Last weekend, my fiancé & I trekked over to what we consider the biggest & best farmers’ market in all of San Diego: the Little Italy Mercato. They’re open year-round on Saturdays & feature 150+ vendors & have a sizeable array of local produce, poultry, meats, artisanal goods (cheeses, sausages, pastas, sauces, candles, breads, etc etc) & wares. The mercato is located in a neat area; historically it is a fishing colony of Italian ex-pats & in present-day times, located by the water & is really close to downtown San Diego. My first impression was that it vaguely reminded me of San Francisco.. though a bit more gentrified, very ‘branded’ (there is Little Italy signage on everything.. from public sidewalk tables, bicycle racks, benches & umbrellas to lamp posts) & not nearly as vertically built (or as hilly). But it’s definitely a neat part of town for sure. If you’re ever in the area on a Saturday; the Little Italy Mercato is a great place to check out.
Anyway, as we were perusing the booths with the mission of getting something delicious & meaty to put on our barbecue grill (it is summer afterall!); passing a baked goods booth, something caught my eye. As you can imagine, baked goods seldom impress me.. But what stopped me in my tracks were canelés (also spelled as cannelle or cannelés) ! It was kind of funny – they weren’t even displayed properly: they were in a covered plastic tub, tumbled in with some croissants, barely in view). But their shape & glossy dark & ambered crust was unmistakable. Also, seeing these coincided with my craving for some rustic European pastry. It was meant to be. I asked the seller how much they were for, she said $2 for one, $5 for three. Kind of steep! But worth it. I inspected them, they had a thick glossy crust, the gloss is from beeswax, which coats the canelé mold. The crust of these weren’t the most dark, but I was willing to give them a try.. but I knew I couldn’t settle for just one.. However I was $1 short of the $5 required, but luckily the seller was cool about it – I was able to leave the stand with 3 for $4! Small victories indeed. It was worth satiating my craving. My fiancé & I sat on the curb of the street by a crêpe stand & snacked on our farmers’ market spoils. We shared a crêpe, a huge organic donut peach, sipped on iced cold brew coffee & nibbled on the famed canelé. Pictured below is the last of the three canelés before I chased it down with some percolated coffee.
Granted that I have yet to have had a canelé from a Bordeaux in southwestern France – the last time I tasted one was from bar ferd’nand, a cool wine bar / bottle shop & cafe in my old neighbourhood in Seattle that also serves varying snacks – sometimes baguette sandwiches, oysters on the half-shell, charcuterie, cheeses, croissants & other extraordinary baked items. I remember seeing them for the first time & going over to admire the beauties. The shopkeeper touted that they were pretty much amazing. Curiosity killed the cat – I gave it a try & I’d gone back for more. The crisp & delightfully dark crust (for those that may be put off by eating beeswax, fret not – it just enhances the texture of the crust) juxtaposed with the airy yet custardy (some have described it as “a cross between a custard & a cake”) insides were pure indulgence. Scalded milk, cold butter, rum, vanilla, eggs & enough flour to bind it all together.
I myself have not dared to experiment with baking canelés though this link to Chez Pim seems like a decent start. The first crucial step in creating canelés is obviously to acquire the canelé molds. Though one could get the silicone variety – however according to canelé purists, that would be a mistake & considered cheating! The silicone molds do not yield the same crust texture compared to the real mccoy, which are made of copper. The copper is a great conductor of heat & is key in giving the canelé crust its unique attributes (the crisp crust, the amber-mahogany tone, the glossy beeswax finish, etc). However, copper canelé molds are muy expensivo. About $25 for a single 2″ mold! QUITE an investment that I’m not keen on making nor experimenting with right now. Therefore I’ll be content finding them on chance encounters & enjoying them then. (;
Canelés fascinate me because they are present-day derivatives (I suppose in all technicality, many pastries are) of centuries-old European baking methods. It’s almost like it’s edible history! (Forgive me for nerding out here)
Just thought to share this treat (via text & visually, so to speak). Aside from trekking into LA or even further north to San Francisco; anyone know of any notable canelés that I should sample for my ‘research’? (; Seek them out if you haven’t tried one yet!