They’re tiny, oh-so-sophisticated, and utterly delicious: In other words, the perfect ending to a meal or a day of homage to mothers.
When I first made petit fours (the name comes from the French words for “small ovens”), what surprised me most was how easy they were to make. True, petit fours aren’t something that can be made in minutes. But the entire recipe is geared towards advanced preparation that can be assembled in stages. And those stages don’t even have to be done the same day. Even the very last decorations can be made ahead of time.
But although you can make them ahead of time, there’s a certain thrill in showing off your culinary knowledge and abilities. And if you have children who would like to play a part in creating something really special for their mom and/or grandmother, all but the smallest (say, under four years old, depending on the child – it pretty much depends on how much mess you’re willing for them to make) can help with drizzling the chocolate for the petit fours’ final decoration.
Petit fours are usually made with a base of sponge cake. That’s wonderful if they will be made and served the same day. But because most recipes for sponge cakes contain either little or no butter, or other fat/oil, they tend become dry very quickly.
That’s the reason why, when I make petit fours, I always fall back on my old standby: a yoghurt pound cake batter that’s amenable to longer storage.
To make the pound cake base:
• 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
• 2 c. sugar
• 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
• 1/2 tsp. baking soda
• 1 c. unsalted butter, softened
• 3 large eggs
• 1 c. plain yoghurt (whole milk preferred) or sour cream
• 1 tsp. vanilla
If you are going to split the cake so that you can put a filling between the layers, use a 9-inch square pan. If not, use a 9x13-inch pan.
Whichever cake and/or size you’ll use, bake it a day before you’ll be cutting it into individual pieces for making the petit fours. That way the cake will slice cleanly with minimal crumbs.
The 9-inch cake should be 1 1/2–2 inches thick and should be used if you want to fill the petit fours; use a 9x13-inch pan for petit fours without a filling.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. It is VERY important for all ingredients to be at room temperature. Grease and flour pan(s). Place all ingredients in the bowl of a mixer. Beat at lowest speed until ingredients are combined, then beat at medium high speed for 3 minutes.
For a 9-inch square pan OR 9x13-inch pan, bake 45-50 minutes. If using a sponge cake, bake according to its recipe. Regardless of which recipe you use, let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges, and flip the cake(s) over onto a cooling rack. Once it’s completely cooled, at this point the cake can be made a day or two, tightly wrapped. It could also be frozen at this point for a month or two. But even if you’ll be using it to make the petit fours the same day, be sure that it’s cooled completely before continuing.
To fill and cut the Petit fours:
• Seedless jam, such as red or black raspberry, optional
There are myriad other filling possibilites, including lemon curd and chocolate ganache, both available at illinoistimes.com. Even peanut butter, other nut butters such as cashew, or compound chocolate/nut spreads such as Nutella are wonderful. Just make sure that whatever you use is easily spreadable.
If you’re using jam that’s chunky, strain or purée it, then gently warm it to make it easier to spread. Spread a very thin layer of jam or other filling on the bottom layer, then place the top back on. Trim off any browned or irregular edges and cut into small pieces in whatever shape(s) you desire: triangles, rectangles, squares, diamonds, or use a small biscuit cutter to make circles. The pieces should be no more than 2 or 3 bites each. Extra bits of cake are wonderful, toasted lightly and crumbled as a topping for ice cream and/or fresh fruit.
To ice the Petit fours:
• 20 oz. best quality white chocolate, either chips or cut into small bits
• 1 c. heavy cream, preferably not ultra-pasteurized
• Food coloring, optional
To decorate the Petit fours:
• Best quality dark chocolate AND/OR milk chocolate AND/OR white chocolate, about 3/4 c. each of chips or chocolate that has been cut into bits
In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a boil; then remove from the heat. Whisk in the white chocolate, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth, add food coloring if desired, then set aside until it is just barely warm.
Set the little individual cakes on a cooling rack and then place the rack over a baking sheet. Spoon the chocolate mixture over the cakes, making sure that it flows down the sides. Most of the chocolate will end up on the baking sheet; that is fine.
When the chocolate mixture is all used up, place the rack with the cakes on it on another baking sheet. Remove any crumbs from the chocolate mixture on the first baking sheet, then spoon it over the cakes again, covering any places on the cakes that didn’t get covered the first time. If necessary, warm the chocolate mixture over very low heat just until it’s liquid enough to pour. Repeat until all the petit fours are evenly covered.
Place the 3/4 c. of dark, milk and/or white chocolate into small heavy “freezer” resealable plastic bags. You can use one, two or all three of the chocolates. Microwave individually on low or the defrost setting for a few minutes until the chocolate is melted. Snip the tip off one edge of the bag, making a very tiny hole. Squeeze a little of the chocolate out on a plate or piece of paper to test the size of the stream, then drizzle the chocolate over the petit fours, swinging your hand over the rack. Repeat with the other chocolates, if desired, either making the irregular stripes in the same direction or the opposite. Chill the petit fours at least an hour, or until the chocolate is set. They can be made a few days ahead, tightly covered and refrigerated.
The number of petit fours will depend on their size and shape, but the recipe should yield 18 – 24.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.