Tiny Little Chewy Cakes

They look like bundt cakes, but they’re less than two inches tall. Even so, they pack a wallop of deliciousness. They’re canelés, which have become — hands down … or rather “out” for seconds — my favorite French pastry: pure heaven made from flour, eggs, milk, butter, sugar, vanilla, and sometimes rum.

I’ve always liked canelés. Every now and then, if I have a sweet tooth and I don’t want to splurge on an entire pain au chocolat or croissant aux amandes, I’ll treat myself to a single canelé … if I can find them. They’re not super common here in Paris. That’s because they’re a regional specialty; they come from Bordeaux:


Luckily for me, Michel was away this weekend … Wait. Strike that. Let me rephrase: Michel was away this weekend, performing with his musical theater company in Bordeaux. As is always the case, he brought me back a little treat. Luckily for me, yesterday’s treat was a pack of Baillardran canelés!

I didn’t know it until Michel told me but Baillardran is, like, the name in canelés, and with good reason. The “pure heaven” that I’d already tasted from the ovens of Paris’s bakeries was fully eclipsed by Baillardran’s “canelé pur vanille.” The golden brown, chewy crust with a hint of burnt sugar vaguely reminiscent of crème brûlée gave way to a surprisingly moist, spongy interior bursting with vanilla goodness. While I’d told myself that I would eat just one a day, I couldn’t stop myself from eating two of them last night. I saved the third and last one to savor with my morning coffee. Of course, I wasn’t convinced that it would survive the night. I imagined the scene: 3 a.m., my eyes pop open, I hear a little voice from the kitchen calling to me with a Bordelais accent … Luckily for you, that didn’t happen, so I was able to do a little photo shoot this morning …

© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved
© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

… and then I devoured it in four bites.

I wrote earlier that canelés originated in Bordeaux. The longer version of this delectable little pastry’s story is disputed. Some have attributed its origin to the nuns of the Convent of the Annunciates who invented a pastry wrapped around sticks and fried in lard, called “canelas” or “canelons.” Others attribute it to the Guild of Canauliers, a group of bakers in Bordeaux who were prohibited under their articles of incorporation from using milk and sugar. The Guild’s name derives from one of the breads it was allowed to make, the “canaule,” which might be a precursor to the canelé. (By the way, the canaule seems to have originated in nearby Limoges, but … shhh … don’t tell the Bordelais that!) In 1755, in a blow to the traditional Pastry Guild, the royal court at Versailles issued an edict finally allowing the Canauliers to add milk and sugar to their dough. It’s unclear whether the pastry we know today as the canelé was born as a result. The guilds were disbanded during the French Revolution, the Canauliers disappeared from the list of artisan professions in the 19th century, and their methods were lost to history. Thankfully for us, though, the canelé suddenly reappeared during the early 20th century, taking on the popular bundt-cake form, possibly a nod to the similarity between the pastry’s name and the French word for fluting or corrugation: cannelure.

So, whether it owes its existence to a convent of nuns who liked fried pastry, to a guild of bakers who finally got the right to add milk and sugar to their fare, or to someone else altogether, one thing is indisputable: the modern canelé is yummy!

Bon appétit !

P.S. — The title is inspired by the declaration of my friend Alison upon seeing my Facebook post about these last night.

© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

5 thoughts on “Tiny Little Chewy Cakes

  1. Coming to this very late, but it caught my eye, as canelés happen to be my favorite, too! Our French teacher made some a couple of weeks ago and served them to us in class…they were excellent. As we’re in Charente, we sometimes get to Bordeaux and I will have to find the obviously very special Baillardran canelés! Merci!

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