When the shop first opened, it instantly became a fad. I was intrigued how meringue covered in whipped cream – in a country where meringue and double cream are a national dessert and available at every corner – could draw such long lines until I had my first bite.
It felt like I was eating a cloud and I needed to know how to make them at home.
Merveilleux – which means marvelous or wonderful in French – consists of two small meringue discs sandwiched together with whipped cream, coated in more cream, and rolled in chocolate shavings. A candied cherry sometimes decorates the pastry.
They can look rather large, but they are feather-light in reality – with a slight meringue crunch before completely melting in your mouth. Merveilleux can be made as individual pastries or as a cake.
This dessert originated in Walloon, Belgium. It has been popularized throughout Europe in the last twenty years by several pastry chefs, who moved away from the classic whipped cream and chocolate coating version to a wider range of flavor variations. Merveilleux now are available in coffee, double chocolate, cherry, speculoos, praline, coconut, white chocolate and many other flavors.
French pastry chef Frédéric Vaucamps in particular has made merveilleux mainstream with his string of merveilleux-based pastry shops, Aux Merveilleux de Fred, which first opened in Lille in 1997 and now operate in multiple countries.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred shops have an open floor plan, allowing customers to watch the pastry chefs at work, and the merveilleux varieties are named after French fashion trends of the late 18th century.
Making merveilleux at home is fairly easy (and much cheaper than buying them!). I researched, compared recipes and then developed this version. I hope you love them as much as I do.
Here are step by step instructions:
Measure out your ingredients or mise en place, the French culinary phrase which means putting everything in its place. This will ensure a smoother and faster process.
Make a French meringue by whipping egg whites, cream of tartar and salt to the beginning stages of soft peaks (they barely hold their shape) and then adding sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and vanilla until glossy, stiff peaks (they stand straight up).
Meringue is egg whites whipped with sugar. There are three types of meringue: French, Swiss, and Italian. The distinction depends on how the key ingredients — egg whites and sugar — are combined and whether any heat is involved in the process. French meringue is the simplest and lightest but the least stable. For this type of meringue, egg whites are whipped and sugar is gradually added a spoon at a time until fully incorporated. French meringue typically is spooned or piped into cookies and baked low and slow to become crisp yet airy. This is what we want for this recipe.
Transfer the meringue mixture to a large piping bag fitted with a star tip (I used Ateco star tip # 806).
If you are using a disposable pastry bag, first cut the tip off the bag and then place the star tip inside. Place the pastry bag inside a tall measuring or drinking cup, folding the bag down so it leaves a wider opening for the mixture to be placed inside. Using a spatula, scoop up the meringue and transfer it to the bag, using the edge of the cup to scrape the mixture off of the spatula. Once all the mixture has been transferred, take the pastry bag out of the cup, straighten the bag, and twist the top to be sure that the mixture doesn’t seep out the back when squeezing.
Pipe about 40 small spirals / rosettes, about 3.8cm/1.5in in diameter, onto the lined baking sheets.
Bake for 1 hour or until the meringues are crisp and dry. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. When they are completely cool, unpeel the meringues from the parchment paper and set aside.
To make the chocolate shavings to cover the merveilleux, scrape a refrigerated chocolate bar (I used 65% cacao) with a large knife. Place the bar on the kitchen counter, tightly against you so that it is well secured. Holding the knife straight, scrape the surface of the bar with the blade. Place the chocolate shavings in a shallow dish or bowl to facilitate the rolling of the meringue sandwiches later in the process. (Alternatively, you can use a vegetable peeler or cheese grater instead of a knife.)
While chocolate is the traditional topping for this pastry, you can also use white chocolate chips, ground meringue cookies, crumbled speculoos / graham crackers, crushed pralines or nuts, etc. I topped half of my merveilleux with chocolate shavings (100 grams/3.5 ounces) and the other half with finely ground candied pecans (100 grams/3.5 ounces or ¾ cup).
Next whip cold heavy cream (buy the cream with the highest fat content), mascarpone, sugar, and vanilla together until stiff peaks form. Mascarpone helps firm up and stabilize the whipped cream; you can use crème frâiche instead - when I was researching, some other recipes called for this ingredient. Do not overwhip or your cream will begin to separate. Refrigerate the coating/filling until ready to use.
Merveilleux are a little tricky to assembly so it is critical to have an organized workstation and to work quickly. If your kitchen runs warm, the coating/filling will be difficult to use. You may need to refrigerate it periodically while assembling the pastries.
When the meringues, chocolate shards and coating/filling are ready you can begin assembling the pastries.
Take 2 small meringue discs and dollop a small spoon of cream on top of one and sandwich with the other meringue (face down). Using a spoon or offset spatula, spread an even layer of cream on the outside and the top of the sandwiched meringues to cover them all over but do not coat the bottom with cream. The thick cream helps keep the meringue discs crunchy by not soaking into the cookies quite so much.
Place the cream covered meringues in a parchment lined baking dish and then in the freezer for a few minutes, before rolling them in the chocolate shavings. Please do not skip this step as it will be very difficult to roll softened/room temperature cream in the chocolate (or other topping).
Take the merveilleux out of the freezer. While holding each chilled merveilleux between your thumb and index finger, roll the top and sides (avoid coating the bottom) in chocolate shards or topping of choice. They don’t need to look perfect – in fact, they look a bit messy with chocolate shards all over. The final pastry measures about 5cm/2in in size – with the cream.
Place merveilleux in cupcake liners and then onto a serving plate. Chill them for 15 minutes before serving. They are bit messy to eat so you’ll need a plate and a fork. The meringue softens over time so they are best eaten quickly!
Preparation time 2½ hours (including decorating time)
Bake time 60 minutes (plus cooling time)
Makes 20 pastries
For meringue discs
120 grams (about 4) egg whites
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
150 grams (1¼ cup) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For whipped cream coating/filling
600 grams (2½ cup) cold heavy cream
60 grams (½ cup) confections’ sugar
75 grams (2.6 ounces) mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200 grams (7 ounces) chocolate shavings or other topping – see note below about making your own chocolate shavings.
Preheat oven to 120C (250F) and place the rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Do not grease the parchment paper.
Measure your ingredients.
In a large bowl, place egg whites, cream of tartar and salt and whip on low speed until the beginning stages of soft peaks. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar. Whip for a couple of minutes and then slowly pour in the vanilla. Increase the speed to high and whip until glossy, stiff peaks form.
Transfer the mixture to a large piping bag fitted with a large star tip (I used Ateco star tip # 806).
Pipe about 40 small rosettes to form rows of meringue circles, about 3.8cm/1.5in in diameter, onto the lined baking sheets, making sure that they are sufficiently spaced apart.
Bake for 1 hour or until the meringue rosettes are crisp and dry. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. Once cool, unpeel all the meringues from the parchment paper and set aside. The meringue can be made several days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
When ready to assemble, make the filling/coating. Whip cold heavy cream, mascarpone, sugar, and vanilla together until stiff peaks form.
Working quickly, take 2 meringue discs and dollop cream on top of one and sandwich with the other meringue (face down). Repeat with the remaining meringue discs.
Using a spoon or offset spatula, spread an even layer of cream on the outside and the top of the sandwiched meringues to cover them all over but do not coat the bottom with cream. Merveilleux are a little tricky to assembly as they are very delicate. If your kitchen is too warm, the cream will be difficult to use; you may need to refrigerate the cream periodically while assembling the pastries.
Place cream covered meringues on a parchment lined baking dish and in the freezer for a few minutes before rolling them in the chocolate shavings or other topping. Do not skip his step.
Holding each chilled merveilleux between your thumb and index finger, roll the top and sides (avoid coating the bottom) in chocolate shards or other topping.
Place merveilleux in cupcake liners and onto a serving plate, and chill for 15 minutes before serving.
Traditionally merveilleux are eaten within an hour or two of assembling, while the meringue is still crisp. Although the meringue becomes softened by the cream over time, they are still delicious the next day. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Note: To make your own chocolate shavings, refrigerate a chocolate bar (I used one with 65% cacao) for 15 minutes and then use a cheese grater or vegetable peeler to grate the chocolate. Alternatively, scrape a chocolate bar with a large knife as per the directions included in the post above.