When Bread Furst owner and baker Mark Furstenberg visited Bordeaux in 2015, he noticed many of the bakeries had a regional specialty, canelé, in the windows. But more often than not they were pre-packaged and had clearly seen better days. Fortunately, Furstenberg's D.C. bakery thrills both natives and non-natives of France with its canelé, which are baked fresh daily.
So what is a canelé? It is a caramelized rum-flavored cake that, according to legend, dates back to the 1700s. Bread Furst pastry chef, Cecile Mouthon, describes the best canelé as having a lacy, crusty outer layer — caramelized until it's almost black. It sticks to the teeth with soft, custardy innards: more egg custard tart than cake.
Canelé are difficult to make well; many versions emerge tough and chewy, or not caramelized enough. Mouthon explains that the secret to the deeply bronzed surface is to start with specialized copper molds, which get hotter than other baking surfaces. The insides of the molds are coated with beeswax, which serves as lubrication to ease out the cakes and also contributes crunch and shine. The molds are a significant investment, costing 40 to 50 dollars a piece. Limiting production to 50 canelé a day makes for a sell-out product every day.
The batter itself is relatively straightforward, made in a similar fashion to creme anglaise. Milk, butter, confectioners sugar, eggs, and egg yolks are heated with vanilla bean. Then rum is added. The mixture is chilled before it’s poured into the molds. But Mouthon notes that scaling the recipe can be a challenge: when she attempted to double the recipe, the milk got too hot and curdled the eggs.
When the canelé are done baking, the molds are flipped over and tapped to loosen the cakes. If any of the cakes are not browned enough they are placed back in the oven to darken. Mouthon recommends they be eaten about a half hour after they’re out of the oven. Much sooner and the insides are molten hot, but if they sit for too long they become chewy — another good reason to limit production.
Despite the presence of canelé and croissants at Bread Furst, it's unlikely visitors will find popular French patisserie items like macarons or napoleons. Furstenberg's vision for the bakery is for it to serve the neighborhood with an American emphasis on flavor and informality. He finds that the shiny pastries with kiwi and blueberries found year round in French bakeries are unapproachable. However, the rustic nature of the canelé fits into the aesthetic of the bakery and Furstenberg's point of view.
Can't make it to Bread Furst for their canelé? Fresh Baguette, The Sweet Lobby, Little Red Fox, La Bohemia Bakery, and Lavande Patisserie all offer them as well.