Dorie Greenspan: Marveling at the petites merveilles on a Paris street corner

Bonjour! Bonjour!

I love getting Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful newsletters which read like an email from a special friend (I wish) and this one from November is a marvel. Enjoy!

From Dorie:

“I always say that I’m best self when I’m home in Paris, but if that’s true, then my best self can be pretty grumpy. The other morning, I woke up, looked out the window and grumbled and railed against what I had no control over: The weather. It was raining. Again. It was also 7-something in the morning, so it was dark — the autumn sun comes up late and even though I’ve lived here a long time, it still surprises me. (Soon it won’t get light until almost 9 am.)

“Yet early morning is one of my favorite times to get out — despite the rumble of delivery trucks and the swish of street cleaners’ brooms, it feels quiet, like the city’s stretching and getting in shape for the day. The other morning, out for a croissant run, I turned down the boulevard Saint Germain and into the rue l’Ancienne Comédie, which was mostly dark and quite dreary in the rain. But there, at the end of the short street, as though lowered to earth by some extra-planetary architect, was a spot of brilliance, a twinkle in the morning’s twilight: the bright-as-a-beacon Aux Merveilleux de Fred, a pastry shop that’s new to Saint Germain des Pres.

Sugar Plum Central

“When we moved to Saint Germain des Pres 25 years ago, I dubbed it Sugar Plum Central because everywhere I’d turn, I’d come to a patisserie. Today, I’d have to call it Sugar Plum Universe or Explosion or Abundance. Or maybe just Paradise. I’ve written about some of the shops before and I’ll be writing a lot more about Paris while I’m here for the next month, but here are the names — off the top of my head (and not even in alphabetical order) – of some of the shops that came here after I settled in: Pierre Hermé, Hugo & Victor, Angelina, Ladurée, Arnaud Lahrer, Alain Ducasse (chocolate), Pierre Marcolini (chocolate), Patrick Roger (chocolate), Fou de Patisserie and the shop at the end of the street.

What’s a Merveilleux, Other Than Marvelous?

“A merveilleux is layers of meringue spread with whipped cream, covered with more whipped cream and then rolled around in things delicious and decorative, like chocolate shavings, coconut flakes, cookie bits, coffee crystals or even more meringue. It’s one of those sweets that raises the possibility of alchemy, because nothing else explains why something so basic tastes so good.

The pastry has its roots in Belgium and northern France, but it’s mostly thanks to Frédéric Vaucamps and his beautiful shops that Parisians love them. Also, that they know how they’re made — every shop has a marble counter in the window where the meringues are stacked and covered with swirls of whipped cream and then coated.

From Merveilleux to Little Marvels

“Watching the merveilleux being made in the window is like seeing a recipe come to life. And for someone like me, it’s an irresistible invitation to go home and play around. I made the small cakes with all kinds of fillings, among them peanut butter (not a French favorite) and jam and cookie spread. I covered them in chopped cookies and toasted nuts and even sprinkles. And I renamed them when I put them in BAKING WITH DORIE — I called them Little Marvels and liked that, although the name doesn’t sound nearly as sophisticated as les merveilleux, it does inspire wonder. Also, it’s easier to pronounce!

Marvel away and I’ll see you back here soon.

Little Marvels


The egg whites: While eggs separate most easily when they’re cold, the whites whip to their most voluptuous volume when they’re at room temperature, so plan ahead: Separate the eggs at least 1 hour before you’ll need them. Also, make sure your mixing bowl and beaters are clean, dry and free of grease – any kind of fat will keep the whites from rising.

Shaping the meringue: It’s best to use the meringue as soon as it’s made, so have your pans ready to go. You can spoon out the meringue for the disks and flatten them with a knife or you can pipe them. Piping’s faster and neater. No matter how you shape the disks, you’ll find it easier to get them even if you make a template.

Size: I’m a miniaturist at heart, so I make individual marvels, but you can use the recipe to make more traditionally sized cakes just as they do at Aux Merveilleux de Fred — think birthday cakes!

Makes 10 cakes

For the meringue

  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 2 1⁄2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature (see above)
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (optional)

For the cream

  • 2 cups (480 ml) very cold heavy cream
  • 1⁄4 cup (30 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)

For the spread – choose one

  • Cookie spread, such as Lotus Biscoff
  • Peanut butter
  • Melted chocolate
  • Thick jam

For the outer coating (figure about 2 cups [3 or 4 handfuls] of whichever one you choose)

  • Chocolate shavings (any kind of chocolate)
  • Chopped cookies
  • Coconut, shredded or flaked, sweetened or unsweetened, toasted or not
  • Chopped toasted nuts
  • Chopped meringue
  • Sprinkles

To make the meringues: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 250 degrees F. Using a pencil, draw ten 3-inch circles on each of two sheets of parchment paper; leaving about 2 inches between the circles. Turn the sheets over and use them to line two baking sheets.

Strain the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and the confectioners’ sugar through a fine-mesh sieve; set aside.

Working in the (clean, dry, grease-free) bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the whites and vinegar on medium-high speed until they form soft peaks, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running, add the remaining 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting a few seconds after each addition. It will take about 5 minutes, maybe even longer, to get all the sugar into the whites, but it’s this slow process that makes pristine meringue.

Once all the sugar is in, beat for 2 minutes or so, until you have stiff, glossy, beautifully white peaks. If you want to add the vanilla, beat it in now.

Switch to a flexible spatula and fold in the reserved sugar mix.

You can spoon the meringues out or shape them with a small icing spatula, but it’s faster and easier to pipe them. Use a pastry bag without a tip, or cut a 1⁄2-to-3⁄4-inch-wide opening in the tip of a disposable piping bag or a bottom corner of a large ziplock bag.

Fill the bag with the meringue and dab a little of it on the four corners of each baking sheet to secure the parchment. Using the circles as your guide, aim to pipe disks that are between 1⁄4 and 1⁄2 inch high, but don’t get nutty about it—the diameter is more important than the height.

Bake the meringues for about 50 minutes. You don’t want the meringues to take on (much) color; they’re properly baked when they peel off the paper easily. Turn off the oven and open the oven door a crack to let out whatever steam may have developed, then close the door and leave the meringues in the turned-off oven for another hour. (You can make the meringues at least a week ahead; just keep them covered and dry.)

To make the whipped cream: Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream just until it begins to thicken a bit. Gradually add the sugar and then the cinnamon, if you’re using it, and beat until the cream is thick enough to use as a frosting. If you’re using vanilla, whip it in now. (The cream can be covered and refrigerated for up to an hour or so.)

To assemble the cakes: If you want to add a spread, coat the top side of half of the meringues with whatever you’ve chosen. Top with whipped cream—you can use a spoon or a cookie scoop to portion out the cream—see what you like, but 2 tablespoons of cream should do it for each cake— then cap each cake with another disk of meringue, flat side up. Using a small icing spatula, frost the tops and sides of the cakes with the remaining whipped cream. The layer doesn’t have to be very thick, just generous enough to capture the crunchies you’ll cover it with. Pop the cakes into the freezer for 10 minutes or the refrigerator for about 1 hour before coating them. (The cakes can stay in the refrigerator for about 5 hours; cover them lightly and keep them away from anything with a strong odor.)

To coat the cakes: Put whatever you’ve chosen as your coating in a shallow bowl or a small tray. One by one, roll the cakes in the coating, getting some of the crunchies around the sides and on the tops. If it’s easier for you, use a spoon—I roll them and use a spoon to help me get a good coating. Refill the bowl as needed. Refrigerate the cakes for an hour, or until you need them. (The cakes can also be frozen for up to 2 months; see Storing.)

Storing: The cakes should be eaten cold, straight from the refrigerator, and preferably on the day that they’re made. However, you can freeze them: Freeze on a tray until solid, then wrap each one well and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. You can put them in the refrigerator for an hour to defrost, but I think they’re wonderfully delicious—like mini ice cream cakes—still frozen.

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