If Paris is a city known for its constant strive for excellence in style, London sometimes comes off as its less conventional and more daring sister. Thus, we do find canelés in London, sold by Babelle in the famous department store Selfridges on Oxford Street; yet they differ from those previously auditioned at Baillardran and Lemoine by the wider variety of flavors on offer than what is found in these two traditional Bordeaux pastry shops. Does this greater range come at the price of lower quality, or do these canelés have what it takes to make their French counterparts blush? We investigate.
We selected canelés in four flavors: two with flavored dough (lime or rose), and two with fillings (dulce de leche; and mango, passion fruit and white chocolate).
Babelle’s canelés have a height of 80 mm and a diameter of 43 mm. The specimens we purchased weight on average 56 grams and cost 2.50£ each.
Overall, though the canelés do have a brown, caramelized exterior, the latter is not quite as hard as it usually is in the traditional version. The outside surface still creates a contrast with the softer inner dough, but does not bring the expected rigidity and crunchiness. Is this a deliberate attempt to adapt the recipe to local tastes?
The lime canelé is recognizable by its perfume, and the lime flavor comes out gently but distinctively. Its rose-flavored counterpart seems to us slightly more interesting, as its floral perfume blends nicely with the smoky notes emanating from the caramelized surface, and the taste of rose is long on the finish. Both of these canelés are topped with a chocolate mousse which appears to us somewhat out of place, and which – not being sufficiently neutral – inevitably comes off as a parasite to the flavors of lime and rose.
The dulce de leche canelé is generously filled with the eponymous smooth, unctuous milk jam. It makes the canelé considerably sweeter, and to compensate for this the dough could benefit from being lightened in sugar. As for the mango, passion fruit and white chocolate canelé, we find in its center a liquid mixture in which the flavor of both fruits can be recognized. The presence of white chocolate, however, is not apparent to us. Overall, this canelé is also very sweet.
We are tickled by the initiative taken by Babelle with these canelés, and the idea of taking a classic of French pastry making and diversifying it into various eclectic flavors. Babelle is certainly onto an interesting concept with this, one which we hope to see grow. A few adjustments could, however, make their products more authentic while remaining innovative, as well as more balanced. Thus, the dough – which here is merely moist – could be given the elasticity which is characteristic of traditional canelés, and which gives these little cakes their truly unique texture. Additionally, the contrast between the rigidity of the pastries’ surface and their moist center could be reinforced by using copper molds, which enable a deeper caramelization. It would also be preferable to avoid using excessively liquid fillings which make the surrounding canelé dough soggy. The balance in sweetness could be improved by reducing the quantity of sugar in the canelés with fillings in them – though this is a dangerous act which should be subject to an in-depth study, lest it simultaneously affect the level of caramelization. It would therefore perhaps be more advisable to modify the composition and quantity of the fillings. We are curious to see how Babelle develops in the future and wish them the best as they progress along the London pastry scene.
Score: 3.5/5 Good
Babelle at Selfridges Foodhall
400 Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB
Open from Monday to Saturday from 9.30 am to 9 pm and on Sunday from 11.30 am to 6 pm.
Tel: +44 800 123400