Category Archives: hl

Beef short ribs cause ecstacy

I’m not a fan of small pieces of meat on the bone. Chopped up duck, chicken wings, ribs, bak kut teh… I’ve never enjoyed chewing modest amounts of meat off bones. For years I ignored a cut of beef – short ribs – believing it would have, well, ribs in it. Duh. In fact, the short rib cut is often sold boneless in Australia, leaving just luscious layers of very flavoursome beef and quite a bit of fat. This cut is the relatively thin layer of meat that covers the outside of the ribs of the animal on the side of the ribcage, beyond the fleshier back areas (with thicker bone) used for cuts such as Scotch fillet (rib-eye) or rib roast.

While I was working on my Where are the Good Meat Books? feature on The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf, I came across a recipe for Korean-style oven-browned short ribs in one of my favourite meat books, The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly. It sounded very tasty, so it was time to get ribbin’. The outcome was nothing short of heaven. Fatty heaven, but heaven nonetheless.

The idea is to braise rib meat with lots of garlic and ginger until tender, then roast the pieces of meat in a hot oven until they crisp a bit. I must admit that, despite making this dish four times, I’ve never done the final step. It’s just too delicious in its braised form that I didn’t bother with the final oven crisping!

You can use bone-in or boneless short ribs. Trim them of excess fat and cut into largeish mouthfuls. Pop them in a good braising pot (cast iron is great). Add lots of ginger, garlic, soy sauce and some brown sugar, spring onions (scallions) and a little vinegar or lemon juice. Add water to cover the ribs. Simmer uncovered until the meat is tender (may take two hours).

Towards the end, you’ll need to stir more frequently as the moisture evaporates and things stick a bit. The amount of fat which renders from the rib meat is considerable and means that you get that lovely rich browning that readers might know from some south-east Asian beef curries/stews. The result is a dish with a deep, aromatic savoury-sweet profile with tender chunks of meat that separates into coarse layers. Rounded off with a little sesame oil at the end of cooking, it’s fantastic.

Serve it in relatively small portions on rice. Small portions? Yes, because everyone will want seconds! I’d recommend accompanying it with clean sweet preserved vegetables (light flavours), or some fresh, lightly cooked snowpeas or buk choy or wilted spinach.

Breakfast time and pancake temptation

pancakesyum

For the most part, I’m not the kind to dally over, under or prior to breakfast. Once upon a time, I could barely manage the few minutes of showering before my stomach felt like it was devouring me. Staying with various friends in Germany was a special torture, as the morning routine extended beyond showers and shaves, to setting tables, brewing coffee, laying out cold meats and cheese, and popping down to the bakery for fresh rolls. At times, breakfast begins more than an hour after rising. (It must be said that such German breakfasts are delightfully homely affairs — totally gemütlich — and can fill a day with bonhomie. But only if I haven’t already collapsed from the aforementioned self-consumption.)

Breakfast, as some readers already know, is rather important to me, associated with simple but very important dietary specifications. It is, however, here that I first reveal the temporal parameters of my breakfast. As a child, I would eat before showering. Little did I know this would establish digestive patterns that have turned me into a wimpering hunger-immobilised wreck when visiting Germans or poorly-catered hotels.

As a student, I tried going to the gym before breakfast, and quickly found myself staggering, zig-zag fashion, across campus as my nervous system gradually shut down non-essential functions. I think it was around about this time that I discovered morning croissants were not only delicious, but an excellent surrogate for gym exercise.

After quite a few years of travelling, I can now manage almost 45 minutes without food before my stomach starts gnawing. And you know, 45 minutes is just right for making puffy pancakes. I grew up with my mother making pikelets (the only true puffy pancake in my family) with butter and golden syrup for special breakfasts, and of course she was up well before me, so there was never a delay in product delivery. As an independent adult, these morning luxuries have been rare, because they take too long.

However, I was so attracted to the recent tasty photo of banana/bacon/ricotta/maple pancakes on The Last Appetite a few weeks back that I decided to brave the ticking clock and reproduce them at home. 45 minutes. Done, dusted, devoured.

I rarely post recipes on Syrup & Tang because most readers have their own trusted books, or you can Google pretty much anything (with about an 85% chance the result will have been “adapted” from a book). So, off you go and find some fat pancakes (often called American pancakes. I like the buttermilk pancakes in Stephanie Alexander’s big fat Cook’s Companion). Slice or mash some banana. Fry some streaky bacon over low heat for quite a long time until fairly crisp. Have heaps of butter and maple syrup ready! Try not to forget the ricotta whipped with honey (ehem, damn). Devour noisily.

And if that doesn’t suit you, have a bowl of Rice Bubbles. They’ve made me the man I am today.

Postscript: My co-eater, Mittens, was browsing through Maggie Beer’s Maggie’s Harvest and came across a salad with pear and prosciutto. “How about this on our next batch of pancakes?” What a good idea… (not the salad part, of course).

Of ovens and baking (and macarons)

On the occasion of Jour du Macaron 2010 (I’m a few hours late) and the approximate occasion of Syrup & Tang’s third birthday, I have decided to write about ovens, rather than presenting more pretty domes of deliciousness. Why ovens? Because a lack of understanding of how ovens work is one of the main causes of so many home bakers’ problems. And I promised to write about them a year ago.

Many of you know that the macaron has become one of the, um, signatures of Syrup & Tang. In December 2007, I wrote a series of explanatory articles which I dubbed La Macaronicité. Many, many questions have been answered in the comments to those articles, and my instructions and formulae have been reproduced all over the place (sometimes without acknowledgement, unfortunately).

It’s easy to bring together the themes of ovens and macarons, because if you know your oven, the likelihood of a successful batch of macarons, for instance, is much greater. Knowing your oven is more than just the common problems of people (1) just not letting their ovens preheat for long enough (your oven’s walls need to absorb and then retain heat: it takes more than 15minutes!), and (2) opening oven doors for too long (you can usually expect a drop of at least 10C in a simple open-insert-close transaction).

Among the many problems macaron-makers face, there are five that are almost always caused by issues with heat:

  • no feet
  • lopsided feet
  • air pockets
  • ruptured shell (minor volcano)
  • sticky bottoms

Issues which aren’t usually to do with heat are: wet macarons, collapsed or cracked shells, very thin (translucent) shells (some of these issues are discussed in other posts).

Time for macaron-physics 101!

A macaron has an outer shell which should be thin and crisp in its cooked form (not thick and crunchy!). Below this crisp exterior is soft airy cooked batter, and keeping that soft stomach in is a thin dry layer with a chewy edge (the foot) where the macaron was in contact with the baking paper or Silpat. How is it that the sticky, temperamental batter of almond meal, sugar and egg white turns into a dome of three textures?

chocolate macaron

Heat causes drying, expansion and a whole pile of other more interesting things to happen. Our primary concern is how the distribution of heat in the oven affects the correct development of the shell. The diagram below gives you an idea of the desired process, with a hard shell forming before the air in the batter under shell expands too much. (Ok, other things expand too, but the air is the main thing.) With the right timing, the expanding batter causes the shell to lift, with the foot forming in the gap between shell edge and baking tray.

macaronbaking2

When reading most macaron recipes, you’ll find (a) no info about the type of oven (fan-forced or no-fan), (b) occasional strong recommendations for using stacked baking trays, (c) various instructions to vent the oven by opening the door at some point during cooking.

None of that helps most bakers.

People obey these instructions without having been given insight into why or how relevant such things are for their own situation. Is your oven gas or electric? Does the heat source cover the bottom of your oven, the rear of the oven, the top of the oven? Fan or no fan? Is your thermostat reliable? How efficiently does your oven recover from the door being opened? I could go on.

When I wrote my first instructions for making macarons in my La Macaronicité series, I had battled through so many wasted batches of these diva-biscuits thanks to my belief that published recipes would help me understand what to do right. Doubling baking trays was utterly wrong for my oven (type B below). Venting the oven was pointless. Leaving the shells for an hour before baking was unnecessary (but at least had little negative effect). It took a while after that for me to better understand the relationship between hardened crust, batter expansion under the shell and the resultant rise of the macaron off the baking surface. I get the feeling that too many people who should know this stuff are nonchalant about communicating it to home bakers.

ovensketch2

Of fundamental importance: heat rises. If your heat source is built into the base of the oven (oven image A), as in many modern gas ovens (especially in Europe, perhaps also North America), the heat rises strongly below a baking tray. If the gas flame is at the back of the bottom of the oven (type B), as in typical older Australian oven designs, heat below the tray will be relatively weak. Electric ovens vary in element placement and heat distribution, but if you have a crappy electric oven with an element just at the top (type D), abandon much hope of easy macaron making without a serious oven stone of some sort to store heat in the lower part of the oven.

That double-tray thing you might have read about is entirely a function of people baking with ovens with lots of heat under the trays (types A/C). You double the trays to slow down the penetration of heat from below which could otherwise cause a weak outer shell to burst (minor volcano) and/or the base to brown before the rest of the shell is done. In my case (oven B), I needed to *increase* the heat below the macarons by heating the tray, otherwise the bases were always sticky, making the macarons impossible to remove from the paper.

Understanding how heat in your oven affects your macarons is at least as important as not overmixing your batter. Doing small test batches of just a few macarons is the easiest, least frustrating way of testing the effects of various parameters (I’ve written that before, both on Syrup & Tang and eGullet, but too many people still chuck a whole tray of macarons in an oven, believing that divine providence will deliver unblemished beauties).

In my original experiments two-and-a-half years ago, I found that air pockets seemed to result from minor temperature differences. In my normal method I almost never experience air pockets, but there are still rare occasions which I can’t explain.

I have to reiterate that home bakers have to be willing to read through tips, comments and to test things out themselves — careful, systematic persistence yields results. The problems that can occur often have multiple interacting causes.

Venting the oven at some point (typically for the last few minutes in a fan-forced oven) helps prevent the shells from browning while letting the bases firm up, but even fan-forced ovens may not be giving truly evenly heat, and there’s the added drying effect of fan-forced cooking.

Leaving the shells to crust (dry on the surface) is a kind of insurance policy. It means the surface hardens in the oven a little more quickly. With lots of heat rising under a single baking tray, the batter can easily erupt through the still-weak crust like a mini-volcano. A harder crust will prevent this and, instead, all that expansion will go towards pushing the shell off the sheet, giving (hopefully) a nice foot. Poor professional bakers often leave their shells to crust for ages, resulting in an overly thick, crunchy shell (hello Sydney and Melbourne!). If you’re unlucky, the uncooked batter can adhere to the baking surface as it crusts, with the result that the shells eventually rise unevenly or the batter vomits out from wherever the seal is weakest.

That’s the round-up of macaron-related oven issues. I hope they help inexperienced home bakers solve problems better with temperamental baked goods like macarons (or canelés or pasteís de nata). I might eventually build this information into the original series of articles, but I don’t have enough time at the moment. If you have observations along the above lines that could strengthen these tips, please share.

Beprickled stinkpots: My only-moderately-helpful guide to durian

durianwhole

I asked the durian seller, quite persistently, how to tell the difference between the many varieties of the fruit he sold. He had four, each for a different price.

Mittens, my co-eater, had tasted every one of these stinky, prickly darlings over our nights in Kuala Lumpur and could discern differences in texture, sweetness and some of the “bitter” aspect described by many durian afficionados. Yet to the uninitiated, these were all just homogeneously beprickled stinkpots.

durianseller

After interrogating the seller, I rushed back to my hotel to make notes for later, so I could communicate the imparted knowledge to my dear readers. Alas, somewhere between good intention and a bag of cheap and gorgeously delicious mangosteens, the manual annotation never happened, leaving me with just my memories. Those memories endured for a few weeks, but now, as I have sat down to impart the durian knowledge a few months later, I discover I have no notes and my memory has faded.

It seems almost cruel to tell you the differences between four varieties of durian when I can’t remember which was which, but I live in hope that some other durian-wise internaut might pass by and help out with the labelling.

Durians are weighty, prickly fruits, usually in excess of 1kg, with large segments of thick, creamy flesh surrounding a seed. The flesh ranges from pale off-white to yellow and even red. Durian lovers can identify “sweet” and “bitter” characteristics between varieties, and the texture can range from very creamy and soft to quite thick, and sometimes fibrous. Durians smell nasty to the uninitiated and are variously banned from hotels, some public places and public transportation (which of course means they are often identifiable on public transportation, rules being there to be broken).

Durian season in Malaysia is approximately June to September, but kampung (village) durian from local village growth, rather than organised plantations, and Sarawak/Sabah (Borneo) durians are around for considerably longer and can still be good quality (we were there in late October). Durian vendors will usually cut open the chosen durian and remove the segments, placing them in a container for you to smuggle back to your hotel. Hehehe. The SE-Asian press frequently writes about durian, and there are a few blogs too, though unfortunately they spend more time enjoying the latest durian than helpfully cataloguing the types (I display my analytical bias unashamedly). The widest range of photos is probably found at Stinky Spikes, or watch this guy’s great video of durians being cut open.

durianseller2

I believe the Malaysian varieties that were explained to me were labelled D2, D24, D101 and King Musang. (Malaysia has helpfully numbered many local varieties, though they are sometimes commonly referred to by special names instead.) You’ll also find other varieties such as D99 around Malaysia and the lucky-dip kampung ones. In Australia we only really see Mon Thong (D159) durian from Thailand, quietly defrosting at market stalls or in the occasional supermarket.

So here are the four characteristics I was shown and sadly can no longer associate with specific varieties:

Type1: the spikes align so that you get straight spines (valleys) running the length of the fruit in some places. (possibly D24)

Type2: the spikes are arranged in groups of four of similar size, surrounding a fifth little one. (possibly D101)

Type3: at the base of the fruit, the spines diminish to an almost bald spot, described by the seller as looking a bit like a star (the uneven flattening around the edges could create that impression). (perhaps King Musang?)

Type4: at the base of the fruit, the spines diminish to a raised almost bald spot which protrudes a little like a nipple.

We saw all of these examples firsthand, but I can’t guarantee that these characteristics are always present.

Variety D24 is very well regarded (pale yellow flesh, stinky, creamy, sticky, bitter-sweet), but King Musang (stronger yellow flesh) seemed to be the most expensive in KL when we were there and Mittens loved it (I suspect this is the same as the variety that seems to get a lot of press in SE-Asia: Mao Shan Wang; stinky, creamy, sticky, bitter-sweet). D101 has dark yellow flesh and is sweet, creamy, with small seed.

durianopen

Although I would once have vomited at the prospect of eating durian, my “appreciation” of this fruit changed during our trip (hey, two weeks of durian-smuggling-into-hotels by Mittens didn’t leave much scope for nausea). I still can’t breathe through my nose while putting the flesh in my mouth, but I can sort of enjoy the thick creamy mouthfeel and sweetness. It’s a bit like an incredibly unctuous egg custard, thickened too far, and with a dash of rotting onion thrown in for fun. I don’t appreciate the residual rotten-onion-breath.

So while Mittens slurped up the contents of a one-kilo durian every night for thirteen nights, I contented myself with juggling fresh, spongy-shelled mangosteens, and discovering why hotels don’t appreciate the red juice from the shell (it *stains*). Mangosteen are just beautiful, but don’t bother with derivatives like syrups or sorbets, as the delicate flavour is almost impossible to capture properly.

mangosteen1

As a side-note, it should be mentioned that while the pong of durian is very very hard to conceal, the pong of jackfruit is more pervasive in a hotel fridge. Jackfruit seems innocuous, and tastes quite pleasant, but it smells of something approaching warm, rancid cheddar, even at 4C, and its spirit lingers even after consumption.

Anyway, back to durian for one last time. Chinese Malaysians will tell you that durian is “heaty” and one shouldn’t eat too much. “I’ve heard of someone who died by eating too much” is a not uncommon comment. Well, to them I say that Mittens must be rather chilly, cos after thirteen durians he was crying out for the next one and was in excellent health.

Apologies for this rather unhelpful durian catalogue! Fingers crossed that it is enhanced over time. Selamat makan!

Soulless food: My Kitchen Rules

Yet another unreality food show has hit our Australian telly screens. My Kitchen Rules, where teams representing five states vie for the title of most-self-confident but not-quite-expert home entertaining maestros. People showing off to each other isn’t exactly my idea of fun cooking viewing, but hey, maybe there’s something to enjoy in it.

My arse.

The first episode surprised me with the ageist comments of some dinner guests (and co-competitors) about their advanced-middle-age hosts. So, like, wrinklies aren’t meant to be able to cook like pros? I wonder what granny might have to say about that…

The competitors, mostly 20-somethings, show a startling lack of humility (except for the lovely, warm Queensland sisters), but if the second episode is anything to go by (perhaps best subtitled The Guys Who Couldn’t), viewers might be in for more lashings of hubris and patchily competent execution. You know you’re watching quality TV when overconfident lads have a range of high class restaurant chinaware on which to serve up their leathery ravioli, burnt pinenuts and (thankfully) excellent chocolate cake, all the while observing that their performance just wasn’t up to their normal standard (what does it take to boil your pasta to the right consistency when you’re competing for food show-offs of the year?).

It’s good that each pair is locked into whatever menu they submitted before the filming started, otherwise the strategic menu designing would perhaps lead to the last couple having a distinct advantage. But of course, that couple will still be able to correct some of delivery problems that the first two pairs have experienced.

Such a pity that the last couple (some episodes away yet) are the most putridly bitchy pair from Adelaide. May their custards curdle, their fish be dry, their spices stale and their dishes greasy. They seem to deserve little better.

We have yet to endure the we’re-perfect meltdown of the Perth team, and (I hope) a fine performance by the only people who seem truly nice: the aforementioned Queenslanders.

Something tells me that out there in high-end-food-mag-land there are in fact obnoxious people actually engaged in this sort of repulsive pseudo-culinary exhibitionism. I’m glad it’s been a long while since I’ve been to any such “event”.

Meanwhile, I was sitting in front of the telly happily, quietly, unexhibitionistically consuming a delicious plate of rigatoni with red capsicum, bacon and delicious naturally cured Victorian olives. Cooked by me for my tastebuds. Cooked for satisfaction, not show. Just like thousands and thousands and thousands of other foodloving people around Australia.

bowlofpasta

Now, if you want to see how really frightening these guests-to-dinner competitions can get, check out some of the mortifying episodes of the UK series Come Dine With Me on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfV9zQQvjAk (competitor 2 Val, part 1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZGZmdXtKjw (competitor 2, part 2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL3_9Jz_rTI (competitor 4 Dawn, part 1)

And if that didn’t make your day, dear readers, nothin’ will! 🙂

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

caneleexterior1

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.

caneleinmoulds

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.

canelecoppersilic

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).

canelebulge

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).

caneleinside

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!

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.

bubbles

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… ?