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Thursday, June 9, 2011
Or: Southern Petit Fours: An Illustrated Sort-of Recipe (with instructional video)
In Europe and elsewhere, all manner of small, elegant desserts are known as "Petit Fours." In the South, the term usually refers only to the category technically known as "petit four glaces," tiny cakes, glazed with soft cooked icing, and decorated with small, elegant icing designs. French for "Little Ovens", petit fours developed in 18th century Europe, as a means of taking advantage of the last, slow heat of coal ovens in the process of cooling down.
One of my inspirations for the Cake Shop was the Pat-a-Cake Bakery in Marietta, Georgia. I don't know if it still exists, but when I was little, Pat-a-Cake was where we sometimes would go to pick up rolls, cakes, or pies for special dinners. I don't remember it very clearly, but I remember that the place was very clean, and had wide, bright cases full of pastries. I remember the Folgers Coffee in the styrofoam cups for the grown-ups, and when we would go in and wait to get our order from the folks behind the counter, I could have a colorful petit four, a treat I relished.
I've often thought about Pat-a-Cake in creating the Cake Shop, in that I respected that it was not a cafe, but a special-order bakery. I liked the formality and deliberation of the arrangement of ordering a cake, much like arranging to get your shoes fixed, or picking up the dry cleaning, or getting your hair cut. I wanted to bring some of that formality into the Cake Shop, and the attention that can be paid to the cakes, and the customers, when you have that kind of arrangement. While trying to come up with a use for the tops we cut off of the cake layers to make them level, I remembered the petit fours at Pat-a-Cake, and decided to try my hand at using scraps of cake to make them.
While many recipes will point to sponge cakes as the base for petit fours, really they can be made with any combination of leftover cake, icing and filling, layered and sliced, and then coated with glaze.
To Make Petit Fours, I used the icing recipe from the beloved Southern Heritage Cakes Cookbook:
To begin, combine in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water:
6 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
food coloring and/or flavoring of your choice (optional)
Stir until mixture is very hot, melted, thin, smooth and glossy. Add water if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Leave it aside while you work on the cake:
Today I used some cake from a batch of Strawberry Cake that was accidentally made with some of the sugar missing- not our normal Strawberry Cake recipe, and therefore not sell-able as such, but still tasty and moist.
I spread macerated strawberries between the layers, sliced the cake into small squares, and then poured the hot icing over the little cakes, coating the top and sides. When the icing solidified, I scraped the petit fours off of the rack and onto a cupcake liner, and then decorated the top with different colors of cream cheese icing in an icing bag with a writing tip. (Candied or fresh flowers would be a worthy substitute to icing, too.)
Here's a demo:
Voila! Happy Eating. I think next time that I will make them a little smaller, but I like the rustic, irregular look of them too. And, yes, we will be selling these from time to time in the shop, and yes you can order them. Yay! Call us at the Cake Shop at 505.4822 to order. xo