Canelés de Bordeaux (or: my love of copper moulds)

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I feel myself drawn inexorably to baking projects that have no end, just a rocky path of discoveries, flops, experiments, successes, flops… Not content with macarons and pastéis de nata to add girth and grey hairs to my existence, I started playing with canelés de Bordeaux about a year ago. Why? Why? The lure of something that absolutely required expensive copper moulds and beeswax must have clinched the deal. I let on to readers that I had embarked on another of my baking odysseys back in March, but delivering the goods has taken far too long. It would have been quicker if every batch didn’t require advance preparation and considerable time in the oven. At least I’m not alone, for everyone from Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini to the talented Julia at Melanger has had the bug, as have many people on eGullet.

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Canelés are fluted cakes made of a very simple rum-flavoured batter. Copper moulds are “greased” with beeswax and filled almost to the top. The desired result is soft, almost gooey on the inside (some people say “custardy”) and a shade of rich brown on the outside — preferences range from prettily golden to charred black, though dark brown is the traditional preference.

The name canelé has often been spelled cannelé, but was codified with one N only a few decades ago. The genuine article from the Bordeaux region is designated canelé de Bordeaux, while in other places canelé, canelé bordelais or even just bordelais (plural: canelés bordelaises) are used. (I see no reason to assign two Ns to the non-local version, and it’s possible that version is the perpetuation of a typo from somewhere.)

The frustration of these strange objects is in the moulds and the cooking. It’s easy to cook something that can be as brown as you like, right? Cool! It’s easy to grease a mould so something doesn’t stick, right? Yes. But what if the question is how much something should not stick, or how to stop your batter rising a few centimetres out of the mould, or how to avoid ugly air-pockets inside? Hmmm?

Or one could wonder why some recipes insist on freezer-cold moulds while others don’t. Why some want the canelés baked on the bottom shelf of a convection oven, or not. Why some place freezing moulds on oven-hot trays, or why some add hot milk to the other ingredients while others wait until the milk is cold… the list of contradictions goes on, and despite the wearyingly long thread on eGullet, most of the crucial parameters go unexplained. So let me summarise what I seem to have found out.

  • Copper moulds (tin-lined) are cool, expensive, and yield the “genuine” texture. 55 mm diameter moulds cost at least EUR 8.50 each (currently AUD 13) in France. I have a grand total of two! Aluminium moulds are cheaper, but not quite as good. Note that copper moulds have to be “seasoned” before the first use (see Wolfert’s article link below).
  • Silicone moulds are pretty useful and can yield an interesting, shiny and smooth-as-glass crust that I think is by no means inferior to the “genuine” article. Not all silicone moulds are equal, however. An eight-canelé sheet costs at least EUR 15 in France (about AUD 25) and you would need at least two because you can’t use all the cavities (see “Baking”, below).
  • Beeswax provides a thin coating on the metal moulds which doesn’t melt until the moulds are quite hot (unike butter or oil). It adds a pleasant taste which is part of the genuine “signature” of canelés. It can be hard to buy in smallish quantities, and you would probably have to order it from afar. (I got 500 gm sent to me from a Queensland-based company.)
  • It’s possible that strong heat from the bottom is desirable to harden the exterior quickly and brown the batter at the bottom of the mould (which will form the top of the finished product).

RECIPE: Canelés bordelaises

This recipe is an adaptation of the highly respected Paula Wolfert recipe (worth reading too!). I’ve metricated it, tweaked slightly and added some more technical explanation.

Batter

Makes 10 canelés in 55mm diameter moulds. Prepare at least one day in advance.

480 ml milk
170 gm caster sugar
30 gm butter
85 gm soft flour (or about 70 gm plain flour and 15 gm cornflour/cornstarch )
65 gm egg yolk (approx four yolks)
20 ml rum <-- I don't think you need more to achieve a beautiful aroma
pinch salt

Bring milk to just below boiling (avoid boiling it) and then remove from the heat. Add a third of a vanilla bean, sliced lengthways along one edge to release the seeds into the milk. Stir.

In a food processor, throughly mix together flour and butter, then add sugar, egg yolks, rum and salt. Remove the vanilla bean from the hot milk and gradually add the milk to the batter. Strain, and then store the finished batter in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

On the day of baking you should prepare the moulds at least an hour in advance, preferably longer:

Metal moulds: heat the moulds in the oven. While doing this, place a small glass jar or a cupped piece of aluminium foil in about 2 cm water in a saucepan. Place some beeswax and a little neutral-tasting vegetable oil in the glass/foil container. Bring the water to a gentle simmer. The wax will melt very slowly. When melted, mix together the wax and oil using a pastry brush (preferably silicone — easier to clean). This mixture is commonly called “white oil”. (For a more detailed description, see the Wolfert article linked to above.)

Brush the insides of the very hot moulds thoroughly with the white oil, then invert them on a layer of paper towel placed on a cooling rack. Place a few layers of paper towel on an oven tray, transfer the metal moulds to the paper on the oven tray and put this in the oven for five minutes to let excess wax drain off. Remove the tray and tip the moulds a little to help final run-off. When the moulds are cool, place them in the freezer for at least an hour.

Silicone moulds: you can’t successfully wax these because of temperature and adhesion problems. Instead, butter the moulds (and only every second one — see why a few paragraphs down), making sure there’s a good layer of butter on the walls near the top of each mould (otherwise, the batter tends to stick during cooking, resulting in a ballooning of batter as it tries to rise, rather than a flat “shelf” of batter rising out of the mould). Place in the freezer for at least an hour.

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Why freeze? It seems that the batter sticks a bit to the walls if the lubricant melts too quickly before the batter has formed an outer skin. As beeswax is solid until quite a high temperature, it helps prevent this sticking, even more so if in a frozen mould. Although silicone moulds are non-stick, they nonetheless aren’t adequately slippery without being buttered.

Baking

As mentioned earlier, it seems that a key step is to bake the tray of moulds over a strong heat source. So, for instance, if you have a lot of heat at the bottom of your oven (common for ovens with a concealed gas ring below), you place the tray on the bottom shelf. But if, like me, you have an old-fashioned oven with the gas flame at the back of the base, the heat rises up the back to make the top of the oven the hottest place. Not good. After much experimentation, I put a pizza stone in the centre of the oven, and heated my tray before placing the moulds on it and filling them. Result: perfection.

Moulds need to be filled with cold batter (stir well before pouring) up to about 2-3 mm below the rim of the mould. Metal moulds can be filled and then transferred to the hot tray (keep them quite spaced out), but silicone moulds are too unstable, so must be put on the tray and then quickly filled, leaving every second mould empty (silicone is a poor conductor of heat so you need good circulation of hot air).

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Inadequate bottom heat seems to cause a sometimes massive rise out of the mould. The batter then bulges slightly and won’t sink back, yielding big bulbous burnt bottoms.

Cooking at 200C, conventional oven (ie, no fan), the batter should develop a slight fringe at 10-15 mins with the surface shimmering, by 20-30 mins it should be rising and rapidly protruding from the moulds, and at 45 mins it will have subsided and be about level with the rim of the mould. I like my canelés to be deep brown, with a strong odour of caramelisation wafting from the oven. It takes my oven about 1h15m to achieve this for the copper moulds and about 1h30m for silicone (by which time the top surface of the batter is charring badly — cover with foil earlier).

Your timing will depend on oven, moulds and personal preference. If you have a convection oven, I suggest dropping the temperature by 10-20C, but making sure the tray is close to the heat source (if at the bottom) or placed on a pizza stone.

The batter at the bottom of a silicone mould is very slow to brown, and the canelés as a whole tend to be more fragile, requiring a little resting time in the mould before removal. In contrast, canelés in copper moulds should be crisp straight from the mould, and fairly easy to get out (at worst, a decent whack on a benchtop should do it). Note that copper moulds stay hot for a very long time, and are very difficult to handle (I think rubber tongs or a slightly dampened tea towel would probably be best -if your towel is too damp you risk steam burns).

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The ideal internal texture is soft, almost custardy, with a sort of open-crumb appearance like a loaf of bread, or sometimes described as a honeycomb pattern.

Canelés are best enjoyed still slightly warm, and certainly fresh (within a few hours of production). They go well with a dessert wine or strong coffee (as Wolfert also suggests), but they don’t really need any accompaniment. When no longer fresh, it’s best to refresh the canelés in a hot oven for a few minutes, then let them cool and crisp a little.

Finally, about those copper moulds… Although I’m all in favour of modern materials, the copper moulds really do produce a great product (and they’re soooo stylish;) ). I haven’t used aluminium ones. Silicone moulds are just trickier for a few reasons, but are an acceptable compromise if you see stars at the thought of coughing up the price of multiple copper ones (and I assure you, I’d love to have more than the paltry two I already own, but life goes on!).

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Imported pastries at Woolworths/Safeway

Woolworths clearly weren’t satisfied with importing “artisan” bread all the way from the other side of the Pacific (see my article here), but are also selling a diverse range of pastries imported from Europe. They’ve been doing for at least a few months, but I’ve been slow to write about it.

Interested in the (slightly underbaked) maple/pecan plaits, or the attractive hazelnut twists, or the Portuguese custard tarts at Woolworths/Safeway? Look carefully at the price label. Although I’ve noticed a change to omit the country of origin recently, this is what I was able to snap back in July.


I recognised the maple pecan plaits… I’d seen them in Danish supermarkets. So what are they doing here, about 10,000km away? While novel product is appreciated in our distinctly unnovel major supermarkets, I can’t help but wonder, yet again, WHY Australian businesses can’t supply product of at least similar middling quality, and WHY Woolworths is happy to source such product from overseas — if you’re going to buy egregiously imported stuff, you might as well promote the product as something special (at least then it would look like the importation was justified and it might motivate local businesses to do better).

Note that I don’t know if Woolworths is responsible for the importation or if a third party is bring this product in and wholesaling it.

And in case you’re interested, the plaits are very sweet and moderately pleasant, while the Portuguese custard tarts look like crap and are unlikely to be a happy experience.

Confessions of a Rice Bubbles (Rice Krispies) addict

Hello everybody. My name’s Duncan, and I’d like to share something with you. I eat bubbles of puffed rice every day. Every day.

Everyone who knows me well enough to welcome me into their home on my travels knows that I eat one thing for breakfast. It verges on religion. If I stray from the one true breakfast, I am punished with bad moods and heavy stomach (or growling hunger). What’s more, perhaps unusually for something so mundane, I’m quite faithful to one brand — they’re known in Australia as Kellogg’s Rice Bubbles and in most other markets as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (which is their original name).

I like my Rice Bubbles with cold milk. And it mustn’t be UHT/long-life liquid. Ick. Cold, pasteurised milk (for want of access to unpasteurised). No sugar (though I used to have half a teaspoon in my youth).

I’ve been eating Rice Bubbles for, oh, about 85% of my life. My earliest memories are accompanied by snap! crackle! pop!, though I have strayed on occasion: I’ll blame my parents for forays into puffed wheat and shredded wheats and such things (though they might object). And travelling makes life very difficult. You see, Rice Krispies overseas are quite hard to find. In France you have to go to a hypermarket and pray a little. In Germany I knew who had the goods and had to make long distance trips with a car boot or many cloth bags. In Sweden, Rice Krispies were widely available but priced like gold-dust, meaning that the appearance of discount coupons led to frenzied shopping and filling of cupboards (I wonder if I can find the photographic proof! I’ll post it here later if I find it).

Worst of all, many people just don’t get my favourite cereal. The apartment owner in Paris who had rented out his place to me for two weeks looked aghast when I, as a friendly gesture, told him there was half a packet of Krispies left in the kitchen. “Why would I eat kid’s food?” he snorted. Hmph. German fellow students in college used to listen to my breakfast as if it were a new-fangled wireless, incredulous at the orchestra of white noise emanating from my breakfast bowl. This is not to say that my international friends are unsympathetic to my addiction. Indeed, some have gone to admirable (and much appreciated) lengths to obtain my bubble-dope, even when I’ve protested that there are tolerable alternatives when on the road.

For instance, freshly baked croissants (or even oven-heated frozen ones!) can hit the spot. I hate müsli, but at a pinch I can stomach some without much fruit. And I can eat buttery thick pancakes and pikelets if I think of them more as a treat than breakfast.

The worst surrogate, however, can be fake bubbles. For a while in Germany there was a non-Rice Krispies brand of puffed rice. It was made of some sort of sprayed aerated ickiness which tasted thoroughly foul. For years, that trauma kept me away from other clones, but straitened times pushed me to explore other surrogates in recent years and, luckily, I chose well at the first attempt. The Australian supermarket chain Coles had a house-brand version, Rice Puffs, that actually tasted almost the same as my one-true-cereal.

Alas, Coles has betrayed my trust — a recent repackaging of the Rice Puffs product didn’t just mean a prettier box. Behind the scenes (and undeclared) they had changed their supplier. The result was very disappointing. And so I have returned to the original again.

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Exhibit A is the one-true-cereal. Exhibit B is the now-missing Coles version. Exhibit C is the small, unfluffy, yucky Coles stealth-replacement product.

I wonder if I’m the only single-cereal-addict out there… ?

Wrap hazelnut shortbread around a whole hazelnut. Swoon.

For a few years of this decade, there was an outrageously stylish café located in the women’s fashion section of the Bon Marché department store in Paris. It was called Délicabar and the fellow in charge was pâtissier Sébastien Gaudard. I first visited it about six months after it opened, and loved the sweeping hot pink banquettes, the stark white counter, and the innovative and delicious cakes and other creations.

Delicabar seating

In 2006, three years after opening the café, a book by Gaudard hit the shelves: Sébastien Gaudard : Agitateur de goût. It looks very much like a vanity work, with the rather handsome Gaudard visage and his very blue eyes staring out at you from the cover. Inside there are many, many photos of Gaudard-with-little-dog shopping together, laughing with friends, and sometimes Gaudard by himself cooking with his team or staring meaningfully at a computer screen. But alongside all this are a wide range of recipes for some pretty delicious treats.

Alas, Gaudard and Délicabar shut up shop in November 2008, and that was that. The café space now contains some Italianesque lunchery, and Gaudard’s website is devoid of content.

Among the hits at Délicabar was the range of exquisite sablés (shortbreads), such as hazelnut, rosemary, or olive oil. Gaudard’s book reproduces some items familiar from the old menu, plus other interesting dishes. I’ve found the recipes less than reliable, but the inspiration is there.

I loved the sound of the sablés noisette à la fleur de sel (hazelnut shortbreads with fleur de sel). They are an utter bugger to make. The final result, however, is something close to nutly heaven.

The problem is that the crumbly mixture doesn’t readily adhere to the non-stick surface of a hazelnut. Moistening the surface doesn’t help. Below is the recipe, slightly modified in the hope of making them marginally less difficult to put together. If you find a further tweak that makes things easier, do tell.

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240 g hazelnuts with skin
90 g butter, softened
240 g caster sugar
110 g plain flour
ca 1-1.5 tsp fleur de sel, crushed lightly

This makes about 90 balls.

Preheat the oven to 150C and then roast the nuts on a tray for about 20mins until well coloured. Take care not to burn them (the skins will blacken; it’s the nuts themselves I’m worried about).

Reserve 100 g of the hazelnuts with their skins. – (A)

Reserve another 40 g of the hazelnuts with their skins – (B)

Remove the skins of the remaining 100 g of hazelnuts by rubbing the nuts between your hands or in a tea-towel. – (C)

Allow the nuts to cool completely before proceeding.

Grind hazelnuts (A) to a powder. Take care not to work them too much (or two fast) or you’ll end up with an oily paste. Not a disaster, but a bit messier.

Crush hazelnuts (B) to small pieces.

Mix butter, sugar, hazelnuts (A) and flour together. Add hazelnuts (B) and salt to taste (the mixture is quite sweet but should have the tingle of hidden salt crystals). The final texture of the mixture should be a bit like a pâte sablée (crumbly shortcrust pastry). It won’t hold together well. Chill for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Make small balls of the sablé with a whole hazelnut (C) in the centre. This isn’t easy, as the mixture doesn’t like to hold together. I find cupping my hand and applying a lot of pressure to the mixture helps keep it firm enough while encasing a hazelnut. You might also like to try scooping up some of the mixture in a measuring teaspoon, pressing a hazelnut into it, then packing more mixture on top and then knocking the whole thing into your hand for a final squeeze. I promise frustration and occasional despair, and perhaps a little boredom.

Place the balls on baking paper on a tray. Bake the whole batch for 10-15mins, until they’ve developed a little colour.

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They keep very well in a sealed container (assuming you and everyone around you don’t gobble them up in an instant).

This article was prompted by the loud moans of pleasure from Hannah, Kaye and Kelly (assisted by milder expressions of delight from a number of other lovely people).

I visited Costco (Australia) and my blood ran cold

Many Australians are aware that the US behemoth Costco, bulk retailer extraordinaire, opened its first warehouse in Melbourne recently. Costco has received more than a bucket of free promotion through all the media attention it got (and I guess I’m not helping). I’ve been to Costco in the US and wanted to see what the Australian experience would be like. It’s striking how a novelty in one context (me being a tourist in the US) feels so different on my home turf.

In case you don’t know, Costco is a membership-only ($60/year) retailer specialising in large packages or multipacks of edible and non-edible consumer goods, plus occasional items like TVs or iPods or office chairs which are a little harder to sell in lots of ten. An enduring memory of my US visit was a large (two-pound?) bag of pine nuts and enormous trays of meat. The lack of diversity of brands was noticeable (there’s a house brand, and usually at most one or two competing familiar brands stocked for any product). The concept of buying very large quantities of, well, anything, seemed to work well with that USAmerican large-is-better approach to so many things.

But in Melbourne it seemed excessive, inappropriate and depressing. I’m not sure how many consumers can buy a kilo of soft goat’s cheese and eat it all before it goes off. Why do we need 15-inch (approx) ready-to-bake pizzas? They don’t even fit in the average Australian oven. Is it a good idea to only sell wholesale-size boxes of chocolate bars? Or one-thousand-ChupaChup containers? Why in hell do we need imported packages of “American cheese” slices (think fast food burger plastic cheese) or mixed grated cheese? How many people eat a sack of melons before they go off? A kilo of strawberries?

If all that interests you is cheap cheap cheap, then Costco might be for you (though not everything is cheap, some tech is actually uncompetitive). If you don’t mind a large company squeezing brand and product diversity in the Australian market even further (Coles and Woolworths do quite enough of that already), promoting the lowest-common-denominator approach to (in particular) food retailing, then I’m sure you won’t mind the place. But for me much of the experience stank of the same low-diversity, low-quality approach that strikes many foreign consumers who walk into average (not all, but far too many) North American supermarkets.

Whether the annual membership fee will be worth it for you depends on what you can save on (do you have space for 124 nappies or a bazillion rolls of toilet paper?). There will no doubt be specials and occasionally attractive products, especially as they stock tech, kitchenware, stationery, clothes and more. But for anyone who loves fresh food and brand/product diversity, it might be difficult, especially if your household is only one or two people.

What can Costco contribute positively in Australia? Despite importing crap American cheese slices, Costco Melbourne does have an impressive range of cheese (though no quality American cheese, unless I overlooked it). Good roquefort, poor quality gruyère, goat’s cheese, buffalo mozzarella (defrosting on the shelf!), some bries and camembert and some familiar local stuff. Also French butter! The meat looked decent (prices between Vic Market and horrendous Coles/Woolworths) and there was a good range of cuts. Costco might end up being the go-to place for meat amongst those who despair at our existing supermarkets. (But just take a detour to the Queen Victoria Market for goodness sake!)

Perhaps we’ll see a move by the local chains to lift their game and compete more on quality. But many Australian consumers have been successfully brainwashed into prioritising cheap at all cost by those same local chains, so I’m not holding out hope for positive developments.

Luxuriously fragrant baklava

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Do you think of baklava as a sweet that is tricky to make or time-consuming? I know many people have asked me questions along those lines in recent days. It’s easy. Really. And here’s a particularly refined version I made recently.

Nut pastries involving layers of filo pastry and ground nut are eaten all the way from the Balkans through the Middle East, the Maghreb, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and beyond, typically known as a type of baklava/baklawa. Rather than making one of the many recipes I have from different places, I decided to combine the essence of a number of traditions to produce something with a lovely complexity of flavour, using spices and scents typical of many of the cuisines of that very broad region.

For the filling, I’ve used walnuts and pistachios ground with sugar (about half the weight of the nuts) and scented with cardamom and rosewater. The base of the tray was covered with about eight layers of thin filo/fila/phyllo pastry, each buttered lightly. It’s helpful to let these bottom layers rise up the sides of the tray too, as this contains the filling better during cutting and later removal of the baklava from the tray. I then added half the nut mixture and flattened it out. A further four layers of buttered filo create a nice textural difference. Then the remainder of the nut mixture. I topped this with eight layers of buttered filo.

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Note that, as most trays nowadays have a delicate non-stick coating, I lined the tray with four pieces of baking paper to reduce the risk of damage during cutting and then a layer of buttered foil.

You should cut diamond shapes into the baklava before baking. Use a very sharp knife and press downwards rather than pulling the knife through the baklava. My pieces were a little larger than intended, as I spaced the long cuts too far apart.

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You also need to make a sugar syrup. I flavoured it with a little honey, lemon, cinnamon and orange blossom water. Simmer the syrup with flavourings (except orange blossom) for about 15 mins (it should still seem thin and shouldn’t have developed any colour). Add the orange blossom water at the end. Chill the syrup well. It is used after the baklava has been baked.

Bake the baklava for 30-45 mins at about 160C (for conventional oven), then raise the temperature to about 200C for a further 10-15 mins when you see the top pastry layers are beginning to puff up a bit. You don’t want the pastry to get brown (no darker than a roasted almond (yes, a blanched one!)), but you do want it to cook through. If the top layers are going brown, cover with foil.

Once you’ve removed the tray from the oven, pour the cold syrup over the baklava. It will sizzle deliciously. Let it cool for a few minutes, then use your knife to re-cut the diamond shapes (it makes separation of the pieces later much easier).

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You can serve the baklava as soon as it is completely cool, but you’ll find the texture is better about a day later, as the syrup will have been properly absorbed by the nut mixture by then.

I used 300 gm nuts, 150 gm pastry and about 200 ml sugar syrup (250 gm sugar, 150 ml water) to fill a 32 x 18 cm tray. You can scale up or down to other size trays.

There are many factors here that will influence the final flavour — different strengths of rose and orange blossom waters, freshness of spices, etc. It’s up to you to judge the flavour to suit you. I’d recommend being a little cautious at first.

By the way, although I usually make all my own pastry, filo is something I didn’t have time to try this time, sorry!

Now, baklava/baklawa is sweet. If you already know that the typical product in your Greek or Middle Eastern pastry shop isn’t to your liking, this version isn’t likely to be much more palatable for you, though my version is more fragrant and less sweet and syrupy than some.

As you can see, there are no real tricky bits to making baklava, and the preparation is pretty quick. The result is something nutty, perfumed and delicious that goes perfectly with strong coffee.

Masterchef Australia’s macarons: bad crunch

Macarons should not be crunchy.

There, I’ve said it loud.

Every contestant in Masterchef Australia episode 61 had crunchy macarons. (Ok, except Andre, who didn’t have macarons at all.) The microphones captured the powdery crunch of their “Masterchef macaroons”.

Crunch is a result of dehydration. You achieve it in two ways:

  1. You cook them too far (and hey, the colour quickly tells you it’s happening unless you’ve coloured them strongly).
  2. You leave them to stand for hours before baking (great for reducing product loss cos the shells don’t break easily; not so good for retaining the subtleties of texture).

A good shell is crisp and fairly fragile. It should offer resistance to the teeth, but should not make crunchy sounds. In a bag of macarons transported carefully, it’s a miracle if some don’t break. Fragile. Understand? Not bakery-meringue robust. Not looking good after cutting with knife!

Some professional bakers in Australia should keep that in mind, as I’ve noted elsewhere before.

Contestants Poh and Chris did well to produce such visually attractive ones first time round. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t mind betting that this line in the recipe they used was what led them to overcooking the shells: “cook until macaron is able to be lifted from tray“. Ovens vary so much that this instruction is fairly pointless, especially for novices. My home oven would turn macarons to rusks if I had to wait until they lifted off the tray without coaxing.

UPDATE: Scroll down for another piece of silliness, discovered after publishing this earlier today.

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Australian Gourmet Traveller has a big fat French wank edition this month (some nice recipes, a little food wisdom). The front cover features pink macarons. Behold the following lines in their recipe (French meringue version, by the way):

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The first highlighted sentence is simply rubbish. The second highlighted sentence will most likely give you a nice, thick, powdery, crunchy shell. Delicious! Ha.