At the esteemed Ken’s Artisan Bakery, cannelés get the royal treatment in a heavy-duty convection oven. Baker Ken Forkish (below-right) brought the mysterious cake–meets–custard pastry to Portland in 2001.

Courier is following in the footsteps of Ken’s Artisan Bakery, a respected veteran in Portland’s ever-hipper food scene. Just 30 years ago, cannelés were a rarity outside of Bordeaux. These days, the hand-held treat is très chic in Paris, but still obscure in America—everywhere except (surprise!) Portland. Local patisseries are seemingly embroiled in a citywide cannelé challenge, from Nuvrei’s shiny mahogany domes to St. Jack’s custardy, candy-like treats. But the pastry first came to town thanks to Ken Forkish.

Forkish stumbled on his first cannelé in France in 1996, fell in love, and vowed to re-create the joy of discovery for a new audience. After using a recipe from famed pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre, Forkish eventually made them his own at his new bakery in 2001. His cannelés were more cakey than custardy, with a potent perfume. Where most bakers blend their beeswax with oil, Forkish embraces all-out purity, and the payload is a thrilling rush of honeycomb flavor, baked to a deep chestnut brown. Every bite makes your tongue laugh; even the Bordeaux brotherhood would smile.

But most customers blow by these odd-looking pastries—cannelés, for all the labor they demand, will never compete with Ken’s bronzed croissants and glistening galettes. Forkish, not to be deterred, simply gave them away for years. The bakery now sells a mere four dozen a day. The commitment clearly pays off in something less tangible—a fulfillment of the baker’s imperative to share deep pleasure at any cost.

Courier’s bare-bones approach springs from the same spirit. Domreis’s one-man cannelé band begins at 6 a.m. and plays for several hours, rotating sheets of copper tins every five minutes to ensure even browning. In the afternoon, he preps, scooting up a ladder to scoop high-quality Shepherd’s Grain flour from outsize bags between his espresso pulls. He scrapes vanilla beans with his Swiss Army knife, then rubs the paste on the blades of a whisk, so every speck is respectfully dispersed into the batter. Late one summer day, he broke concentration only to carefully flip vintage vinyl on the turntable an arm’s length from the mixing bowl. Music at Courier is also nourishment, and central to life.

For some of the best bakers, the grail of the cannelé is unachievable. For Domreis, it’s no challenge at all, just a fun journey that flows easily through his self-made world. He makes 18 cannelés a day; his daily haul for the effort is $36. The return on his investment is simply the purest form of joy. “I don’t look at labor costs,” he says. “This is my life. All it costs me is my vigilance.”

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