France is considered one of the dessert capitals of the world with pâtisseries marking many street corners across the country. They sell everything from flaky croissants and colourful macarons to puffy eclairs, wafer-thin pancakes and silken crème brûlée.
One dessert that's often overlooked is the authentic French canelé. Originally from Bordeaux, this petite pastry has a soft and tender custard centre that's infused with rum and vanilla and enclosed in a dark, thick caramelised shell. French-born chef and architect, Vincent Uso, has been obsessed with canelés since he was a boy and is now expertly making this ancient French dessert.
"I first got introduced to the canelé at my cousin's wedding," recalls Uso.
"My uncle made a mountain of canelés; there must have been over 300, and I basically spent the whole day eating them. Apparently, I just sat near the table shoving them in my mouth. I was obsessed and I wouldn't try any of the other pastries."
Soon after the wedding, Uso's family moved from the coast of Mimizan to France's gastronomic capital, Lyon. Vincent searched high and low to find good quality canelés in his new hometown but couldn't find any that came close to his uncle Alains'.
"I was addicted to them, and so I asked my uncle to send the canelés regularly via post; maybe 40 of them," he says. "However, I wasn't the only fan of them, so they would disappear within two days."
Years went by and as Vincent grew, so did his appetite for canelés. Not wanting to live a day without these molten pastries with a crunchy exterior, he sent his uncle a letter requesting a copy of the secret recipe.
"It's very simple. There are only seven ingredients, and you just mix them together and pour the dough, which is quite liquidy, into those copper moulds that are coated with tin," Uso explains.
"You have to grease the moulds quite a lot, so the pastry doesn't stick. The first time I tried, it was sticky, and I couldn't remove the canelés from the mould. But after five times, I got a good batch."
Uso began hosting canelé parties where he would bake them for family and friends. After he moved to Australia six years ago, he continued this tradition to make friends.
"I wanted to share the passion I have for canelés with Australia because people don't really know it here," he says. "I think one day soon the canelé will be spoken of as highly as a macaron because you can decorate the canelé with so many tastes and colours and toppings."
Uso had long dreamed of turning his passion into a business, and after being granted Australian citizenship in March 2020, operations began. He named his canelés company Canelé Alain as a tribute to his uncle who was a member of the Brotherhood of the Canelé of Bordeaux and sadly passed in late 2019.
"Everything Uncle Alain made was spectacular, like a show. I wanted to respect him and pay tribute and he's in every canelé now."
"I told my uncle that I was trying to make the business happen and it brought him joy," Usosays. "A few days before he died, I sent him a logo of the business and my aunt told me it was one of the last happy moments he had."
"I think that's why it's so important for me, this business, it's emotionally driven. There's the drive to bring people joy but it is also this drive to make his persona remembered."
Uso makes his pastries using the finest French traditions, which he inherited from his uncle. He still has Uncle Alain's original handwritten recipe that Uncle Alain sent him 15 years ago, along with his uncle's portrait that hangs above the ovens.
"Everything Uncle Alain made was spectacular, like a show," Uso says. "I wanted to respect him and pay tribute and he's in every canelé now."
Uncle Alain will always be remembered for his sweet legacy canelés and in the future, Uso hopes to open a cosy canelé coffeehouse where everyone can visit to taste his authentic, Bordeaux delicacies.
While not his uncle's secret recipe, Uso has provided a canelé recipe that is easy for home cooks. It'll achieve the same crispy, caramelised shell with a molten centre, and produce a fragrance that's hard to resist.
- 250 ml milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 125 g sugar
- 65 g flour
- 3 egg yolks
- 25 g butter
- 25 ml rum
- Boil the milk and infuse the vanilla pods.
- Mix the sugar and the flour. Then, mix in the eggs, followed by the vanilla milk.
- Incorporate the butter and rum to form a dough.
- Rest the batter in the fridge. However, the canelés can be made immediately if preferred.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C.
- Wipe and grease the moulds with butter, place them on a baking sheet and fill them with the batter.
- Cook for about 1 hour at 200°C.
- Remove the canelés from the moulds while hot and leave them to cool.
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Photos supplied by Vincent Uso.
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