The Wonderful World of Petit Fours

Many wonder what exactly a petit four is. Most imagine a cute little cake covered in fondant with a frosted flower, usually pink and on a small plate at a little girl’s tea party. But to those who know a little more than the average person would know that petit fours come in all shapes, colors and sizes. That they are not only served at tea parties, but they can be found after a large meal or buffet dinner. Petit fours are more common than one would think.

Petit fours are small one to two bite treats that many can love and enjoy. Though most wouldn’t think the meaning was literally “small oven”, Petit Four is translated from French. Petit fours were first made in the 18th century by placing them in an oven that was cooling down, because at the time, ovens didn’t have controls to adjust the temperature. By doing this, the heat of the coals would cook small individual treats, thus creating petit fours.

Did you know that people sometimes confuse merengue and meringue? They are far from being similar. Though one is a type of dance, the other is a sweet little treat that can be found inside or whipped into a cake or on its own. In the Loire region of France a slowly baked meringue is still called "pets" because of its light and fluffy texture. Some believe that meringue was invented in a little Swiss village of a similar name, Meiringen. If so, it is also believed that an Italian chef by the name of Gasparini improved the delicate treats. A meringue is very simple, but can easily be messed up. There are three types, French, Italian and Swiss. All using sugar and egg whites. But be careful when making Italian meringue, for one can easily be burned and scarred with the boiling sugar required to make it.

Madeleine for most is just a name, but in the wonderful world of baking, we have madeleine cake like cookies. The design is simple, it's a small sponge cake in the shape of a shell, the batter used to make the cake is génoise. Which is similar to a sponge cake, but it has a lighter flavor. The name of the treat is believed to be from Louis XV of France. It is said he named the treat after his father in-laws cook, Madeleine Paulmier.

Everyone has that delicious buttery craving every now and again. Next time that craving comes, one should sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy sables. Sables are small buttery cookies, the word translated to French means sand for its sandy like texture, but the treat itself is much more enjoyable. It is made with sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and of course, butter. In the 19th century, the hotel La Mere Poulard would call school children to visit and have a "little punishment". From this, Sables became widely popular.

As stated in the beginning, there are many types of Petit Fours. The first being Petit Four Sec, this category is made up of dry cookies. A few examples would be sables, baked meringues and macaroons. Another type is Petit Four Demi-Sec, which yes, is very similar to the first, but these dry cookies have a filling or a coating. An example being langue de chat. Petite Four Varies are easily explained to be mini éclairs, truffles and fruit tarts. Lastly we have Petit Four Glaces. These are the small cakes that you find covered in chocolate or an almost clear glaze called fondant glaze.

Petit fours and their tiny size are widely popular and loved. If one ever finds themselves at a tea party, buffet or a large dinner, be sure to pick up one of the many little treats. You will feel satisfied and that chance of not over filling yourself on dessert is highly unlikely. If ever bored, one can always look up a simple recipe and make them at home. Either way one comes across them, there is no passing up the opportunity to try one of the many treats.


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