[Pille is off to Budapest for a few days, so K. is using the opportunity to guest-blog again..]
Few years ago I took some French language courses in the city of Bordeaux, and opted for accommodation with a local family. I ended up staying with an excellent old-school French hosts: a retired couple Marie-Lucie and her husband Jean-Pierre, who had accommodated over hundred language students over the years.
Just before my arrival, the family had accommodated a student from Saudi Arabia, for whom it was the first trip outside his home country. Coming from deeply religious surroundings he couldn’t eat pork or drink wine. Seeing students from all over the world, always joyful Marie-Lucie was used to different cultures. But she also adored cooking and eating traditional and delicious French food, including some Clairet wine and hearty pork dishes... Sitting together at a dinner table was a sacred tradition for Marie-Lucie and Jean-Pierre. You can imagine how relieved they were to welcome a hungry Estonian guy appreciating everything her kitchen had to offer. In turn, I was ready to learn and be seduced by the Bordeaux cuisine.
During my two-week stay we savoured four-course dinners at home almost on a daily basis. The entire house was open for guests, except the kitchen in the mornings. It was behind these closed kitchen doors that Marie-Lucie and Jean-Pierre decided on the evening's menu. Most of the recipes were kept as small handwritten notes in huge plastic boxes labelled “poissons/crustaces”, “viande”, “entrées/legumes” etc (see photo on the right).
As expected, I could not keep myself out of the kitchen, and I learned many things. For example, do you know what the secret of happy marriage is? If wife and husband do not have an argument about finances, but argue about the perfect recipe for Tomates Antiboise. Jean-Pierre put the capers together with canned tuna into a blender. While I asked tête-à-tête from Marie-Lucie whether it would be better to chop the capers, she said that when they had been younger, she had a big argument with Jean-Pierre about this fundamental issue and she personally thinks that the capers should be chopped with knife instead of crushed in blender. But now, after several decades of conjugal life, she has given up and lets her beloved husband to do like he wants. On the other hand, although Jean-Pierre liked tête de veau, a French classic dish so vividly described in A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain, and knew how to make it, it was a forgotten delicacy in the family as Marie-Lucie was not particularly fond of it.
I also had breakfasts at their home, enjoying different jams and cheeses. One weekend morning I was served innocent-looking buns that tasted superb. Before even noticing, I was already reaching for the fifth bun. Later I have learned that substantial quantities of cannelés can vanish very quickly in the presence of children and grown-ups alike. This was my first experience with cannelés, a miracle bun from Bordeaux that has not only an extensive Wikipedia entry in English, but even several dedicated web sites in French. Cannelé has interesting history, wrapped in the mystery.
This simple pastry, made of eggs, milk and flour flavoured with rum and vanilla is currently hugely popular both in Aquitaine and Gironde, with hundreds of producers. But as it turns out, it is rather easy to bake at home. Marie-Lucie kept always the batter on hand when the grandchildren were visiting, because they always asked for cannelés.
Traditionally, cannelés are baked in special metal fluted moulds (cannelé means 'fluted'). We have got silicone moulds at home - they are easier to handle, even if they don't yield as caramelised crust as metal moulds do. Usually 8 cannelés can be made with one mould and I strongly recommend buying at least two. If you're based in the US, then you can buy tin-lined copper cannelé molds and silicon mini cannelé molds - both by Matfer Bourgeat - from Amazon.com.
500 ml milk
25 g butter
100 g plain/all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
250 g sugar
4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites
1 Tbsp of rum
2 tsp of Bourbon vanilla extract
Whisk sugar, eggs and flour in a large bowl.
Bring milk and butter to a boil in a saucepan. Slowly whish into the egg mixture, stirring constantly.
Let cool to room temperature, then add rum.
The batter should be rather runny, just like a crepe batter.
Cover the mixture and keep it in the fridge for at least overnight or up to two days.
When ready to bake your cannelés, stir the batter again, and fill the prepared cannelé moulds three-quarters full.
Start baking at 275C, after 5-10 minutes lower the temperature to 200C and continue baking around 40-50 minutes until cannelés are dark golden to almost blackish brown*.
Extract from the moulds when cannelés are still hot. Cannelés should have a caramelised crust and be chewy, yet soft, inside.
Although I am very happy with the flavour of these cannelés, I have not yet figured out why my cannelés always 'climb' out of the moulds during baking. They finally fall back to the 'normal' size, but not always evenly, leaving the shapes somewhat uneven. I appreciate if you can give me a hint on this one.
* There seem to be two schools: those, who like cannelés golden brown outside and those who prefer them caramelised to black. At the stores in Bordeaux they are usually blackish.
You can read more about cannelés from these foodblogs: Chocolate & Zucchini, Kuidaore, La Tartine Gourmande (and Bea again), The Traveler's Lunchbox and 101 Cookbooks.
Previous guest posts on Nami-nami:
K is guest-blogging about Heston Blumenthal's perfect ice cream (August 2007)