A canelé is a small French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. The dessert, which is in the shape of small, striated cylinder approximately two inches in height, is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France but can often be found in Parisian patisseries as well. Made from egg, milk and flour flavored with rum and vanilla, the custard batter is baked in a mold, giving the canelé a caramelized crust and custard-like inside.
The legend wants that the canelés were started during the landing of the boats of flour on the quays of Bordeaux. But more realistically, they would have been created and invented in the XVIIIth century by the nuns of the convent of Annonciades, in Bordeaux, today convent of the Mercy, under the name of canelas or canelons. Those first canelas did not still look like canelés yet: they were small cakes of very thin dough rolled around a stick and fried.
During the recent remodeling of this convent, a campaign of archaeological searches was led. Among the numerous objects found from the appropriate time period, nothing looked like a Canelé mold. Also, there are no record of any repairs to Canelé mold were found. So it is unlikely the convent is the origin of the Canelé.
The "Canauliers" from Bordeaux In Limoges there was a food called “canole”, a specialty consisting of bread makes with flour and egg yolks. It is possible that this is the same product as the one sold in Bordeaux since the XVIIth century under the name of “Canaule”, also written “Canaulé” or “Canaulet”. They were so popular that artisans specialized in baking them. These special bakers were given the name “Canauliers”. These artisans registered a Corporation (or Guild) with the Parliament of Bordeaux in 1663. This incorporation only allowed them to make a few very specific foods - “Blessed bread”, “Canaules”, and “Retortillons.” But, since they were not a part of the Pastry Corporation (Guild), they were prohibited from using milk and sugar. Doughs containing milk and sugar - known as “mixtionnée” - were reserved to the Pastry Corporation (Guild). Some claim they were scared of the competition from the “Canauliers”.
A war between the “Canauliers” and the Pastry Chefs on the use of the “mixtionnée” dough followed. A March 3rd, 1755 ruling of the council of State in Versailles gave the “Canauliers” victory over the Pastry Chefs.
The “Canauliers’” Corporation grew to the point that an edict of 1767 limited the number of authorized shops in a city to eight. It created very strict requirements to join the profession.
But this limit on “Canauliers” shops was never respected. And in 1785 there were no less than thirty nine Canauliers in Bordeaux, among which at least ten were in the district of Saint-Seurin. The French Revolution abolished all the Corporations but not the profession of Canaulier, however census rolls continue to show shops of Canauliers and bakers of “Blessed bread.”
Are Canaules or Canoles the ancestors of our modern Canelé? It seems likely from the word’s etymology. On the other hand no text, shop inventory, nor archives of the Corporation hint at molds. And even less at the shape of the molds used for cooking those “Canaules”.
During XIXth century Canauliers disappeared from the artisans list of Bordeaux.
In the first quarter of the XXth century the Canelé reappears, even if it is difficult to date exactly its when. An unknown pastry chef brought back to fashion the antique recipe of Canauliers. He improved it by adding rum and vanilla to his dough. It is likely that its current shape comes from the similarity (in French) of the word wave with the word “cannelure” (fluting, corrugation, striations).
The modern name Canelé is recent and mysterious. The “Guide Gourmand de la France” (Publisher: Gault and Millau, 1970) does not mention it. It is only in 1985 when the brotherhood of the Cannlé of Bordeaux is created that the second "n" of its name is abolished to better affirm its identity. The name Canelé becomes a collective brand, deposited to the National Institute of the Industrial Property of France by the Brotherhood. The Canelé meets a big success and ten years after the deposit of the brand, there are at least 800 manufacturers in Aquitaine and 600 in the Gironde. In 1992 Gironde alone consumed an estimated at 4.5 million.
Traditionally Canelés are generally sold in bunches of 8 or 16.
It is better to serve the small Canelé with cocktails, and the big version for dessert at the end of a meal. The drink matters little, as the Canelé accommodates itself equally well with champagne as with tea, and goes with all of types of wines.
The Canelé is light and easy to carry/ship thanks to its solidity. If it collapses during transportation, it deforms little and a light reshaping makes it revert to its initial shape.