, the dessert was a Soupspoons original and the recipe was nowhere to be found. Defeated, the girl gave up her search.

A few years later, the girl flips open a baking book and finds a recipe for canneles. Intrigued, she reads on and realizes that the Sunsets that she so loved may have been related to these finicky French pastries. And so she begins her journey to bake the perfect cannele and perhaps recreate the Sunset...

OK, so maybe not the perfect cannele. Because, as many French pastries are, they are notoriously difficult to get right. For one thing, the tins are supposedly coated in beeswax to produce a crisp crust. Then, they often pop out of the molds while baking so the bottom does not brown properly. Apparently, some bakers in Bordeaux have given this phenomenon the charming name of "white asses" (their words, not mine). They take two days to make because the flour must hydrate overnight. There are entire forums devoted to cannele baking, from the perfect mold to use (silicon? aluminum? copper? tin?) to the best mixing techniques.

I was intrigued. These little cakes had no leavening, and each tiny portion is baked in a 400F oven...for an hour. I was also a little intimidated, but this project was more for fun than anything else.

I didn't have proper cannele molds so I baked them in some small brioche tins instead. Surprisingly, they did not blacken to a crisp after baking. Once cooled, the outside is very crunchy and caramel-y, and the inside remains a little custardy, and a little chewy.

They are supposed to be consumed within 8 hours of exiting the oven, but I tried one the next day and they actually did taste a lot like Sunsets. The crisp exterior was now chewy and spongey, and retained that wonderful deep burnt sugar taste. The recipe for the Sunset will remain a mystery, but maybe it was a version of a (stale, but really great) cannele after all.

I actually do not know what a cannele really should taste like so I don't know if my experiment was a success. I thought these were pretty tasty, but I'll pick up an authentic specimen next time I'm at a French bakery. But for your reference, this is what they are supposed to look like:

And this is a "Sunset":
Canneles de Bordeaux:

Makes 10-11 canneles:

2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
3/4 cups cake flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup less 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
4 extra-large egg yolks
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
"White Oil" (see note)

1. Heat milk in a saucepan over low heat to 183F.

2. Pulse butter, flour, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add sugar and pulse once or twice to mix.

3. Add egg yolks and process until the mixture begins to tighten.

4. With the motor running, quickly add the milk in a stream. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and press through any congealed egg yolks. Stir in rum and vanilla. Cool to room temperature and store in the fridge for 24 hours.

5. 6-7 hours before serving, brush the molds with white oil and set crown side down on a tray. Freeze for 30 minutes.

6. Heat oven to 400F. (375F if using convection oven)

7. Place chilled molds 1 1/2" apart on the sheet. "Paddle" the batter with a spatula to recombine and fill molds almost to the top. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven 1 3/4 to 2 hours (until deep brown or, if desired, almost black) (Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes if using convection).

8. Remove molds from oven and unmold immediately (firmly rap the crown against a hard surface. If cannele sticks, return to oven for 5-10 minutes, or use a knife to help). Cool completely before serving.

Note: To make white oil: Melt 1 ounce of beeswax in a 1 pint glass measuring cup. Melt in the microwave and stir in enough safflower oil to make a whitened liquid, thin enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cool to room temperature and store at room temperature in a glass container.

Credit to Paula Wolfert

Image property of beets and bites, mimiofparis.com, and evalu8.org (in order of appearance)

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