Along with vanilla, a bit of legend perfumes these delicious little cakes from the Bordeaux area of France. According to the Worldwide Gourmet [spelling seems to be an issue here — some sources use the term cannelé and others canelé. Paula Wolfert, an authority on all manner of cooking, reflects on what she calls canelés . So my vote goes to canelés — see the package illustration above. ]:
Much has been written about the origin of this specialty of Bordeaux… Legend has it that the sisters of the Annonciade created the cannelé (meaning “fluted”) in the 16th century; their convent was located close to the St. André hospital in Bordeaux. The nuns would collect the flour from the holds of the ships (Bordeaux was a flourishing port at the time) and prepare these little cakes for the city’s most underprivileged.
But the truth is certainly otherwise: the cannelé is a relative of the canole, a little cake from the Limousin, which appeared in Bordeaux during the 17th century. They were consumed in such quantities that a canole makers’ guild existed with the exclusive right to make this pastry.