Canele by Celine – LOST GEM
A waft of buttery aroma hit me as I entered Canelé by Céline’s tiny patisserie and I knew that I had discovered a true hidden gem on East 82nd Street. Though small in size, the café contains a wide variety of deliciousness. There are twenty-two different types of canelés, which come in regular size and Céline’s signature mini. Behind the glass divider, I also gazed at macarons and breakfast pastries. In addition, Céline carries cookbooks, fun containers like bell jars and small boxes, and even little copper molds that customers can take home and use to make their own canelés (These copper molds also cleverly cover the light bulbs hanging above the cheery display case).
While the Manhattan Sideways team sipped on tea and coffee from the patisserie’s curated drink menu, I spoke to Céline Legros, the founder, who had just returned from a trip to France. She tries to visit her home country once a year, both to spend time with family and to gain inspiration for the products that she creates in Manhattan.
Céline began her career as a business lawyer, dividing her time between Paris and New York. She had always been fond of baking, however, having learned many French gourmet recipes from her father. She remembers being ten years old and making traditional treats like tarte aux pommes. Growing up, Céline also spent a lot of time with family near Bordeaux where canelés are the local delicacy. While classic canelés sold in France are usually made with rum, Céline has taken the original concept to a whole new level.
In 2009, Céline met celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who tasted her canelés and encouraged her to sell them. Later that same year, she began her business catering events and shipping her pastries nationwide. She even won the French-American Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2010. Inspired by her success, she made the decision to open her brick and mortar shop in 2013.
Céline led the Manhattan Sideways team on a tasting tour of her extraordinary pastries. She decided to focus her business on mini canelés both because they are a new take on the original design and because they allow people to indulge in a wide selection of flavors at one time. We sampled a few of the seasonal canelés, including gingerbread for the winter holidays and pink praline for Valentine’s Day. We also dug into a tray of more standard ones including rum, vanilla, and caramel, as well as pistachio (Céline’s favorite) and dark chocolate. Each type was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, the sign of an excellent canelé. Céline’s newest addition later in 2016 will be an almond cherry canelé. “We match our flavors with the fresh produce that we have here,” she said, mentioning the popular summer raspberry variety.
Céline has also introduced a selection of savory canelés, composed of chorizo, basil pesto, black truffle, and parmesan pecorino romano. Though she only offers these on Friday and Saturday in the patisserie, they are available for catered events and delivery throughout the week. I was particularly taken by the adorable canelé “trees” that Céline and her team often construct for cocktail parties.
Looking ahead, Céline told me that she is further developing her line of macarons. When I spoke to her in early 2016, she had also just begun experimenting with some Japanese flavors, as businesses in Tokyo were interested in her baked goods. Apparently, mini products are “the rage” there. And here in New York, Céline always enjoys receiving feedback from her loyal customers. “I create new, exclusive flavors for them,” she told me. However, whether she is designing galettes or her own bread and jam, Céline is always trying to bring the business back to her signature mini canelés, the product that makes her stand out. To date, she remains the only canelé pastry shop in New York City, and she is quite proud to have introduced the delicacies to Americans. And the best part, she added with a grin, is “they’re fresh out of the oven.”