I don't claim to know much – read: anything – about petit fours. In fact, I can count on one-half of one hand how many times I've tasted them in their truest, traditional sense. But the idea of petit fours has always intrigued me, mostly because I like small foods (and desserts in particular). Plus, I'm also attracted to the precision and attention to detail that petit fours demand (I'm a detail-oriented kind of gal). So it was with trepidation but a keen interest that I set out on my Sugar High Friday 24 (SHF24) journey, not quite sure where I would arrive in the end.
Given my limited experience, I was inclined to stick to the basics, though not sufficiently inclined to stick strictly with almond cakes and glazes. I chose a plain sponge cake with a small crumb which, from what I'd read on the subject, seemed like a good start. To keep myself from completely falling asleep at my lack of creativity, I substituted maple flavouring for the vanilla extract. So far so good. The first sign of trouble came when I decided to half the cake recipe because, as I reasoned, how many petit fours do two people and a few friends really want to eat anyways? After humming and hawing for a good while, I opted to use an 8-inch square pan. Looking back, a 9-inch x 13-inch baking pan would have been a much better choice, but I convinced myself that extra tall cakes would really help my petit fours to stand out. And stand out did they ever.
The recommended baking time came and went and I went through a few rounds of "5 more minutes", followed by a reduction in the oven temperature, followed by a few more rounds of "5 more minutes". By the time the cake was finally cooked in the middle, the sides were dark brown and dry and the centre of the cake had cracked open (probably from being prodded and poked every 5 minutes). Off to the cooling rack she went.
Now a sane individual may have cut their losses and stopped here. But no, not I. Instead, the next day after work, I arrived home, immediately switched out of work clothes and into baking gear (yes, I have baking gear) and began making the pouring fondant. Somehow, in my mind, pouring fondant seemed much easier to deal with than traditional rolling fondant.
The fondant was a cheat-style recipe, but by this point I was caring less and less about authenticity and more and more about finishing. I boiled the ingredients to the appropriate temperature, cooled it partially and then beat it until the thin clear liquid miraculously transformed into a much thicker opaque coating. Pouring fondant is so easy, I thought to myself.
Easy to make maybe, but not so easy to pour.
I took out my leaning towers of cake and spaced them apart on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. By this time, my easy peasy fondant had thickened considerably more and was approaching an unpourable state. Time was of the essence. I began pouring, from this direction and that, using a spoon and then a measuring cup. When my pouring fondant supply was depleted, I stepped back to survey the damage. The result: a few maple cakes with a bit of maple pouring fondant covering their tops and running down their sides; a lot of cakes with next to no fondant coverage whatsoever; and a large pool of fondant in the baking sheet below. I carefully placed pecan halves on the tops of the approximately 8 cakes with sufficient fondant to hold the nuts in place, moved these to a separate plate for safe-keeping, and then proceeded to consume a few (or more) pieces of cake dipped directly into the vast quantity of unused fondant. Wouldn't want it to go to waste.
And that, my friends, is the sad story of the Casual Baker's petit fours.
Disaster aside, I think it's about time I got back into the baking saddle.