Trade Secrets: Crumble & Flake's Canelé

By Sean Kenniff | Megan Swann


Sean Kenniff
Megan Swann
Pastry Chef Neil Robertson of Crumble & Flake's Canelé
Pastry Chef Neil Robertson of Crumble & Flake's Canelé

“It’s so simple. It’s like nothing, like pancake batter but thinner. You would never guess that batter would make this thing,” says Neil Robertson, the former pastry chef at Canlis and Mistral and now proprietor of Crumble & Flake Patisserie. Robertson speaks of the diminutive, fluted French pastry known as the canelé.

“It’s harder to get right than a macaron. It will make you cry.” Potential emotional outbursts didn’t deter Robertson from pursuing canelé perfection. He experimented with every published recipe he could find until he landed on a formula that yielded deeply burnished, just bitter, delicately crunchy canelé with tender, custard-y centers. They’re flecked with vanilla and offer lots of dark rum flavor.

Now a signature, the bakery sells out every weekend when Robertson makes them (they’re too time consuming to add to the case daily). Customers line up outside the shop’s locked door, long before it opens. “Everything at Crumble & Flake has to be special, and I wanted to share canelé with Seattle,” he says. Sharing his canelé is one thing. Divulging a hard-wrought, presumably tear-streaked recipe is another, but Robertson wishes pastry chefs the best with these canelé pointers.

• Prepare a well proportioned batter of egg, sugar, milk, flour, rum, and vanilla. Cake flour is essential for achieving a delicate texture and preventing the canelé from expanding out of the mold.
• Make sure the batter gets its beauty rest overnight, so the flour will hydrate.
• Grease your molds with bees wax. (Robertson’s molds are aluminum from Paris.) The wax makes the surface of the finished canelé shiny, and they will easily fall out of the molds.
• Fill molds to the top, and bake at 375°F to 400°F for 1 hour. The batter is 90 percent milk and can stand up to the bake. (Robertson has a Moff at oven: “It’s so quiet. I love it.”)
• You’ll know when they’re ready when they’re dark enough—nearly black. “Inserting a knife doesn’t tell you anything.” 

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