Whoopie Pies, Waffles and Other Treats from France
As you can see on the bag (or maybe you can’t, hmmm) Meert has been making waffles for a very long time (since 1761). I don’t know if they were the first to make this style of waffle – the grids are barely etched, the waffle is soft and it’s split in half and filled – but they are certainly the best known. At Meert, the choice of fillings was vanilla, caramel or chicory, an important ingredient in Lille. During the war, coffee was scarce and people either stretched their coffee with chicory or drank chicory straight. Often foods of depravation are tossed away as soon as possible, but chicory has stayed on in Lille and turns up often in pastries there.
Meert recently opened a store in Paris and I wonder if they were astonished to find that they weren’t the only Meertish waffle in town. A short while ago, Laduree began offering its version of the waffle (a natural when you know that Monsieur Holder, Laduree’s owner, comes from Lille). And just a few days ago, Pierre Herme unveiled his
Since it was Pierre Herme who first introduced me to Meert waffles more than a decade ago, I wasn’t at all surprised to see that he’d finally created his own. As you can see, they’re round. What you can’t see is the filling – Pierre’s come in vanilla, chocolate and Ispahan, a rose cream with little bits of raspberry – which, true to Herme’s style, is generous.
And speaking of generous, take a look at these meringues!
It’s a bad photo – sorry, it was the end of a long and wonderful meal with great friends and I just pulled out my phone and snapped quickly because I didn’t want to break the conversation – but I think you get the idea: These are huge! And huge is typical with meringues.
Meringues this size – I’d say they’re at least 6 inches long, 4 inches wide and as high as they are wide – are found everywhere in France. They’re a typical after-school snack for kids and they come in a rainbow of colors and lots of different flavors. In all the time that I’ve seen these meringues in France, I’ve never bought one. Never. They just didn’t tempt me in any way. And then, walking around the south of France with my wonderful friend Bernard, we passed a shop with meringues in the window and all of the sudden this grown man turned into a little kid – he wanted a meringue and he wanted it the way kids want things: immediately!
You know what? It was good! Really good! So good that when I got back to Paris I made a batch. Yes, yes, they’re sweet – after all, meringue is just sugar (a lot of it) and egg whites – but they’re also interesting: the sugar changes in the oven and caramelizes in some places and not in others, so there are real flavor differences. And, make the meringues big enough and you’ll even get differences in texture. Sometimes (it doesn’t always happen), the inside of the meringue remains a little moist and a little chewy. The outside is always the same, of course – crisp and crackly and neatness defying. There’s no way you can eat a monster meringue without leaving a trail of crumbs or creating a shower of shards. It’s just part of the fun.