In our third week of pastries, we turned our attention to petit fours, one or two bite confections. We also produced two varieties of strudel, with hand-stretched phyllo dough and our own puff pastry.
Like regular cakes and confections, but miniaturized, petit fours come in four broad varieties: glacé (glazed with fondant); sec (dry, crunchy, cookie-like); prestige (elaborate, yet tiny replicas of larger tortes and other cakes); deguise (fruits dipped in sugar, caramel or fondant until well-covered).
I made petit four glacé, and two varieties of petit four sec.
For my glacé, I wanted to play on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich (on Wonder bread, no less). So, between my layers of almond sponge, I spread peanut butter (creamed with icing sugar), raspberry jelly, and a vanilla buttercream icing.
Of course, what makes this a glazed petit four is the fondant that covers each piece of cake. And to accomplish that in such a way that the layers of cake and filling are visible through the fondant (as any good petit four glacé ought to be) requires first warming the fondant to 100F, then, off the heat, adding enough water to thin the fondant so that, when a finger is dipped in it and removed, just enough fondant remains on the finger to coat it, but enough runs off to reveal the fingernail and the shape of the finger tip.
It is an inexact science, but the results speak for themselves: Too little water, the fondant doesn’t run down the sides of the cake when piped atop it; too much and the fondant doesn’t cling to the cake at all. And piping the fondant atop each piece and allowing it to flood down the sides is, perhaps, the most effective way of ensuring an even, smooth coating around the top and sides of each petit four.
To finish mine, I added a touch of purple colouring, giving the final petit fours a purple pastel hue; a further nod to the P-B-and-J theme.
For my petit fours sec, I made Ethiopians and S’mores – with mixed results.
The Ethiopian – so named for reasons that escape me – includes a layer of almond truffle sandwiched between layers of sweet dough, which are baked, then iced with a thick layer of pistachio ganache and garnished with a candied pistachio.
Using level bars when rolling out the sweet dough and almond truffle ensured each layer was a uniform thickness (of no more than ¼ inch).
The pistachio ganache – a lovely mixture of cream, white chocolate and pistachio paste – also benefited from being spread atop the cookie (once it had cooled) with the aid of level bars.
The candied pistachio garnish was simple, yet elegant, and used the same method as was employed in the making of the almond dragee: cooking the pistachios in caramel until the sugar crystallized.
Unfortunately, the S’mores weren’t as successful as the Ethiopians.
Comprising marshmallow sandwiched between graham wafers, rolled in toasted coconut, then topped with chocolate ganache, the S’mores looked good. However, the marshmallow simply had too much gelatin, which resulted in a nearly inedible finished product – especially as the days passed and the gelatin firmed up even further.
In addition to the petit fours, we also tackled strudels; both the Austro-Hungarian and German varieties.
For the most part, the fillings for these two strudels are nearly identical: apples, walnuts, raisins, sugar, and cinnamon. What sets them apart is the type of dough in which this filling is encased: the Austro-Hungarian uses phyllo dough; the German, a combination of sweet dough and puff pastry.
(That they differ so dramatically is remarkable, considering the proximity of their originating geographic areas.)
I’d never stretched phyllo dough before (how many people can say they have?), but that’s precisely what I did to make the Austro-Hungarian strudel. It was an arduous process, to be sure; though, not nearly as difficult as I had thought it might be. The reason for the relative ease: dough with remarkable elasticity.
And onto this sheet of hand-stretched dough, the filling was spread, then rolled up in a log and baked until cooked. A liberal coating of melted butter – both on the sheet of dough before the filling is added, and atop the rolled strudel – is essential to a moist, golden finish.
The German strudel is a little more involved than its Austro-Hungarian counterpart, and has more components. Unlike the Austro-Hungarian, the German isn’t rolled but assembled: the bottom consists of a layer of sweet dough, atop which is set a layer of almond sponge, atop which is piled the filling; to this mass a layer of puff pastry is placed atop and around, and sealed to the sweet dough bottom. A brush with egg wash, and it’s baked until golden.
To achieve the classic slits across the top of the German strudel can be easily achieved by rolling out the puff pastry, then folding the dough in half, lengthwise, cutting slits along the side of it, unfurling it over the mass and ensuring the slits are centered before sealing the dough to the sweet paste.
In short, it was a sweet week.