In the 80s, my family would receive a catalog (name withheld to protect the colonial Swiss) that was filled with mail-order gifts like sausage and cheese. The highlight of the catalog were these perfect little tiny cakes called “petit fours.” I would dream of ordering the giant box of them, of course they would be more delicous than regular cakes: These are micro cakes! As an adult, I finally was able to try the catalog cakes, and they really are just tiny cakes. My partner and I had a chance to try the real thing at a tiny bakery near our house and we had to try our hands at making them.
(Side note: Petit fours is French for “small oven” and is a reference to early wood or coal ovens having only two temperatures: Roaring hot (the grand four), and cooling down. The petit fours were cooked during this cooling down period. Petit four now typically refers to a specific category of dessert. The petit fours we’re making are “petits four glace” or tiny cakes glazed with icing.
The secret to making a cake that works on such a tiny scale is to use a very dense cake that isn’t super spongy. We went with a frangipan. If you don’t like the taste of almonds, you would definitely want to go with a pound cake recipe. I was expecting to be overwhelmed by the taste of almonds, but it really went well with the cherry and chocolate. We did a layer of cherry and two layers of chocolate and used dark chocolate ganache for our coating. I think the small size coupled with the intense cherry / almond / chocolate was fantastic. They were the perfect accompaniment for a cup of coffee.
Some notes: This is not a quick recipe. The cake has to chill overnight. You'll also need a lot of pans and a lot of patience. You'll be making cakes and fillings and this is even with us taking a bunch of shortcuts. However, stay the course and you'll be rewarded with a delicious treat that no catalog could ever deliver.
Frangipane (Almond Cake)
One of the secrets to good baking is weighing your ingredients. Weighing rather than measuring ingredients by volume gives more consistent results. If you don't have a food scale, you can pick them up fairly cheap online. We had gotten ours originally for weighing coffee, but it's been great for baking as well. I did try to put an estimate of the quantity in parenthesis because it definitely makes it easier when you're shopping.
Also, you'll see a couple of ingredients listed twice. This is because you will use them at different times, so it's just easier to weigh them separately.
Note: All your cake ingredients should be at room temperature
Ganache Coating / Filling
Note: You'll need 8 to 10 pounds of weights (for compressing the cake pans later).