Cake Week · Season 2

Petit Fours: A Duet in 3 Parts

CUE THE MUSIC!

We’ve been having a heat waaaaaave…a tropical heat waaaaaaaave…

OK, not a tropical heat wave…just a regular one.  The thing is, most people living in the upper left corner don’t have air conditioning in their homes, so baking when it’s already 90 degrees in the kitchen makes you tired before you even get the butter out of the fridge.  The middle of the day seemed OK, after the humidity dropped a bit (and I was no longer dripping sweat down my scalp).

The challenge this week is to make two kinds–a DUET, if you will–of Petit Fours; one cake-based, one cookie-based.  After that, you can use any design or flavors you want.  Given that it’s FRUIT season in the PNW, I thought maybe I could incorporate some kind of fruit into one of the varieties.  The other variety, I wanted to try to make meringue cookies and incorporate that into the dessert somehow.  My son loves those things and I haven’t been able to find them at the store for a while now.  But I know how to make meringue and the cookie part is just baking it at a low temperature for a long while.  Easy!

After Googling around for a while, I came to the decision to make something Black Forest…chocolate and cherry.  I picked up some dark cherries at the store a few days ago and they’ve been sitting in the fridge long enough to allow the family to scarf them up, but they haven’t…so in they go!  Cleaned, pitted, diced.

I found the recipe for the chocolate cake here, which mixed up super quickly and easily.  I baked it in the 9 x 11 Swiss roll pan, sprayed with oil and lined with parchment paper.  I then took those fresh dark cherries and mixed that into the batter before cooking.  It seems that I may have underbaked it because it was big and poofy when it came out of the oven, then collapsed while cooling.  Disappointing.

I removed the cake from the pan, peeled the paper off the bottom after it cooled, then cut the cake into 24 equal size pieces.

The icing recipe attached to the cake recipe what was I used–also really good–and tried to spread it on each cake piece.  They cakes were coming apart and the icing was uneven.  Maybe I should have iced the whole thing first, then cut it?  I put the rest of the icing into a piping bag and tried to do little swirly cones on top.  Well, they ended up looking like poop emojis.  Sigh.  It was hot.  The humidity was cranking up.  I was tired.  I just put poops on the rest of the cakes.

Besides the quart of strawberries that I picked from the garden the other day, I took some more of the cherries that I had already pitted and simmered them in a little bit of water, added some sugar (maybe 1/2 cup for a cup of cherries) and a couple spoonfuls of pectin, just to thicken it a bit.  I let it simmer for 10-15 minutes and then let it cool.  (Then I had to leave to go pick up my daughter at a birthday party, which ends up being about a 45 minute round trip.)

I spooned a bit of the cooled jam onto a plate and put a slice of cake on top.  I ate it.  Then I ate another.  Boy, these are good!

Before I went to bed, I ate a third.  I’m not proud of this.

A brief note on time…is not part of this challenge.  I’m not going to keep myself to the 2 hour limit to make the various items.  I don’t have that kind of rhythm in my life.  I’m also learning on the way, so I need extra time for research, digging around for recipes or tools, I don’t have a week to practice this at home before my “official” attempt, and having to stop and go to the store to get buttermilk or something….or just drop everything to pick kids up at school or take them to sports practices.  That’s how things go around here, and I’m not going to add the extra pressure of baking within the time constraints outlined by the show–because they’re in a competition, and I’m doing a challenge.

The second part of the Petit Four challenge is to make a biscuit (cookie) based variety.  My favorite cookie base for something like this has got to be shortbread.  It’s a firm cookie that can be baked as a sheet, then cut apart for individual portions.  It’s easy as it gets with only 4 ingredients.  It isn’t overpoweringly flavorful (unless you add additional flavors), so you can pair it with so many other flavors and it goes well.  I knew that’s where I wanted to start.

Again, Googling around, I found someone had made one that they called “S’mores Petit Fours“, and it’s described as an American dessert, but all the measurements are in metric units and the text sounds somewhat European.  Reading her “About me”, she’s an American ex-pat living in Germany and working as a pastry chef, so it appears that she’s not only a skilled baker, but an American living overseas (and her language skills may have had some foreign influence in terms of word usage and cadence…it happens).  Except for her use of it’s instead of its, she actually has some good writing skills!  But let’s not get too nit-picky…  However, calling it “s’mores” is a bit of a stretch–there’s no graham cracker crust (or graham flour, for that matter) and the “marshmallow” is actually a meringue cookie, which does have a little bit of the look and taste of a marshmallow, but nowhere near the consistency.

Her recipe for the shortbread is a pared-down version of her restaurant measurements, but I find that adding egg is completely unnecessary.  She even says so in her comments below.  She also mentions something about using a baking frame, which I think is an adjustable Swiss roll pan, but doesn’t give the measurements that she used, and her quantities (125 g butter) seems like a small batch (the one I used was closer to 440 g).  To go with “American” measurements,  I found a simple Allrecipes version of shortbread that works great.  Super simple:

2 cups (4 sticks) butter

1 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla

4 cups flour

This is the perfect amount to put into a 9 x 13 Swiss roll pan.  Spray and line with parchment, like usual.  [I would suggest making the parchment longer and wider than the pan and snipping the corners so it sticks up the sides a bit for easier removal.]  I dropped blobs of the cookie dough around the pan to aid even distribution, and pressed it gently with my hands.

I then gently rolled out with my hand-held roller tool (yes, it’s Pampered Chef…it’s quite useful for this purpose).

Bake for 10-12 minutes (or a bit more…I think mine was in for 15 minutes, but I forgot to set the timer at first).

Then make the ganache.  Put heavy cream and butter in a pan and heat to “boil”, which is actually just before it boils–when it starts to bubble around the edges of the pan, it’s ready.  Pour it over the chocolate and stir.  Then pour the chocolate over the cooled shortbread and enjoy the mirror finish!  You can almost see how much dust is in the pot rack above!  Put it in the fridge to chill.

Now if you didn’t follow my suggestion with the parchment paper, the trickiest part now is how to get it out of the pan.  I think this is where that “adjustable” pan would be useful; like a springform pan, you can remove the sides and cut them into squares.

So while you’re thinking about that, make the meringue cookies. I used a rather large recipe, so I might try using a smaller one next time.  The one I used was 4 egg whites, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1/8 tsp salt, and a cup of sugar.  You can also add flavoring at the end, like vanilla or mint, but I forgot.  They still tasted great though!

Getting the floofy egg mixture into the small piping bags I’ve got is a HUGE pain in the butt.  I tried a gallon size food storage bag (not a ziplock) but the plastic was too thin and flimsy.  I think I need to get bigger piping bags.

I piped a bunch of 1″ blobs onto parchment paper on 3 pans and put them into both ovens, set at 225 degrees, for an hour, then turned off the ovens and let it sit for another hour.  Here’s what I learned…the top oven, being a shallow space, browned the meringues slightly and made them really brittle.  The lower oven, a standard size, cooked them perfectly on both shelves, although they were offset (one to the left size, one to the right side, on different shelves).  I think I ended up with 50 cookies and threw away about 1/3 of the mixture when I ran out of pans and oven space.

Assemble and serve…

They are DECADENT…

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