Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Field Work...

Among the many jobs I've assigned myself over the past few months, the most difficult task just might be the hunt for the perfect cannelé.  
This petit pastry is a Bordelais specialty- no market is complete without at least two competing cannelé makers and, like the ever present Starbucks cafés at home, Bordeaux's famous cannelé shop, Baillardran, has a chain of shops all over town.  
These little fluted cookies/cakes/things, who share the same name as the french word for column (see the resemblance?) are hard to categorize.  With dark, caramelized exteriors and spongy insides, the cannelé might be best described as a baked custard.  The recipe is simple: milk, butter, sugar, eggs, etc.. But the process of creating the perfect cannelé, is not so easy.  After a little poking around in an attempt to solve why these are particularly famous in Bordeaux (a search that yielded many versions of an old story about baking nuns), I came across a full description on how these little cakes are baked via Chez Pim.
Cannelés here are fairly pricey.  A croissant will cost you approximately 85¢, but a cannelé de Bordeaux will set you back around two euro.  And now, after readin Pim's description of how they're made, I know why. (Pim, by the way, happens to be a friend of Kendra, small world.)
Each copper cannelé baking mold must first be coated with beeswax and white oil, and then the batter must rest for almost two days.  And, despite precautions, results are hit and miss.  Evenly baked cannelés are hard to produce and thus, bakers have taken to selling cannelés to patrons according to their crust preferences.  You can order them cru, moyen, or bien cuit, just like a steak! All this work for something that is, well, really not that amazing. 
I know, I know, I'm the worst pastry assistant in the world.
The taste, however, has done little to deter me in the hunt.  Amazing or not, I'll keep eating cannelés in the name of research, and maybe one day, I'll find one that will make it all worthwhile.  
Until then, here's the round up on some of the best cannelés in Bordeaux.

Marché au Chatron-  This Sunday morning market has some of the only hot cannelés I've tasted.  The baker here has a booth set up with an oven and he pulls out freshly baked cannelés all morning.  I get the little bag of six minis for two euros.

La Boulangerie- The cannelés here have a different texture than any of the other ones I've tried.  The crust, instead of being shiny and shell like, seems more a part of the pastry.  Worth trying for a taste comparison.

Ballairdran- I put off trying a cannelé from here for the longest time.  I assumed the big red awnings and giant window displays were a cover for inferior quality.  But they are quite popular.
And, after finally dragging myself in there, I have to admit , they are probably the best in Bordeaux.  The inside, particularly, stands above the rest; the custard is spotted with thousands of tiny vanilla bean seeds.

The search continues, but here's a secret:  I actually like cannelés better in California. La Boulange in the bay area, must add extra rum to their cakes- they're quite addictive.