Bad Day Blues…
This is a perfect day. It is raining and my umbrella is broken, last night I hung out and have piles of back work today, and my favorite tea pot is broken. If only everyone followed my lead, they
d see the truth in todays wonderfulness. Because today is magical and special. Because today I can be called a real chef. Because today I made petit fours. And when there are petit fours, any problems seem even smaller.
Now, “What is a petit four?” you may ask. First, I will cry that you have been so deprived of everything good and lovely in this world. Some people may say that there are other good and lovely things out there, but I know, and you soon will know, that this is a blatant lie. World peace and sunrises could never compare to these bits of culinary perfection.
Okay, so I am lying. But these things are pretty special.
They are just so cute and perfect! I found some fabulous suggestions for buying at dcurbanmom.com, and I
m a particular fan of the suggestion to run into Georgetown and grab a dozen from Patisseri Poupon. I happen to be a huge fan of Georgetown, and not because they have <a href="http://www.georgetowncupcake.com/">famous cupcakes</a>!I love this end of town for the colors, the energy, the love of life. Maybe its the huge castle looming in the distance (Georgetown University), but this part of town has its own magic. But then, I think the whole D.C. area could give the world of Harry Potter a run for its galleons in the magic department :) You really need to see this whole city before you decide its a bunch of stodgy old politicians and boring stuffed suits!
Petit Fours in History
I found this little experimental gluten free petit fours over at AbbieLiving, and I have to say I was pretty inspired. I
ve got to say the last few years have left quite a few sore spots in my repetoire of baked goods, mainly because I was never good at it in the first place and the changes gluten free brought to the recipes made it really difficult to trust my ability to bake at all. Cooking, yes. Cooking is an art, and I am able to create wonderful dishes effortlessly and with hardly any glances at recipes. I do freestyle, baby. But baking? Sounds difficult. But really, Ive actually managed to make some of my own! I won`t spoil the surprise by putting everything into one super post, but details are on the way :)
What is a petit four? Originally crafted by master French bakers wanting to make use of the heat of an oven right after using it to bake some larger items, and now it is a treasured luxury in its own right! Way back when, all the fancy or cute things in the world were made by the French. Japan may be leading the way in usurping that title, but that is still how things used to work. Petit four literally means small oven in French, and just about every small baked item falls under the banner. Macaroons, macarons (they are hugely different things!) lady fingers, cake pops… they are technically all petit fours. But that
s not really how we use the term anymore. In America, petit four generally refers to a really small and cutely decorated cake. It could be a tiny square or look like a bon bon. They really could be just about any shape, flavor, or style. But, if you are going to limit a petit four to a stereotype, it is a 1” x 1” x 1” square piece of almond cake, soaked in brandy and filled and covered in fondant. These little frosted beauties are called ‘glace’, whereas their awkward and weirdly popular sister, the unfrosted variety, is called ‘sec’. Do you think youll prefer sec? I’ll make you a deal. I make what I like, and you make something else on your own time. I
m very generous like that. If I werent generous, I
d say you are insane for wanting the wrong variety of petit fours and kick you out the door. But like I said, Im too nice for that!
Why Make Petit Fours?
The eating of these magical little spots of culinary perfection is not difficult. You pop one in your mouth, chew, and fall to pieces in a world of bliss. It is making these bits of perfection that is difficult. But it doesn`t have to be! With my direction, your innate genius, and our total lack of experience, we can easily master the art form.
Why do I think we can do it? Because the fancy boutique on the corner has been lying to you. They and theirs have been lying to you for centuries. Seriously, they rip you off for 12 for $49.95?!? (last time I looked it up) I can do it easily and way more cheaply. Plus, mine are better than their
s are. I have gluten free version, and they have a hot accent. (movie reference to <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107977/">Robin Hood Men In tights</a>. Love Mel Brooks work!) Na-ni-na-ni boo boo!
Because honestly, this is simple stuff. You bake, cut, glue, and cover. The end. A little bit of decoration from there is optional. Just something so cute and small is already decoration enough if you are in a hurry for perfection!
It Just Takes a Few Steps
No really, that is all you have to do. A petit four takes only a few simple steps:
- Bake a cake. That is what a petite four really is. A small cake. So you really can`t make this step optional. Unless you make Uncle Jim bake it for you. He really should help out, since he`s eaten everything you`ve made in the past, before you even got to see the finished result. Remember when he scarfed down your brownie batter? He totally owes you step one. There are special petit four molds you could pour the batter into, but I don`t think it`s worth the expense when you just have to cut up a full sized cake for the same result.
- Cut the cake into squares. Probably 1” x 1”, but you can do whatever would fit your artistic vision. I won`t judge. While you`re at it, cut it in half width wise. Or make sure step one is on a diet and you get two skinny cakes. Besides, if your cakes are on a diet, you must be. It makes perfectly logical sense.
- Make a filling. Slather it on one layer, and attach the top skinny or cut down piece. Or a whole piece if you want a really tall one. I promise I won`t send it on the grapevine. Unless you are calling a 7 foot cake a petit four. I`d probably spread that, because it`s uniquely quirky. Call it a compliment if that helps you sleep at night.
- Clothe your cake. Petit fours don`t like being naked. Even though yours went on a diet, they are still very self conscious, so give them a break and break out the marzipan, fondant, or glaze.
- Decorate! This is actually optional. Unless you are the artistic type, and saying decoration is optional is sacrilege to you, and therefore you wrote it as a step in this book. Hmm. Well, since it seems I`m that person, then decoration is never optional! (Unless it`s really super late at night, in which case why are you baking when you should be sleeping?!?)
m still really mean to my little slices of heaven. I have standards for them. No, I mean it. I literally have a laundry list of what expectations these poor, innocent little gems must live up to. Because if they dont, I
ll feed them to Uncle Jim. All good desserts are scared of him you know. He is the baked goods version of the bogyman. I mean, have you seen how he attacks his food? I
d be scared if I werent human. Heck, I was scared when I was little and he stole my dinner when I went to the bathroom. It left scars on my delicate psyche. Anyways, here
s my super list of petit four perfection: (Did you see my alliteration there? I am so clever!)s really my first qualification, that they are what they say they are.
<h3 style="text-align:center;"><span style="color:#ffcc00;">Elements of The Petit Fours: Why are Mine Different?</span></h3>
<li>I want petit fours. That
t be hard today (since Im making them right now) but I want to see if they can freeze well, and how long they will taste fresh.
m cool with natural sweeteners besides cane sugar), dairy free.</li>m picky like that. I know a lot of people aren
<li>I want them to be safe for me to eat more than once a week, or more than one a day once a week: with some fiber and protein should do the trick as far as blood sugar goes.</li>
<li>I want them to taste really good. I
t, or Pop Tarts, Twinkies, and McDonalds would be out of business.
m okay if the petit fours hurts his stomach. Im not cruel though. I won
t make any chocolate ones today! (Seriously, though, I wouldnt feed any animal human food, as it is downright unhealthy, if not toxic, for them. And I kind of lied, there is no Sparky. I just like dramatic effect like that!)
The real question here is “who would dare question my Yoda quote?” No one, especially no dumb petit fours. If they do, I
ll feed them to the fishes/ Garfield/ Uncle Jim. Any vulture will do. Im an equal opportunity perfectionist and imperfect food getter rid-er of. (Beautiful spelling, no?) I
ll show them whos the boss!
Another big qualification is that I want to have a lot! (Now, don
t make any jokes about this line, or Ill feed you to the vultures too!)
What are some amazing ideas I have for petit fours? Well, here is a basic list to get you brainstorming until you are well on your way to becoming an expert in your own right. This list correlates with my how to list. (That can be found roughly on page one.)
- Sponge like cake is easiest, and traditional:
- carrot cake,
- spice cake
*I know there are more fish in the sea besides spongy cakes, (photo @ SotongCooks) and I believe in your ability to find every one! Branch out and try something new and different. But please no tuna casserole cake. Save that for days when Sparky has wormed his way into your heart and looks deserving of super cute doggie petit fours. And you should probably save your creativity for your second batch of petit fours. You know what they say, “
Sperience before Spice.” Or “Experience before experiments.” But you know me, I like how ‘sperience sounds better! Main idea is, usually it is best to learn the right way of doing things before experimenting. Otherwise, you just learn the thing wrong instead of actually creating a purposefully different experimental product!s awesome steampunk themed cupcakes!). Or even starbursts or other chewy fruit candies. Caramels may work too. But that sounds like a lot of work for something that may not look perfect, so you should probably keep that for your experimental phase of your baking life. But hey, if you are up for it, I say go for it!
<li>Attach the two layers with a ‘glue’
This is what keeps the two layers together. You know what they say, “Those that stick together, stay together!”
<li>Cover to keep it moist
<li>Any fruit flavor would taste good, but how about mango? Or peach! I love peach!</li>
I know some creative souls that have tried ironing out the fruity or chocolate tootsie rolls and using them as an outer casing or for modeling cool things (like Bakingdom
- Decorations are also hugely important
- Flowers to make the top pretty!
- Modeling chocolate
- Gum paste
- Flowers to make the top pretty!
- A carrot for carrot cake
- made with cream cheese frosting in a tutorial at MyLitter`s site.
- Or almond ‘cream cheese’?
- A Bow of modeling chocolate
- Frosting or gel dye to make cute patterns on your petit fours, with or without other decorations.
So, now you have ideas. You have a vision. You are ready and rearing to dig in and get started, and thanks to moi you know the place to start is to make the cake. But you are not yet ready young padawon. You do not know how to make the cake.
Gluten Free is Very Differently Compared to the Wheaty Variety
“Nonsense!” you cry. “I have been making cakes for years beyond count!” This is sort of true. You have made cakes. But have you made gluten free cakes? Ha ha! I have corrected you! (And we all took the correction nicely and in the spirit of good fun, yes? Right? Anybody!?!)
Gluten free cakes are a different creature than their wheaty siblings. They aren
t self shaping, and they dont automatically go poof. They are not fussy, quite the contrary. They will do, and only do, exactly what you tell them to. So if you do not tell them to have a flat top by smoothing the batter before you stick in the oven, it won
t be smooth. If you dont specify that it rise by adding xantham gum or some other rising agent, it will be solid and dense. It is so obedient as to be really frustrating if you are not a gluten free whisperer like myself. But I can help you out. I just did. I put all the necessary rising agents in the ingredients, and I warned you about smoothing the batter. Any mistakes will be your fault. You`ve been warned.
Not to give you a complete cliff hanger, which I kind of just did, but I
m going to leave you with that. I guess it does seem like I sort of technically covered everything already, but Im going to put up a step by step picture tutorial. It will be amazing. I thought I
d get you interested in that by putting a taste of whats to come here. Devious of me, as always :)