Thursday, July 31, 2008

Canelés de Bordeaux

As with all things, there are pros and cons to owning just 10 canelé moulds. The cons: My recipe for canelés will fill about 16 moulds. And because these copper moulds need to be seasoned and frozen for at least 6 hours before baking, you’ll have to wait at least 7 hours between each batch. But that’s assuming you’re a bit of a canelé expert. For a canelé virgin such as I, the 10 moulds proved to be a godsend. It meant I could make mistakes with my first batch and then correct them with my second — and that was not intentional, I assure you. In my mind, my maiden batch of canelé would be beautifully burnished, crisp on the outside and custardy on the inside. I never imagined I would yield beeswax-flavoured pucks of deep, dark brown — okay, black — shelled… things.

As anyone who’s ever made a canelé will tell you, it’s not really hard work. It is simply an amalgamation of several elements which require time and patience. Once you’ve made that initial outlay of effort, your subsequent experiences will then be a cinch.

For starters, new canelé moulds need seasoning — not unlike how you would season a new cast iron grill pan by brushing it with oil and sealing it in with heat. Canelé moulds however, require an initial seasoning with vegetable oil, and then further seasonings with “white oil”, which is made from 1 ounce of beeswax and 1 cup of safflower oil.

First, you have to find a beeswax supplier, which in Singapore, is no mean feat. (Especially not if you don’t want to buy 2kg of it — which is the minimum amount the wholesalers will sell you). So I ordered my soap-bar-sized beeswax through the internet; and shipping from the US to Singapore cost more than the beeswax itself. Safflower oil is much easier — it is available from organic supermarkets.

Before each use, the moulds should be brushed with the white oil, inverted onto a rack set atop a foil-lined baking sheet and baked for a minute to allow the excess oil to run out. You remove the moulds, let them cool to room temperature and then freeze them before filling and baking. In this way, your caneles moulds will remain mercifully non-stick.

The batter is much easier, requiring only that you heat milk to 183 degrees fahrenheit, pulse butter, cake flour and salt in a food processor; add sugar and egg yolks, and finally the hot milk. The batter is then strained through a fine sieve before the addition of rum and vanilla. A day or two later, it is ready to be poured into those gorgeous copper moulds.

Paula Wolfort’s The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen contains the full recipe and everything you need to know about making canelés. I love that she writes each recipe and story with such lyricism and care.

As you can see from the picture above, by the time I was done with first try at canelés, only two emerged edible. In my initial excitement, I baked my first batch of white-oil-brushed canelé moulds crown-side down, which meant I was baking AND filling my moulds with white oil. We had wax flavoured canelés for petite fours at dinner that night.

I prepared four more moulds the next morning (the correct way, this time) and baked the canelés for almost 2 hours at 200 degrees C. They were almost good — the interiors were suitably custardy, but the shells just a bit charred. So this time, we had soot flavoured caneles with our post-prandial coffees.

Yet the next morning, I prepared two more moulds. And this time I baked them at 180 degrees C for about 1 hour and 40 minutes. Magic — well, almost. There was the crunchy burnt sugar shell and the sweet luscious filling perfumed with vanilla and rum. But because I had filled them almost to the top, as the recipe implied — and likely because mine is a small oven — the bases of my canelés were slightly burnt.

So those bases were shorn off with a sharp knife and the new pretty canalés were placed on a plate after dinner. Again. No one seemed to mind — and by no one, I really mean my dear lab rat and loving partner C.

Next time, I reckon I’ll fill my moulds just three-quarters full so the batter doesn’t rise out of them, and hopefully, doesn’t burn. And thankfully, the next time around, the white oil is all mixed up and ready to use.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I Heart Cherries!

But in these tropical climes, fresh, juicy red cherries are fleeting, not to mention expensive. But hey, a girl’s gotta live a little, no?

Recently C and I passed a fruit stall along Geylang where we journey to every now and then for our fix of pomfret charcoal steamboat. The pile of gleaming, rubescent fruit were simply impossible to resist — well, that and the durians that C carted home in a pungent Styrofoam box.

We had cherries, stoned and sliced into our bowls of yoghurt and cereal at breakfast; we ate them for dessert, and then for supper. They also found their way into this deceptively delicious cake from Mich Turner’s Fantastic Party Cakes.

Now there are books I buy for the recipes and those I pick purely for aesthetic inspiration. This book falls in the latter category. So until I read a review of the book in last Sunday’s newspapers, I’d never actually thought try out any recipe from it. But the reviewer said something about the author’s recipe yielding the best butter cake that had ever come out of her oven. And in our house, the quest for the perfect easy-to-make butter cake is a never-ending one.

Indeed, Turner’s recipe for a basic vanilla butter cake yielded one of the best that’s ever come out of my oven. And a few pages away was the recipe for this gem. It is moist, soft, fluffy and just downright delicious. The crumble on the top also gives it a nice, light crunch. It is a cake that needs no accompaniment — not ice cream, not crème fraiche, not whipped cream, nothing. Well, maybe just a steaming cup of coffee or tea.

Cherry & Almond Cake
(adapted from Mich Turner’s Fantastic Party Cakes)

For the cake:
140g self-raising flour
50g sugar
1 large egg
4 tbsp milk
85g unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp almond extract (I used vanilla instead)
350g cherries, stoned and cut in half or quarters (I got away with using about 200g)

For the crumble topping:
25g butter
25g ground almonds
25g sugar
1/2 tsp almond or vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line the base of a shallow 20cm tin.
2. Measure flour and sugar into a bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and add the egg, milk, melted butter and almond or vanilla extract.
3. Beat with a wooden spoon till smooth.
4. Spoon into the tin and spread evenly.
5. Scatter the cherries over the cake mixture and gently press them in.
6. Make the topping by measuring all the ingredients into a clean bowl.
7. Rub the butter in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs gently clumped together. Scatter this over the cherries.
8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake emerges clean.
5. Allow the cake to cool and then remove it from the tin to cool completely on a wire rack.