While I was in Paris, visiting every bakery I could get my hands on, I was determined to get my hands of some cannelés. I’d never seen any in the Bay Area and I was intrigued by these little cake-like treats, which are cooked in very expensive copper molds (yes, you can buy silicon molds, but they don’t caramelize the outer shell of the pastry). Sure, they’re not gluten-free, but at some point I’d like to attempt to develop a gluten-free cannelé recipe – which meant I’d have to try one first-hand.
Cannelé or Canelé? What’s the Difference?
First, a little cannelé background. You might have noticed that sometimes you see the word cannelé spelled with two Ns, another times with one N. There’s a reason for this, and it’s not a poor grasp of the French language. Cannelé, with two Ns, is the spelling that is widely accepted throughout France as the general name of the pastry, while canelé, with one N, is reserved solely for the variety sold specifically in Bordeaux, also known as canelé bordelais and canelé de Bordeaux. The appellation was recently designated by a brotherhood of bakers in the Bordeaux area to distinguish their specific recipe, which they keep under lock and key.
To recap: If you’re in Bordeaux and eating one of these pastries made from a select group of pâtissiers, you’ve got a canelé. Anywhere else in France, you’re eating a cannelé.
Got it? Good.
Cannelés in Paris
Thankfully, in Paris, cannelés are not in short supply. You can get them at almost any pâtisserie, including the famous shops like Pierre Hermé and Ladurée. While I sampled cannelés all over the city, some of the best I had were at tiny hole-in-the-wall pastry shops, where the baked goods were fresh and the local pâtissier beamed proudly over their work.
Still, though, I wanted more. I asked the ladies at Librairie Gourmande where I should go to sample some of the city’s best cannelés, and she sent me to Baillardran, a chain shop that supposedly sells authentic Bordeaux canelés throughout France. As luck would have it, there was a Baillardran boutique just east of Paris, in a little suburb that I could easily access by the Metro. So I made an afternoon of it.
Note: Since Baillardran claims to be selling authentic – though mass produced – canelé bordelais, from here on out I will refer to their pastries as canelés, with one N. I’m not sure if they use the supposed “secret recipe” of the bakers in Bordeaux.
I walked into Baillardran and surveyed the goods. There were canelés piled into mountains, arranged in circles, and patiently waiting in baking trays. They come in three sizes – small, medium and large – and you can also buy them at varying levels of “doneness,” similar to a steak. I liked the variety Baillardran offered, which I wasn’t expecting to find in a shop that sells only a single kind of pastry, but the options were exciting. I bought a few canelés in the “medium” style, browned but not burnt, and then indulged in a handful of aluminum-lined copper cannelé molds, which they were selling for surprisingly cheap.
I sat down and took a bite. The texture was what I expected: firm and gently smoky on the outside, tender and luscious on the inside, like little caramelized nuggets of soft bread pudding. These canelés were more rummy-tasting than the others I’d had, adding a liquory tang to each bite. I ate one, then another, and then the final one that I’d expected to save until the next day. Alas, they were just too good to hold onto for more than a few minutes!
Overall, if given the opportunity to compare, I’d say that Baillardran’s canelés took a backseat to the cannelés I had at most other pâtisseries. The alcohol taste was a little too strong, and while the texture was good, they definitely tasted as if they’d been sitting around for a while. I’ve never had a canelé in Bordeaux so I can’t say if they were an authentic reproduction of those from the region, but if you’re in Paris and looking for a fun food adventure, I highly recommend making the short metro trek to Baillardran.
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