I’ve never made petit fours before. Can you believe that?! Never. I’ve always had a small obsession with them, though. When I was a little girl, I read the American Girls series. In one of them, one of the girls attended a birthday party where petit fours were served and I was swept away! They just sounded so wonderful and whimsical! Tiny, beautifully frosted little cakes for everyone?! Who wouldn’t want those?!
I never got to try petit fours until I was much older, though, and I’m sort of glad about that. I was so disappointed the first time I tried one, that I was grateful my childish idea of them hadn’t been ruined when I was younger. They were dry, bland, and boring. And to be quite honest, they weren’t even that pretty. I think that put me off of making them all these years. Why bother putting so much time and effort into something so mediocre? Now that I’m older and know a lot more about baking, though, I knew I had to try them. I had to see if they could be everything I imagined when I was a girl.
They can be! Alright. Now. I’ve never lied to you…when I say something is easy, delicious, lovely, or awful, I’m telling you my honest opinion. I’m not going to lie to you today either…these are not the easiest, simplest, fastest things to make. But please don’t be deterred!! They are on the easier side. The components can mostly be made ahead of time and put together all at once, which helps, but don’t go into this thinking that they’ll be super fast and easy, because they won’t. They are something that certainly anyone can do, but I just want you to be aware of the amount of time they will require. They are easy, but they’re also time consuming.
That being said, they are totally worth it! This particular recipe is rich and chocolate-y with just the right amount of sweetness coming from the icing. The filling I used perfectly mellows the the richness of the chocolate and the sweetness of the icing. They are soft, moist, and flavorful. They are everything I dreamed about petit fours being when I was a little girl! And they are fun and easy to decorate! They’re a perfect special treat for Valentine’s Day….or any special day!
I wanted to keep everything about these as easy as possible, so I stuck with basic, but delicious, flavors. I made my petit fours with a basic chocolate sponge cake (recipe below), but you can make any flavor you like. A white or yellow cake work especially well, because they don’t show through the icing like chocolate does. Or you can make a chocolate icing…you just can’t add pretty colors.
Frost the remaining half with frosting or filling. I chose to keep it simple with a vanilla frosting that I could also top the cake with, but these are excellent with fruit or almond filling. Very gently lay the other half of the cake, top side down, on top of the first half. Try to center it as best as you can. Peel away the parchment on top and frost the cake with the frosting of your choice (I chose vanilla meringue buttercream, which is also my filling). Once the cake is frosted, I like to trim the edges so that all of the sides are neat and clean for cutting. To cut the petit fours, simply cut straight lines down the cake, about one to two inches apart (I like mine on the smaller side). Next, crosscut the cakes the same way to make small square petit fours. If you want to cut shaped petit fours, I recommend cookie cutters that are thick enough to get through all of the layers without damaging the frosting. They shouldn’t have handles, because once you cut the cakes, you will push your fingers on the bottoms, to push them out of the cutter.
I also made a few round cakes and several diamond shapes. To make the diamond shapes, cut the first set of lines as usual, but cut the second set at an angle. I covered my cakes in a very basic poured fondant icing (recipe below). I like this icing because it’s easy to make and easy to use. It also smooths out beautifully and tastes lovely, but it is a little on the thin side, so you will see chocolate and darker colors through it. It can also easily be made into a chocolate icing, which I’ve also included below.
To cover the petit fours, place the cakes on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet or parchment paper. Spoon the icing over the tops of the cakes, allowing it to run down the sides. Spoon more frosting onto the sides, as needed. Allow the excess icing to drip off of the cakes before gently moving them to a clean place on the rack. Add sprinkles while still wet, allow to set completely before piping any decorations. Once dry, they are ready to serve.
I kept my decorations fairly simple, with just sweet Valentine sprinkles, white nonpareils, and leftover frosting/filling for simple swirls and rosettes. I also sat each little cake into a mini cupcake paper to make them look even sweeter and giftable.
I even got a little fancy with a couple of the cakes and added pretty buttercream roses. Since the meringue buttercream is so mild, these roses don’t overpower the cakes. While petit fours are definitely not super fast treats, they are very fun and still quite easy to make. Since you can make the cake (and wrap it in plastic wrap) several days ahead of time, and you can pre-make most frostings (the meringue buttercream can be frozen for up to two weeks!), you don’t have to spend all day making these. I made both the cake and the frosting ahead of time. Then I assembled them and cut the petit fours on another day, and prepared the icing and made/decorated the petit fours on a third day. I recommend freezing the cake when not using it, to lock moisture in.
If you’re up for a fun Valentine project with the family, or want to make something extra special and extra sweet for your Valentine, these are definitely the way to go. They’re easy enough that kids can definitely help ice and decorate them, and lovely enough to impress everyone who is lucky enough to receive them! Plus, and this is the most important part, they taste great!! Everyone will love them! Enjoy!
Chocolate Petit Fours
with Vanilla Filling and Poured Fondant
Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch square petit fours
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
FOR THE CAKE
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
pinch of salt
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Filing and frosting are Vanilla Meringue Buttercream (half batch with full 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract added)
FOR THE ICING
6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (can be replaced with almond, lemon, or any other flavor you like)
Food coloring (optional)
To make the simple syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan set over medium high heat and bring to a boil (do not stir). Lightly boil for 5 minutes, occasionally swirling the pan to melt the sugar evenly. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you make the cake.
To make the cake: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 16 1/2- by 11 1/2-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper; set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine chocolate chips, butter, and water. Place in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and check to see if chocolate is shiny. If so, let sit for about 2 minutes then stir until smooth and glossy. If not, microwave for another 30 seconds. Allow to sit for 2 minutes, then stir until smooth and glossy; set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly add 3 tablespoons of the sugar and whisk the mixture on medium high until it is a lighter yellow and thickened, about 5 minutes. Gently stir the yolk mixture into the melted chocolate mixture. Thoroughly wash and dry the standing mixer bowl and whisk attachment.
In the now clean and dry standing mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium high until bubbly (like bubble bath). Add about 1 teaspoon of sugar and continue whisking until soft peaks form. Slowly add the remaining sugar and continue whisking on medium high until stiff peaks form.
Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Add the remaining egg whites and fold the mixture until there’s hardly any white streaks left. Sprinkle to flour mixture on top and quickly but gently fold the mixture together until combined.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 8-10 minutes. The cake may look lumpy or uneven, but it will flatten as it cools.
Once the cake is cool, brush the entire top with simple syrup.
To make the icing: Combine all the confectioners’ sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over low heat. Heat the mixture just until it reaches about 100 degrees, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and stir in the extract and any food coloring. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before using. *To make chocolate icing, add 3 ounces melted unsweetened baking chocolate to the mixture, just before stirring the vanilla in.
Use directions above to assemble petit fours.
Cake recipe adapted from Baking Illustrated, Icing recipe by Darla