Petits fours are the quintessential final flourish with which to round off an elegant dinner party but also make a superb gift for special occasions or even as part of an afternoon tea.
Cheryl Wakerhauser of the Pix Patisserie fame has put together a fabulous collection of recipes for petits fours, bon bons, macarons and other whimsical bite-sized treats in her new book: Petite Patisserie. With lots of bold flavors and patisserie ingenuity, its guaranteed to capture the imagination of those wishing to flex their baking muscle and take their pastry skills to a new level.
This week Cheryl shares with us the recipe for her scrumptious “Budapest” petits fours:
This is a take on the dobos torte (also known as dobosh) that originated in Hungary. There are many iterations of this torte, but one thing they all have in common is many thin layers of cake and buttercream. For me, there is something very satisfying about getting the layers perfectly straight and then cutting them into perfect cubes. This version showcases hazelnut and milk chocolate. When served at room temperature, the buttercream melts in the mouth. Don’t be afraid of eating that hazelnut skin décor; it adds a pop of bitterness to contrast the sweet cream.
For this recipe you will need a digital thermometer (a candy thermometer that is accurate will also work) and 24 toothpicks. We used a 1.5-centimeter (0.6-in) petal tip to pipe the buttercream on the top, but you can use any type of tip you like. Make sure your sheet pan used for baking the cake is very flat and not warped at all.
Yield: 24 petits fours
Petits Fours Recipe
- 100 g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 125 g granulated sugar
- 100 g eggs
- 15 g egg yolks
- 100 g pastry flour
- 80 g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 80 g heavy cream
- 50 g whole hazelnuts
- 200 g milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 65 g unsweetened hazelnut paste
- 170g granulated sugar (#1)
- 60g water
- 68g egg white
- 55g granulated sugar (#2)
- 225g unsalted butter at room temperature
- 120 g unsweetened hazelnut paste
FOR THE ASSEMBLY
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- 130 g marzipan
Petits Four Recipe: Method
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a very flat half sheet pan with a silicone baking mat and then place a second pan underneath.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and egg yolks and mix on high speed until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Sift the flour into the bowl and fold it in by hand. Spread the stiff batter in a thin layer as evenly as possible onto the baking mat.
Bake the cake for 5 minutes, or until you see many bubbles start to rise on the surface. Remove the pans from the oven and tap the top pan on the counter to try to pop some of the bubbles. Return the pans to the oven and bake just until the top of the cake is set and not sticky when you touch the surface, about 4 minutes. We do not want any browning on the cake. Check the cake often during the final minutes of baking. If it is overbaked the layers will be hard and crisp, not soft and pliable. After baking, cut around the edges of the cake to break it away from the sides of the pan, but do not remove it from the pan. Allow the cake to cool completely, and then place it in the freezer for easier handling.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar #1 and the water and stir. Dip a pastry brush in a glass of water and then use it to wipe down any sugar crystals sticking to the insides of the pan above the water. Place a thermometer in the pan and turn on the heat to medium. Carefully watch the temperature. You will cook the sugar to a range of 245 to 250°F (118 to 121°C).
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When the sugar reaches 221°F (105°C), start whisking the egg whites on high speed. When they are foamy, add sugar #2 and keep whisking. Now your goal is to bring the egg whites just to stiff peaks at the same time the sugar syrup reaches its temperature range. The most important thing to keep in mind is to not over-cook the sugar (it will be too hard to incorporate) or to over-whisk the egg whites (the meringue will collapse). Err on the lower end, if necessary. To help sync the timing, you can always raise or lower your heat (or turn it off completely!) and raise or lower the speed at which you are whisking the eggs.
When your syrup reaches 245 to 250°F (118 to 121°C) and the egg whites are at stiff peaks, turn the mixer speed to low. Slowly pour the syrup down the side of the mixing bowl and into the meringue, being careful not to pour it on the whisk. Once all the syrup is in, increase the speed to medium and continue to whisk until the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm when you touch it, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the room-temperature butter and hazelnut paste and whisk on medium speed to combine, about 30 seconds. Reserve at room temperature.
(WAIT TO PREPARE UNTIL TOLD TO DO SO IN THE ASSEMBLY)
In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave on medium-low, stirring often. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Add the cream to the melted chocolate in two stages, whisking until smooth after each addition. Use immediately (see Assembly).
(WAIT TO PREPARE UNTIL TOLD TO DO SO IN THE ASSEMBLY)
Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
Place the hazelnuts on a half sheet pan and toast them in the oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely. Remove the skins by rubbing them gently in your hands and reserving the larger, curved pieces that come off for décor. Chop the hazelnuts into very fine pieces.
In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave on medium-low, stirring often. Add the chopped hazelnuts and hazelnut paste and stir to combine. Use immediately (see Assembly).
Remove the cake from the freezer. Place a piece of parchment paper over the cake and flip it upside down. Peel off the silicone mat slowly, starting at one corner and pulling the mat not up, but almost parallel to the mat itself in the opposite direction.
Cut the cake in half, both length-wise and width-wise, so you have four rectangles, each approximately 14 x 20 centimeters (5.5 x 8 in). Prepare the chocolate ganache. Place one of the rectangles on a piece of parchment on the counter. Using a small offset spatula, spread 60 grams of hazelnut buttercream on the cake as evenly as possible, covering the entire surface. Spread 45 grams of chocolate ganache on top of the buttercream, covering the buttercream completely. Top the ganache with a second cake rectangle and very gently press on it with a small cutting board, leaving the top as flat as possible. Continue to layer 60 grams of buttercream, then 45 grams of ganache, followed by a piece of cake two more times, finishing the layers with the fourth unfrosted cake rectangle. Slide the parchment paper with the cake onto a half sheet pan and freeze for 30 minutes. Reserve the extra buttercream at room temperature.
Trim 1 centimeter (0.4 in) of cake off the bottom and right sides of the cake rectangle. Trim enough cake off the remaining two sides so you are left with an 18 x 12–centimeter (7 x 4.7–in) rectangle. Lightly dust the counter with powdered sugar and roll the marzipan to a rough rectangle, just larger than the bottom of the cake. Place the cake on top of the marzipan and cut the marzipan the same size as the cake.
If your marzipan is a bit dry and hard to roll, place it in the microwave on medium for 10 seconds and then briefly knead it until smooth.
Cut the cake into a grid of 3-centimeter (1.2-in) squares, 6 squares lengthwise by 4 squares widthwise, for a total of 24 cubes. Space out the cubes onto a half sheet pan, marzipan side up, and place them in the freezer. Place a second empty half sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat in the freezer. Prepare the glaze and pour into a narrow container such as a 1-liter (1-qt) plastic deli container.
Remove the trays from the freezer. Pierce each cube with a toothpick. Dip them, one by one, into the glaze, just enough to cover the sides but not the marzipan tops. Bob the bottom of the dipped cube a few times on the surface of the glaze to remove any excess. Gently scrape the cube’s bottom on the edge of the container to remove any larger hazelnut pieces, and then place each cube onto the cold, empty baking mat. For the last quarter of the cakes, you may need to tilt the container as you dip so the glaze reaches the top of the cube. If the glaze gets too thick during dipping, warm it briefly in the microwave on low.
Prepare a piping bag fitted with a 1.5-centimeter (0.6-in) petal tip. Remove the toothpicks. Pipe a design with the hazelnut buttercream on top of the marzipan to cover it completely. Add a piece of the reserved hazelnut skin for décor.
SERVING & STORAGE
Allow to thaw. Serve chilled or at room temperature within 3 days. If not eating the same day, store in the refrigerator overnight. Once assembled, the petits fours can be covered in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer, before or after dipping in the glaze, until desired.
This petits fours recipe is reprinted with permission from Petite Pâtisserie by Cheryl Wakerhauser, Page Street Publishing Co. 2020. Photo credit: Alan Weiner