I’ve had a thing for petit fours ever since I first saw them for sale in the Harry & David holiday gift catalogs… a flat box of perfect little cubes made of paper-thin layers of cake and filling, enrobed in chocolate, topped with an intricately-piped design. They looked like something you’d find on a tiny cake pedestal on a tea table, maybe in Versailles, and I was dying to try them– possibly while lounging on a velvet-upholstered sofa. Unfortunately, as I was only about eleven at the time and didn’t have $30 to spend on a box of cakes, my dream was not to be.
Once I got into baking as an adult, however, I realized two things: First, that the components of petit fours were amazingly simple, and second, that the assembly was going to be a pain. Nevertheless, I had my chance to make them when I hosted an afternoon tea party, and jumped at it.
Simple online searching yielded suggestions as basic as “get an Oreo cakester and cover in fondant” or “cut pound cake into cubes and pour melted canned frosting over them,” but they weren’t exactly what I was looking for. Where was the fussy decadence I remembered so well? I would have to start from scratch.
After much dithering, I decided on a raspberry-rose petit four: four layers of white cake (from a mix, gasp!) baked in two half-sheet pans to get the thinnest layers possible, dabbed with rosewater, and sandwiched with my favorite vanilla frosting and raspberry jam. I baked, I layered, I froze the whole thing, and then I meticulously cut the assemblage into cubes. They were kind of big due to the height of my layers (to make them cubes I had to make them as wide as they were tall– 2 inches), but they looked good so far. Next I followed this recipe for poured fondant, tinted it pink, and commenced dipping.
Dipping did not work. It was messy, crumbs were falling into the fondant, and it looked awful. I tried pouring the fondant over the cake, hoping it would cover all sides in a nice, uniform layer. Nope. The cold cake caused it to harden during the pour, making it look like melted wax dribbling down a stubby candle. Not exactly appetizing.
I finally decided to make the drippiness a virtue, and just poured the fondant on the tops of the cakes, allowing it to drip ever-so-slightly over the edges, being sure not to obscure my beautiful cake layers. I embellished with a little powdered-sugar-and-milk icing, and they actually turned out really well. The rose-raspberry combination was fantastic, and I would absolutely make these again. And maybe I’ll find that velvet sofa…
1. Weigh out your cake batter to divide it evenly between the two 11×17″ half-sheet pans. Kitchen scales are the best.
2. If you line the pans with foil or parchment you can just flip the layers onto each other to stack them, then peel the lining off without worrying about breaking your cake layers.
3. If I were to make these again I’d only do three layers of cake, rather than four. That would make the cakes shorter, so I’d be able to make them into smaller cubes. To divide the cake sheets into three layers, it’s probably most efficient to cut each sheet 2/3 across, then use the two remaining 1/3 pieces to form the middle layer.
4. Warming the jam will make it easier to spread over the cake, as will using jelly instead of a chunkier fruit preserve. You could also skip the jam and use more frosting, ganache, or Nutella.
5. After layering the cake, freeze the whole thing, then use a large knife to trim all edges square. Dip the knife in warm water and wipe between cuts to keep them clean.
6. The fondant is very sweet– unsurprising, since it’s mostly sugar. If you’re going to try to dip these completely for a traditional look, try a less-sweet cake recipe or a tarter filling to balance the sugar. Or do a chocolate glaze instead of fondant.