Where do Cannelés come from?

Why from Bordeaux, a port city on Southwestern France located on a bend on the Garonne river, about fifty miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Legend has it that cannelés were created there. Or perhaps I should say that legends have it, since there are at least two major origin myths about the cannelé. The first regards spill-off from flour boats. As the story goes, cannelés were invented as a food for poor children, made from the flour that leaked out of sacks when the cargo was being off-loaded. I’m not sure if those would have done the kiddies any favors, honestly. I think they’d have been better off with the porridge at the local orphanage. Please sir, I want another dock refuse cake. Hmm.

The other story is a bit more believable, and posits that cannelés were created by nuns at the local Annonciades convent, just prior to the French Revolution. So it’s said, local wine makers donated egg yolks to the sisters there for baking, having used the whites to clarify their wines. This has some ring of truth, since egg white “fining” is a common clarifying technique, used to this day in France as well as in the States, New Zealand and other wine-producing countries. The trouble is that there’s no physical evidence at all that the Annonciades nuns ever baked anything resembling a modern cannelé.

In fact there’s precious little that ever resembled a modern cannelé until the modern cannelé suddenly appeared in the 1920’s. The closest thing was a regional specialty called a “canole” that was popular in the mid-1700’s. It was a yolk-heavy bread that was originally created in the nearby city of Limoges, and which apparently spread like wildfire around Southwestern France. However the fad died out in about 1800, and canoles were never heard from again. Until of course they reappeared in Bordeaux over 100 years later in a different form, with a different shape and with a slightly different name. The same thing? Probably not. My guess is that the reintroduction of the cannelé was a product of an enterprising baker who also happened to be a darn good marketer.

10 thoughts on “Where do Cannelés come from?”

  1. Very interesting, this cannele stuff. Until reading the above I never thought about the similarity in the names “cannele” and “cannoli,” the Italian pastry, and it makes wonder. It might be rather a stretch of the imagination, but the custardy cannele is kinda sorta like a cannoli shell with the custard baked as a part of it, rather than piped into it afterwards. Too much of a flight of fancy? (A flight to Bordeaux would be very nice right now.)

    1. I never made that connection. Brilliant, Chana! And in fact the “cakes” originally made by the Sisters of the Enunciation in Bordeaux that very thing: thin pieces of dough wrapped around a tubular mold and fried. But I never made that connection. Duh! Thanks, Chana!

      But how did we get here from there? Weird…

      – Joe

  2. “the cannelé was a product of an enterprising baker who also happened to be a darn good marketer.

    The cronut of its age, huh?

    But, Joe, is the distinctively shaped cannelé mold ever used for anything else?

    1. Hey Rainey! As far as I know, no. Which is not to say you couldn’t flout tradition and bake, oh, I dunno, crotins in them!

      Just a wacky thought,

      – Joe

      1. The “enterprising baker who also happened to be a darn good marketer” may have also made/sold expensive cannelé molds! You know…”Oh THESE molds? They are exclusively for cannelés. I make them myself and you will need many many many of them for a single batch. That will be a gazillion dollars please!” ;-D


        1. Good point, Eva! He may be the grandfather of the guy I bought these from. Insidious, the whole thing.

          – Joe

  3. Uh.
    Never tasted a cannele. Never even seen a live one. Obviously, I live in Podunksville (there were citywide celebrations when Krispy Kreme came to town, including live tv coverage).
    WHAT is a cannele? From the ingredient list and the method of baking, it sounds like a popover? What’s the difference from a popover? Sorry for the idiot question. But your little blog helps those of us who live in culinarily backwater cultures learn what is going on out there in the wider world! Thanks.

    1. Hey Charm!

      Good to hear from you. No worries, canneles are obscure pretty much everywhere except the pastry shops of Paris and Southwestern France. And of course there’s reason for that since the expense of making them means people don’t do it at home! Bt in answer to your question, they are quite a bit denser and sweeter than popovers, somewhere between custard and cake. They can be excellent if you don’t mess them up, which I almost always do. Say a prayer for me!

      – Joe

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