From Baking Chez Moi: Merveilles

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.

Photograph by Alan Richardson for Baking Chez Moi.

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From Baking Chez Moi

Makes about 40 pastries
  • 1 cup (136 g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • + grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • + cinnamon sugar and/or confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  • + flavorless oil, such as grapeseed or canola, for deep-frying

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together 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 or rum, 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 it 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 wheel, ravioli cutter, 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 tool here) on hand as well. Fill a sugar duster or strainer (or two) with cinnamon sugar and/or confectioners’ sugar. Pour 4 inches of oil into a large, deep saucepan (or use an electric deep fryer) and heat it to 350°F, as measured on a deep-fat thermometer.

Drop 4–6 merveilles into the pan—don’t crowd them—and fry until they’re golden on both sides, 2–3 minutes. Lift them out of the oil with the skimmer or other tool, 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(s) while the cookies are still hot and slightly moist from the oil. Continue frying the remaining merveilles—making sure to keep the oil at 350°F— draining, patting dry, 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, you can keep them overnight in a dry place; don’t refrigerate.