In case you don’t know by now, I’m a bit of a Francophile, especially when it comes to food. Although I’m usually more of a fan of savoury French food than sweet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily tuck into a macaron or a croissant any day, but given the opportunity to snack on something at home, I would usually opt for something savoury.
When I was approached by a new London-based baking business called Yvonne & Guite, asking if I’d ever tried canelés, I shamefully had to say no. But when I did a bit of research, I realised I had tried them, I was just unaware of the name. They’re very unusually shaped and as my experience goes to show, the name hasn’t quite caught on in the UK yet, but I truly believe they’re going to go down a storm in the British confectionery scene very soon!
Yvonne & Guite is owned by Caroline Coutand-Gavriloiu, who has loved to bake ever since she was a child in her parents’ kitchen. Her grandmothers, Yvonne and Guite, were renowned for their cooking and baking, and hence the name for the business.
The company bakes canelés from a professional kitchen in West London, using only natural ingredients (organic products where possible) and absolutely no artificial colourings or preservatives. They are made by mixing together eggs, sugar, flour and rum in a bowl. Milk is boiled in a saucepan, with butter and vanilla added to it. The hot milk mixture is added to the bowl mixture and they are incorporated together. The batter has to rest for at least a day before being cooked into moulds.
One thing to point out – they are not an alcoholic product and can be enjoyed by children. Only a small quantity of rum is used and the canelés are cooked at a high temperature over a long period of time, so the alcohol evaporates and leaves only the rum’s rarest aromas.
Caroline was kind enough to send me some to try – they are usually sold in a box of either Regular or Mini Canelés, but I was provided with a mixture of the two, to try out both sizes.
I was very impressed with the packaging – crisp, white and sophisticated, everything I would expect of well respected French confectionery.
It’s very difficult to explain what a canelé tastes like, as it has a unique texture. The outside is caramelised and almost crunchy, but when you bite into it, the inside is soft and smooth, with a gorgeous vanilla and rum flavour. But it isn’t an overpowering alcoholic taste, like you can sometimes get with liqueur chocolates. It just nicely flavours the pastry. Yvonne & Guite recommend that you heat them in the oven for 5 minutes at 210 C before serving.
Now here’s a testament to just how good they were. I was planning to take a photo of the canelés out of the box after trying a couple of them. But I just couldn’t stop eating them! Literally, they were addictive! I was munching on them as I was blogging and the next thing, I looked down, and they were nearly gone! They are delicious and incredibly more-ish – I think I preferred the mini canelés, simply because they’re bite-sized. You pop one in your mouth, experience a burst of delicious vanilla and rum pastry flavour and then it’s gone – almost fast enough not to feel guilty 😉 Yvonne & Guite’s tagline is ‘Little Indulgences‘, which sums it up perfectly.
I had lots of questions for Caroline, which she was kind of enough to answer for me.
Interview with Caroline Coutand-Gavriloiu, Founder of Yvonne & Guite
Where is your family originally from?
I’m from France. Not from Paris, but from a region called Vendée, located on the Atlantic coast. I grew up in a village near Challans and I left my parents’ house when I was 18 and went to the university, first in Nantes, then in Zwolle (NL) and finally in Lyon where I met my husband!
My family has always lived by the ocean, in a strip ranging from Bordeaux to Brest and only my parents live in Vendée. This is a touristic-oriented region where the food industry has been prominent since the 1950s. The local markets proudly offer the best fish and seafood (oysters, mussels, prawns, etc.) while the area of Challans is reputedly the best in France for duck and chicken. Ham and white beans (“jambon-mogettes”) is the traditional dish in Vendée and is on the menu of all local festive events. On the sweet side, “Brioche” is definitely the most famous speciality, Vendée being the largest brioche producer in France.
2. Why did you decide to focus specifically on canelés for your business?
One of the main particularities of canelé is that there isn’t a unique recipe. I really started baking canelés four years ago after my mum offered me moulds (we did some already a few times with my sister some fifteen years ago when we were still living at home and used to spend part of our weekends or holidays in mum’s kitchen). I started developing my own recipe as I was not totally satisfied with the ones I found on the internet or in books. Eventually, I think I struck gold and discovered the right one with the right balance of flavours! A couple of years back, I tried to find some appetising canelés in London for a house party and the results of the search were not very satisfactory. It was only eighteen months ago, that I did such a search again more thoroughly when I had YVONNE & GUITE’s creation in mind. The results convinced me that my canelés could stand toe to toe with macarons and even… cupcakes!
3. Would you ever consider making them with different flavours/toppings, or would that be sacrilege to the traditional canelé?
I started YVONNE & GUITE on my own and quickly met with a French pastry chef who now advises on all aspects of the baking process and future new recipes. We are therefore actively exploring the addition of a handful of hand-picked additional flavours. However for the time being, we would rather focus on expanding the public awareness of the traditional canelé and keep working in the background on the more varied canelés. We know that some of our competitors around the world propose a range of canelés with various flavours in addition of the traditional one, however after tasting many we feel that something more has to be done for these variations to reach the same level of perfection as the traditional one.
Toppings remain a hotly debated topic with my pastry chef who considers them akin to anathema! The truthful answer on this would be that the subject is still under review.
4. What was the best piece of advice that your grandmothers passed on?
Sifting through memories, probably one standing out would be the Saturday mornings when I accompanied either of them to the local markets. I remember well how each one would keenly and critically assess the wares on display (Yvonne was also quite unapologetic about sampling things!!) and in spite of their differences neither would compromise on quality, ever. Both used to say that something tasty and enjoyable, however good the cook, could not come out of unsatisfactory products.
5. You mention on your website that you baked with your sister when you were children. Is she still baking, either as a profession or for fun?
My sister is a great cooker and baker, but (for the moment!) it’s just for fun and for her friends. She lives in Paris and sometimes wonders if her friends are more interested in her or her food!
6. Have you ever had any baking disasters?
Of course! Baking a successful canelé requires talent (who would not say that!), with ingredients and equipment being probably as important. A few months back, when we moved into our current kitchen we had to live with a whimsical oven for the first two weeks there. We could never tell how many canelés would be properly baked on a given batch. I recall when we had to be there at 6.00am to produce canelés in significant quantities far exceeding the orders just to be sure that we could meet our standards and satisfy our customers. Fortunately, our playful friend was soon replaced with a reliable albeit boring oven ever since!
7. What would be your dream three course meal?
The answer depends on the season. As summer is nearly with us (one can hope), if I have the chance to go back to France in July or August, I would love my parents to cook for me the following menu:
– Roasted bread with semi-dry “Crottin de Chavignol” accompanied by a tomato and basil salad from the garden with olive oil.
– Grilled sardines from Saint Gilles Croix de Vie (fishing port located 15 minutes away) with potatoes from Noirmoutier (an island situated 45 minutes away and producing maybe the tastiest potatoes in the world!).
– For the dessert, I know that my parents will definitely ask me to prepare canelés! But I would also love to have a red berries tart from the village baker who has been doing them since I was a teenager.
This would be a straightforward but how pleasing meal. Naturally having the family around to share it and basking in the summer sun would be critical to its enjoyment!
Yvonne & Guite canelés are also distributed by Bonativo. A box of 9 large canelés costs £18.00 and a box of 25 mini canelés costs £16.50. And throughout the summer, you can get £5 off using the code ‘YVONNE5‘. I think the mini versions would make a brilliant addition to any dinner party – easy to serve with coffee, a ‘little indulgence’ for after dinner.
Watch out macarons and cupcakes – canelés are coming for you!
I was provided with a box of canelés by Yvonne & Guite, but did not receive any payment. All views are my own.