‘Merveilles‘ means wonders in French, and it’s just the kind of sweet pastry that brings me straight back to my childhood. When I was on holiday in the South of France, I remember buying ‘merveilles’ with my own pocket money at the market – the woman selling them was called Bernadette, she was a farmer’s wife, straight out of a baroque painting with her old-fashioned long dark grey dresses. She was renowned for her ‘merveilles’, for they were truly marvellous, so light and delicately flavored with lemon zest and orange flower water. She would shout ‘Achetez mes merveilles, mes belles merveilles!’ (Buy my merveilles, my beautiful merveilles!) – it was such a musical hit. I was so intrigued by her, by the name ‘merveilles’ and I loved imagining that these were food that fairies liked.
These old-fashioned French pastries are the cousins of doughnuts – fritters made of buttery dough, deep-fried until golden and puffy, to be sprinkled with sugar. Popular during Mardi Gras celebration, you can find ‘merveilles’ all year long at bakeries or markets. I love to have them whenever I feel like it (so easy to make and so fast to cook) – especially home-made ones as they are best served warm.
They really are some kind of wonderful.
Ingredients: (serves 4)
250 g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Zest of half a lemon
1 tbsp orange flower water (eau de fleur d’oranger)
50 g butter (softened and at room temperature)
Oil for frying (approx. 5cm/2 inch deep)
Icing sugar (to sprinkle on the merveilles)
Sift the flour and baking powder in a large bowl and mix the eggs, butter, lemon zest, orange flower water and salt. Mix the dough with your hands until smooth and shape in the size of a ball. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
On a floured board, roll the dough to 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Cut into rectangular strips (approx 5 cm width/12 cm length – you can choose the size you like – they can also be round or oval) – I use a pastry crimping wheel and add a 4cm cut in the middle of each rectangular strip. Heat the oil in a large pan, and drop in the ‘merveilles’, turn them once – this should take you up to 6-8 seconds (as soon as they are golden and puff up, which is very fast). Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle icing sugar and serve immediately. They can be stored in an air-tight container for a week.