Merveilles: A Miracle for Hanukkah and a Recipe from Baking Chez Moi
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
Put the sugar in a medium bowl and sprinkle the orange zest over it. Using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Toss the butter into the bowl and work it into the sugar with a sturdy flexible spatula. Pour in the egg, brandy and vanilla and stir to blend as best as you can. At this point, the mixture will look like egg drop soup—don’t be discouraged. Add the dry ingredients and stir until the dough, which will be soft and moist and very much like a sticky muffin dough, comes together.
Turn out the dough, wrap in plastic film and chill it for at least 2 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for as long as overnight.)
When you’re ready to roll and cut the dough, line a baking sheet with plastic film.
Cut the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Flour your work surface well—this is a sticky dough and will need more flour than you might usually use—and flour the top of the dough. Roll it out, turning it over to make sure it’s not sticking, rolling on both sides and adding more flour if necessary. Once the surface is properly floured and you’ve got the dough going, it’s very easy to roll, and you’ll be able to roll it until it’s paper-thin, which is what you want. If you can roll it into a large rectangle, great; if it’s more free-form, that’s fine too.
Working with a fluted pastry or ravioli cutter, a plain pizza wheel or a knife, cut the dough into long strips, squares, diamonds or any other shape that appeals to you. (I go for strips that are about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long; for more drama, you can go longer.) Place the strips on the lined baking sheet and cover with another piece of plastic film. Repeat with the remaining dough, cover with the plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.
When you’re ready to fry: Have a baking sheet lined with a triple thickness of paper towels near the stove. Have a skimmer, tongs or chopsticks (my favorite here), at hand as well. Fill a sugar duster or strainer (or two) with cinnamon sugar and/or confectioners’ sugar. Pour 4 inches oil into a large deep saucepan (or use an electric deep fryer) and heat it to 350 degrees F, as measured on a deep-fat thermometer.
Drop 4 to 6 merveilles into the pan—don’t crowd them—and fry until they’re golden on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Lift them out of the oil with the skimmer, allowing the excess oil to drip back into the pan, then turn out onto the paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Pat the tops with more paper towels to remove surface oil, then dust both sides with sugar while the cookies are still hot and slightly moist from the oil. Continue frying—making sure to keep the oil at 350 degrees F—draining, patting and dusting until all the dough is fried.
Serving: These are best eaten as soon as they’re cool enough to bite into, but they’re also delicious at room temperature. If the sugar has melted into the cookies, dust them again before serving.
Storing: These are not really keepers, and that’s not a bad thing, because it’s unlikely that you’ll have any left to keep. However, if there are a few left over, you can keep them overnight in a dry place; don’t refrigerate.