My grandmother, Nova Metzger Jacobs, routinely made these cookies at Christmas-time, and I, as a child, routinely ate too many of them. They are called Merveilles (French for “miracle”), and they are insanely-delicious. Watch me make these crisply-puffed, orange-zest-scented, confectioners’-sugar-dusted delights:
But first, let me bore you with this memory snapshot!
Nova, along with my grandfather, Frederick, lived in a rambling 1920s house in Washington State. One closed-off room in the house held an enormous upright piano. As a toddler, I would sneak into that room, and tickle the ivories to my heart’s content. This music-making eventually lead to piano lessons with some of the most gifted teachers in the world, including Yvonne Kovacevich in Spokane, and German Diez in New York City.
Of course, the piano is indirectly responsible for my brief career as a punk-rocker. I performed not once, not twice, but seven times at CGBGs in New York. There were other dates at other hip venues as well. Like S.N.A.F.U. in the East Village, and The Other End in the West Village.
I don’t think my grandmother would have appreciated my punk rock days, nor my punkish appearance. My hair was spiky. I wore a spider-earring.
But grandmama would be glad to know that my piano-passion continues even to this day, as evidenced by the three grands in my home. Two pianos — a Steinway and a Yamaha — are located before a window garden. The plants seem particularly fond of Bach, Mozart, and Chopin. I don’t know how they’d feel about punk rock.
And that’s all the memoir-writing (dull as it is) that I can manage right now. So let’s hit the cookie-trail, okay?
Here’s the photographic step-by-step recipe, followed by a printer-friendly, copy-and-paste version:
I hope you have a micro-zester. If not, add it to your Christmas list. It is not an expensive gadget.
No brandy in your purse? Retrieve the rum.
No sooner had I mentioned brandy and rum than Mrs. Little People rushed into my kitchen. As I mentioned in a previous post, the woman is a lush.
My grandmother, however, was a teetotaler. She probably substituted orange juice for the booze in her Merveilles.
Tip: Don’t be like my grandmother.
No pictures of the following 2 steps: Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap, and generously flour your work surface. My work surface is a piece of canvas.
Note: I rolled my pastry into a free-form shape. If you’d prefer a neat, 4-inch wide rectangle, go for it.
No picture here, because I forgot to take one: In a large, heavy pot (or a deep-fat fryer, if you have one), heat 4 inches of oil to 350°F. Don’t guess here — use a candy or deep-frying thermometer to make sure the temperature is correct.
Oh. While the oil is heating, line a baking sheet with a few thicknesses of paper towels.
Need a copy-and-paste version of the above? Here we go-go:
Adapted from Baking Chez Moi by Dori Greenspan
1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
The 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
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Flavorless oil for deep-frying
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Tip the sugar and orange zest into a medium bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter, and blend it into the sugar with a spatula. Add the egg, brandy or rum and vanilla, and stir to blend. Then add the dry ingredients and stir until you achieve a soft, sticky dough.
2. Scoop the dough on a sheet of plastic, wrap it, and chill for 2 hours or overnight.
Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with plastic wrap.
3. Cut the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, and then roll it out, flipping it over frequently and adding more flour to keep it from sticking, until it is paper thin. (You can roll the dough into a neat rectangle, or into a free-form shape.) Use a pastry cutter, a fluted ravioli wheel, or a sharp knife to cut the pastry into strips. I always aim for 1-inch wide strips, about 4 inches long. Roll out and cut the remaining dough into strips. Transfer the strips to the baking sheet, and cover with another piece of plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels.
4. In a heavy pot, heat 4 inches of oil to 350°F, as determined by a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Fry 4 or 5 strips at a time just until golden brown on one side. Then flip them over with chopsticks or a slotted spatula, and brown the other side. Transfer the Merveilles to the paper towel-lined baking sheet, let them drain for a minute, and then immediately coat both sides with confectioners’ sugar.
Mervilles are best when served on the day you make them. Enjoy them for Christmas…or anytime!
Think you’ll try these cookies of my youth? You can let me know by leaving a comment.
Don’t miss anything at A Garden for the House…sign up for Kevin’s weekly email updates.