There are some things I just don’t get. Like meringue. Is there anything more insipid than lemon meringue pie? I don’t think so. Which explains why I wasn’t exactly giddy when Liz suggested we stop in at this little pasteleria across from Parque Forestal in Barrio Lastarria known for their merenguitos which are basically whipped egg whites and sugar baked into a puffy cookie.
Oh but these merenguitos, made by hand by the owner of Pasteleria Robymar, Maria Luisa Barbieri, are amazing Liz insisted. “They’re like marshmallows on the inside but with a crisp crust and the whole thing has this nutty flavor.”
See, this is why I don’t do dessert. A crispy, nutty-tasting marshmallow cookie? Big deal. Just give me a really good piece of chocolate instead.
But we go in and I meet Maria who is tall and thin (obviously she doesn’t eat her own pasteries) and quite charming. She’s been making merenguitos and pino, or meat, empanadas here for 45 years she tells me and never grows tired of the work. “The young girls I hire to help me make merenguitos can’t keep up with me,” she says. “Maybe I’m almost 80 but it doesn’t matter. Me, personally, I think I’m aging backwards because I feel twenty.”
Maria offers me a merenguito and just to be polite I take a tiny little bite and…oh my god! It’s the best thing ever. What Maria does is spread the meringue on a very thin cookie wafer and then tops it with another cookie wafer spread lightly with lúcuma and manjar which is a bit like Nutella but better. Lúcuma is a subtropical fruit, usually grown in the cool highlands of Peru and Chile. It’s got an orange-yellow flesh, kind of like a mango, and a very unique flavor that is difficult to describe. You just have to taste it. In Chile you’re most likely to come across it in ice cream where it is a more popular flavor than vanilla or chocolate.
Chileans also like to mix lúcuma paste with manjar which is like dulce de leche. The combination of lúcuma and manjar to a Chilean is like peanut butter and jelly to Americans. And put it on top of Maria Luisa Barbieri’s merenguito and you’ve got yourself one kick-ass cookie. Which is why I bought six more. Which Liz and I finished before we even got back to her apartment in Bellas Artes.
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