Babelle is a London-based company of contrasts – you’ll find them in up market Fortnum & Mason and on the street at markets. This sweet French delicacy has taken a twist, with over 100 modern flavours coming out of Philippe’s experimental kitchen in Acton. The format is simple: a canelé (a French cake from Bordeaux) is baked in a mould, filled with flavoured jam or ganache and decorated with delicate fruit and chocolate creations.

In practice, this is an art that only the professionals can master (we tried). Air pressure can affect the time that the canelés need in the oven; they’re all handmade (no machine in sight); there are 12 different flavours of ganache (12 bowls to keep track of); and the room temperature needs to be kept at a steady 18° to 20°C.

The team of four work tirelessly to get the job done. Philippe is in charge of creating from 600 to 1,000 canelés in one day (on his own!); director Nicholas whizzes around London delivering to homes and the markets; you’ll meet Maud on the market stalls; and behind the scenes Coralie is Babelle‘s social media guru. We caught up with director Nicholas Wetter to find out how it all began and what we can expect from the growing company this year…

Where did the inspiration for Babelle originate?

The Babelle concept started in 2014. Philippe (our chef) and I were looking for a special product to share our love for world gastronomy. This was around the same time that some French chefs started to reinvent the eclair to give it a modern twist. We wanted a product with a strong heritage and tradition that we could built on to express our creativity and a more forward-looking concept.

Raspberry jam filled canelés topped with white chocolate ganache and milk chocolate heart

Raspberry jam filled canelés topped with white chocolate ganache and milk chocolate heart

Everyone talks about the importance of a canelé’s “crunch” – what’s it all about?

The crunch is important as it’s the first of the three different textures that our canelés offer. There’s the crunch at first bite; then there’s the heart of the canelé, which feels soft and custardy; and then there’s the filling or topping for many of our canelés – we have over 50 flavours at the moment and each one is a different taste experience, but it all starts with the crunch!

We aimed at creating a beautiful bridge of indulgence between an old French tradition and the modernity of UK gastronomy.

Whats in the name “Babelle”?

Babelle comes from the word “bab” which means “door” in Arabic and “belle” which means beautiful in French. There is also a reference to the famous ancient city of Babel where all the world once coincided, where people met and exchanged ideas, concepts, goods and languages. We aimed at creating a beautiful bridge of indulgence between an old French tradition and the modernity of UK gastronomy. Our canelés have a unique range of flavours, designs and fillings that reflect the diverse experiences Philippe and I have had, living and working in more than eight countries in the food business.

canelés

Babelle make use of silicon moulds that need to be replaced every three months

What inspired you to bring canelés to the UK?

There isn’t a more cosmopolitan and daring city in the world than London. It was a massive jump for us. Philippe left his position as a head chef in a Relais Chateaux in Brazil and joined me in London to start it from scratch. We love the tastes of matcha, durian, açaï, dulce de leche, vodka, chilli, halva, mole, peanut butter, elderflower, pistachio and we want to share this passion with our customers.

Traditionally, skilled tradesmen or artisans focused on perfecting one product, to make it perfect. Few people can actually consistently make canelés at the standard our customers expect.

Why do you simply focus on canelés?

Traditionally, skilled tradesmen or artisans focused on perfecting one product, to make it perfect. In the 1700s, the guild of canauliers focused exclusively on the art of the canelé. The product remains incredibly labour intensive today and fascinating as only a few people can consistently make them at the standard our customers expect.

Tell us how you came to collaborate with Philippe…

Philippe and I go way back. He was a regular at the French bistro I set up in Mexico City. He would often come to talk with Patrick (my chef at the time) and help to introduce new recipes, new ideas, new twists on French classics! He was the executive chef at the Cordon Bleu in Mexico at the time and was covering all of Latin America.

canelés

Pictured from left to right: Coralie, Philippe and Maud in the Acton-based kitchen

How did your time working at a French bistro in Mexico influence your plans with Babelle?

Opening the bistro made me fully realise how exciting it is to see people enjoying what you do for them. There is no hiding when you own and run your own restaurant; feedback is immediate. It was hard but extremely rewarding.

What was your big break?

We met the chef of the Jumeirah, Simon Young, who has been instrumental in supporting us in the UK. He fell in love with the concept and introduced us to Andrew Cavanna, head buyer at Fortnum & Mason, which was the first store to launch us in the UK at the start of 2015. Now we are at Fortnums, Selfridges, Natural Kitchen and moving into Harrods next month. Our canelés are in some five-star properties including the Jumeriah Carlton Tower Hotel and Town & Country distributes us wholesale across the UK.

What’s your favourite canelé… so far?

My favourite canelé is the one I share with my wife.

We want to do more of the fantastic food markets in London because we love being in direct contact with our customers and we get a lot of ideas for Philippe to work on.

What can we expect from Babelle in 2016?

We’re developing new relationships with independently owned distributors, like The General Store in Peckham which sells our canelés with passion; growing the team in both the kitchen and in our sales and marketing; and we want to do more of the fantastic food markets in London, because we love being in direct contact with our customers and we get a lot of ideas for Philippe to work on product development. Plus, look out for us in the YBF Competition this year; we were a runner up last year but are coming back for more in 2016!

Babelle | Available at the One New Change market (St Paul’s) on Fridays, at the Duke of York Square market (Sloane Square) on Saturdays, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges | £2.65 each, four for £9, nine for £18

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