Petits fours are bite-size treats (specifically, no more than two bites). They can be sweet or savory and can be served as a snack (e.g., tea cakes), appetizers, or dessert. Anything you can do in pastry you can do in a small version and call them petits fours. Petits fours sec are crisp unfilled cookies.
Petit four translates literally to “small oven.” Historically, ovens were heated with wood, and the baking was organized by the temperature of the fire, so there were two ovens: the grand four and the petit four. Roasts, boars, pigs, and other things that needed high heat (and plenty of room) were cooked in the grand four (big oven). Small things that needed less heat were baked in the petit four, where the fire was less hot.
There are some rules for making petits fours and presenting them. Petits fours of a given type should be uniform in size and shape; consistency is very important. Petits fours should be no more than one or two small bites and should measure no longer than 2 inches. A selection of petits fours should include a variety of textures, flavors, and colors. The arrangement of the serving platter is important: People should be able to select several types of petits fours without reaching across the plate.
In general, there are five categories based on preparation, method, texture, or principal ingredients. Petits fours sec are fragile, crunchy, dainty cookies. Petits four demi-sec are small, cake-like or filled cookies, such as madeleines and macarons. Petits fours frais (fresh) are moist, filled with pastry cream (or similar), and often topped with fresh fruits; miniature eclairs and profiteroles are examples. Iced petits fours (petits four glacés) are what most people thing of as petits fours: small cakes that are usually made from a firm cake such as joconde, layered with fillings (buttercream, jam, or ganache), and classically covered with poured fondant. Glacé fruit petits fours are small fruits (e.g., grapes, strawberries) or pieces of fruit (e.g., citrus segments) covered with a clear sugar glaze.
In this class we made the dainty, crunchy cookies, dough for dainty, crunchy cookies, and Linzer cookies and Damier cookies, which some might consider petits fours demi-sec because they’re filled.
The dough tends to be pâte sablée or similar. The cookies that are clearly not pâte sablée are the tuiles. Tuile is “tile”: The cookies are thin and they’re pliable when they’re right out of the oven, and traditionally they’re curved in the shape of the red clay roof tiles that are common in the south of France.
You can also roll them up, like the Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes—or, more accurately, Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes are rolled tuile cookies.
Some of the dough had to be chilled, so we made some dough in this class and turned it into cookies in the next class. Here’s a selection of the class’s output, which fits the guidelines of how the tray should be laid out with a selection of sizes, shapes, and colors.