Merveille means “miracle,” and the name is not hyperbole. Can sweet, brandied egg dough, fried until puffed and then sugared until it poses a threat to shirtfronts, be anything less than a miracle? The pastry, a centuries-old sweet from France’s Aquitaine, the region that claims Bordeaux as its capital, was traditionally made for Carnival, but knowing a good thing when they see it, the Aquitaines now make it throughout the year.
In Provence, a similar dough is cut into squares and called oreilleres, or “pillows,” and in Lot, in the southwest, the dough is cut into bands, sandwiched, and twisted. I’ve seen trapezoidal merveilles and pastries shaped into rings. Depending on the location, the recipe might or might not include yeast (I use baking powder); the fat for frying might be olive oil, goose fat, shortening, or grapeseed or canola oil; and the spirit that flavors it might be rum, eau-de-vie, Armagnac, or whatever is local.
With so much variety in their homeland, merveilles are yours to do with as you want. I usually cut the dough into long strips or small triangles with a fluted ravioli wheel. My oil of choice is canola or grapeseed, and my moment of choice is anytime there are a lot of people around. This is a party sweet, and one that’s the most fun—and the messiest—to eat when the dough is just shy of too hot.