Canelé – Bordeaux’s Column-shaped pastry

Visit a bakery in the French city of Bordeaux and you’re sure to enjoy cute cakes shaped like little Doric-style columns.

Canelé origin story

The art of wine making goes back over 8.000 years. These early wines were simply fermented grapes and likely had a harsh taste.

But, somewhere along the line, an ingenious person added egg whites to the wine. This caused tiny grape pieces that were suspended in the liquid to drift to the bottom of the barrel where they were discarded.

Using all those egg whites meant vintners had a whole lot of extra egg yolks. Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, the wine makers in Bordeaux started giving their egg yolks to the nuns at the local Annonciades Convent. The nuns made cakes much like today’s canelé. These cakes turned out extra rich, almost custardy, with the addition of the donated yolks.

In the mid-1600’s a canauliers guild was registered in Bordeaux for the purpose of making specific baked goods like the canaule, an early canelé. The canauliers guild thrived and the people of Bordeaux enjoyed a bounty of canaule for over 100 years. But, the French Revolution shuttered the guilds and the canaule was mostly forgotton.

The Modern Canelé

In the early 1900’s, the canelé was rediscovered. Vanilla and rum were added to the recipe. And, the current fluted shape became popular.

Both of these changes are important. What makes the canelé unique is the shape and the outer crust which is brown in color. Granular sugar and rum caramelize combine to give the crust its crispiness. By baking the dough for an extended time in fluted pans, there is more surface area to caramelize.

Today, many bakers use silicone baking pans for their cakes, but in Bordeaux, the only real way to make canelé is in a metal mold, preferably copper. This allows the canelé to reach the correct state of crispiness.

Every bakery in Bordeaux has canelé for sale. The best spot might be La Touque Cuivree where they sell the crunchy, boozy, custardy treats by the hundred. Canelés Baillardran also makes a terrific canelé and they are easy to find because they have lots of locations throughout the city.

For a wine pairing, a white Bordeaux or a sparkling wine from Les Cordeliers would be perfection.

About the Author

Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon, PortoSintraMonsaraz, and Evora in Portugal. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.

Author: Brent