Petit fours are dainty, fancy nibbles that can be eaten in one or two bites and are served as desserts, appetizers or at an elegant tea. The name petit four is French, literally translating to “small oven.” Although the term is used to describe any number of miniature treats from macaroons, pastries, savory or sweet tarts, the most common petit four is a square little cake draped in a smooth, glossy icing or glaze and accented with a beautiful little decoration. Traditional petit fours can be glazed, dry, cream filled or savory.
Petit fours were first created in the 18th century in France when bakers would make cakes and breads in large coal ovens as they were cooling down. This setting was known as “petit four” and the name came to encompass small delicacies. There is a variety of petit fours; "glace" or glazed is a covered piece of cake; "sec" refers to cookies that are dry or unfilled confections; "frais" are mini versions of popular pastries like eclairs; and "sale" are savory bites. Glace and sec are commonly served at high teas, along with coffee, or as fancy desserts. Salted or sale petit fours are served as starters or hors d’oeuvre alongside cocktails, wine or liqueurs.
Bite-sized pieces of sponge or pound cake are used to create glazed petit fours. The cake is thinly sliced and then cream, fruit preserves or chocolate are spread onto the layers and sandwiched together. The little cake is topped with a layer of marzipan, or almond paste. This layer adds flavor as well as a smooth top surface that can then be covered. The cakes can be dipped in icing, covered in fondant or glaze can be poured over them. The little cakes can be decorated with edible flowers, small marzipan decor or drizzled with rich melted chocolate.
Sec and Frais
Petit fours sec are cookies or biscuits with a crisp and dry texture. They are made from rolled dough like shortbread or gingerbread. The Parisian macaroon is an example of a sec or dry petit fours. These are cookies make of egg whites and ground almonds that are crisp on the outside with a softer interior. They are characterized by two cookies sandwiched together with a delicate filling in between. Other sec delicacies include mini meringues, crisp cookies made from egg whites, tiny Madeleine cookies and delicate ladyfingers. Petit fours frais are mini versions of delicate pastries. These include luscious cream puffs, chocolaty eclairs and custard-filled fruit tarts topped with whipped cream.
Sale or salted are savory bite-sized appetizers more contemporary than the original petit fours, although no less delicious. Tiny tartlets made with cheese and vegetables, small savory pies filled with salmon or shrimp or herb-filled aromatic pancakes are examples of sale petit fours. These can be "amuses buoche," or taste teasers enjoyed before a meal, eaten as a first course or served as cocktail snacks.
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