With a name like “Marvelous”, this pastry couldn’t be anything short of fantastic. “Les Merveilleux” are a light meringue and cream-based pastry with a slight crunch that completely melts in the mouth in a sugary cloud of deliciousness.
Nonetheless, it actually took me a while to wander into Aux Merveilleux du Fred to taste these creations, because I didn’t see myself as much of a meringue girl. After one bite, I needed absolutely no further convincing.
As a graduate of the Cordon Bleu pastry school in Paris, I can spot a great dessert. The pastry is constructed with meringue circles that are stuck together with cream. Then more cream is added on the outside before it is rolled in any manner of delicious toppings.
Les Merveilleux Makes a Sweet Comeback
The dessert is not new. It originates from northern France and Flanders. In 1985, chef patissier Frederic Vaucamp reworked the traditional recipe bringing back an old classical dessert but with an even lighter base, and in a larger variety of flavors. The name, though, recalls an aristocratic subculture in France that dates back to the end of the 18th century.
The men were called “Les Incroyables” and the women, “Les Merveilleuses.” In a response to the end of the Reign of Terror, this group turned to frivolous fashion and focused on enjoying the pleasures of life with, you guessed it, lots of balls and, I would assume, loads of desserts. The pastry is reminiscent of this time with its quite fashionable outward appearance and decadent, almost overindulgent feeling. You can also see touches of this era in the stores themselves, which are decorated with chandeliers and gilded framed paintings.
Vaucamp opened his first store in Lille in 1997 before branching out to more cities abroad and in France, including Paris, where you can find seven gorgeous locations. I love that they have a completely open floor plan where you can see every step of the production of these desserts (aka Pastry TV for people like me, just like looking in a fish bowl is ‘Cat TV’).
The dessert is best eaten within 30 minutes of purchasing — and be ready to get messy! Or maybe you’re supposed to use a fork? I’m usually hunkered over one in the middle of the sidewalk a couple of meters from the store entrance.
Les Merveilleux are now so popular, the delightful pastries can even be found in many French bakeries.
Indulge in Les Merveilleux at Home
You can make them in your own kitchen too! They are fairly easy as long as you keep in mind a couple of things. The meringue should be nice and crispy once baked and cooled, and the heavy whipping cream should be whipped almost to where it seems over-whipped.
The thick cream helps keep the meringues crunchy by not soaking into the cookies quite so much. In France, look for the highest fat content possible in whipping cream. Thirty percent will do, but 35% is best. Often supermarkets do not carry 35%, so it’s worth a visit to the Grand Epicerie at the Bon Marché to pick up a carton as it is so important in this recipe.
In terms of toppings, the most traditional is chocolate. To make your own chocolate shavings, take a chocolate bar (I prefer 60-70% cacao) and then use a vegetable peeler to start carving away little pieces of chocolate.
As you are assembling, you might want a buddy or two to help out. Work quickly, before your cream starts to lose shape and become more liquid, or your creations won’t last very long.
I made my batch of Les Merveilleux with David Lebovitz’s recipe. Now if you are living in Paris and love pastries, and do not know about David Lebovitz, you need to get on this ASAP. He is a pastry chef that worked in California at Chez Panisse under Alice Waters for a number of years before moving to France. He shares all sorts of wonderful recipes and tales about life here on his blog and in his cookbooks.
Making les Merveilleux at Home
Les Merveilleux Recipe
(adapted from recipe in David Lebovitz’s book, My Paris Kitchen)
- 125ml egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 140g powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon cider or white vinegar
- 625ml heavy cream (30-35% fat)
- 90g powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla
- 80g crème frâiche (full fat, entière)
- Topping: chocolate (white, bittersweet, dark), caramel bits, toasted nuts, chestnut paste, shredded and toasted coconut
Preheat the oven to 133°C and line two baking sheets with parchment.
Whip the egg whites until foamy and then add the salt. Continuing whipping until almost stiff. Add in the powdered sugar in three batches, then the vanilla and vinegar. Whip until stiff.
Pipe or spread circles on the parchment paper. Each circle should be about 2cm high. Bake for one hour and then turn off the oven. They will continue to dry and crisp up as the oven cools.
In a large bowl, whip the heavy whipping cream until it holds it’s shape. Then add the powdered sugar, espresso powder, and vanilla. Whip until very stiff – it should be very firm and almost like a buttercream.
To assemble, sandwich the meringues together with cream then use an offset spatula to spread more cream on the outside. Roll the pastry in various toppings.
They look cute in a cupcake paper or can be placed on parchment on a pretty platter. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
These don’t last very long – so be sure to eat them within a day or two!