I’ve always thought of Easter as a “fancy” holiday. Maybe it’s all the frilly little Easter dresses and matching bonnets I’m seeing in stores—when else do girls these days have a chance to wear a nice bonnet anymore? It’s all skinny jeans and belly shirts and ipods and cell phones and man, am I old.
I used to lust after those frilly dresses when I was younger. All I wanted out of life was a ridiculous dress with a ridiculous petticoat and a ridiculous number of ruffles. And all I got were the world’s most basic, boring sailor dresses with a few ugly Laura Ashley floral numbers mixed in. I love my mother, but we did not see eye to eye on my wardrobe.
These Easter-inspired petit fours, then, are for that girl who wanted a fancy dress but was crammed into a sailor suit, year after year. Happy Easter, childhood self! I made you wee little desserts perfect for serving on doilies at a fancy tea party. Please enjoy, and let us never speak of Laura Ashley again.
This was my first time making honest-to-goodness petit fours. I’ve made lots of miniature desserts that were lazily called petit fours, but the traditional petit fours, the layered cake bites covered with poured fondant? This was a new one.
The simplest way to make them is to just covered squares of pound cake in fondant, but where’s the challenge, the SugarHeroism, in that? Besides, pound cake + fondant sounds dead dull. Instead, I cut my cake into thin layers and filled it with raspberry jam and tangerine buttercream. The flavors are light and springy, and since both the jam and buttercream are a little tangy, they helped cut down on the sweetness of the cake and fondant. I also love the surprise of biting into a miniature cake and finding out that there are layer and layers of flavor and texture inside one small package.
The petit fours got Easter-fied with a speckled egg theme. Before dipping I cut the shapes out with an egg-shaped cutter, which left a lot of cake scraps, as you might imagine. This was obviously a huge burden on my household, but we managed to work through it and bravely munched on the cake scraps until they were gone. If you want to save some trouble and some cake, you can always just cut them into squares instead. But don’t come crying to me when you have a jonesing for scraps and all of your cake is spoken for.
I was a little apprehensive about dipping the cake in the poured fondant, since it seems like a potentially very messy process—but it went remarkably well! Dividing and dyeing the fondant was probably the most annoying part. I don’t necessarily love the super-sweet coating of fondant on the outside, but I do like how it keeps the cake extra-moist for days, and I love the smooth, shiny, pastel finish of the sweet little cakes. It’s a trade-off I’m more than willing to make, and if you find the cakes a bit too sweet with the fondant, you can always scrape it off before eating them.
These little bites are light enough to serve at a brunch, but fancy enough to be served as dessert at an Easter dinner. Make them! Love them! Eat them while wearing ruffles, sailor suits, or sweatpants—doesn’t matter. Just give them a try!
Raspberry-Tangerine Petit Fours
For the Pound Cake:
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 8 ounces butter at room temperature
- 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 6 eggs at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Tangerine Buttercream:
- 4 ounces butter at room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp tangerine juice from 1-2 tangerines
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp packed tangerine zest from 2-3 tangerines
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp framboise optional, can substitute another liqueur or vanilla extract or omit
- 1 1/2 cups raspberry jam
- 7 oz marzipan optional
- 3 lbs poured fondant
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tbps water
To Make the Pound Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 10x15-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment, and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Sift together the cake flour and salt.
Combine the butter, cream cheese, and sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer. Beat them together on medium-high speed until very light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add the vanilla extract. Finally, turn the speed to low and add the cake flour, mixing until just a few streaks of flour remain.
Stop the mixer and finish mixing by hand, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl and stirring well. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer.
Bake the cake for 22-25 minutes, until it’s golden brown and it springs back when touched lightly with the fingertips. Let it cool completely at room temperature. The cake can be made several days ahead of time; wrap it well in cling-wrap if you’re making it in advance.
To Make the Tangerine Buttercream:
Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a large stand mixer. Mix on medium-low speed until they’re combined, then scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat the buttercream until it’s light and fluffy. If it seems very soft add a bit more powdered sugar, and if it seems too stiff add a bit more tangerine juice. Buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you make it in advance, let it come to room temperature and re-beat it before you use it.
To Assemble the Petit Fours:
Make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup of water and the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the framboise. Let it cool to room temperature while you prepare the cake. Have your room temperature buttercream and room temperature raspberry jam ready.
Flip the cake upside-down onto a cutting board and peel off the piece of parchment. Cut the cake into six rectangles by cutting the cake across the middle lengthwise, then cutting it into thirds widthwise. Use a long serrated knife to carefully cut each rectangle into two thin layers (like you would cut a cake into layers) so that you’re left with 12 thin rectangles.
Brush one rectangle with the simple syrup mixture. Dollop on a spoonful of raspberry jam, and spread it in a thin layer over the cake. You want enough jam so that the flavor comes through, but not so much that the cake is unstable. Top the jam with another cake slice, and brush it with more simple syrup. Top this cake layer with a thin layer of tangerine buttercream, about the same height as one of the cake layers. Brush one more cake layer with simple syrup, then place it, syrup side-down, on top of the buttercream. You should now have a 3-tiered rectangle of cake. Set it aside and repeat this process with the remaining cake layers, until you have four rectangles of assembled cake.
Divide the marzipan in four pieces and roll each into a very thin layer. Brush the top of one of the rectangles with a bit of simple syrup, and press the marzipan on top. Trim the edges so the marzipan is flush with the sides of the cake, and repeat until all of the cake rectangles are covered with marzipan. The marzipan is technically optional, but it helps give your dipped cakes a clean look on top. Refrigerate the tray to firm up the cake rectangles, for about 45 minutes.
Once firm, use an egg cookie cutter to cut egg shapes out of your cake. If the cake layers are taller than the cutter, try pressing the cutter down until it is flush with the top of the cake, then using a paring knife to trim around the bottom—this prevents the top of your egg petit fours from getting dented or smashed when you try to press the cutter to the bottom of the cake. Place the eggs on a baking sheet and freeze them until firm, about 1-2 hours. The eggs should be very hard before you dip them.
If you want to make your fondant different colors, divide it up into smaller bowls and work with one portion at a time. Warm up your fondant in the microwave until it is very warm and very fluid—it should readily pour from a spoon. Add a drop of food coloring and stir it in, then adjust the color and add another drop or two if desired. You will need to warm up the fondant fairly frequently during the dipping, so it’s easiest if you work near the microwave.
Take the tray of cake from the freezer. Press a wooden barbeque skewer through the bottom of one of the pieces, until it is firmly in the middle but not poking through the top. Dip the top of the cake into the fondant at a 45-degree angle and swirl it around. Use a spoon to pour fondant on the sides of the cake as you twirl it. Remove it from the fondant, let the excess drip back into the bowl, and use a spoon to touch up any areas that were missing fondant. Take a fork and put it under the piece of cake, twist the skewer to remove it so the cake is resting on the fork, then gently set the cake onto a wire cooling rack to set. (Refer to the video linked above for a visual demonstration of this step.) Repeat until all of the pieces of cake are dipped. If the fondant gets too thick, re-warm it in brief intervals in the microwave. Once the fondant is set, use a sharp knife to carefully loosen them from the wire rack.
To add the speckled appearance, mix the cocoa and 2 tbsp warm water in a small bowl until the cocoa powder dissolves. Dip a small paintbrush in the cocoa mixture, then flick it against your finger so that the cocoa splatters. (I recommend doing this step over a sink for easy clean-up.) Continue to dip and flick the brush until the petit fours are as speckled as you want. Store petit fours in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
If you cut your cake into egg shapes like I did, you’ll have a lot of scraps left over. (Not that this is a bad thing…) We nibbled until ours were gone, but if you want to make better use of the scraps, consider rolling them into cake balls or cake pops and dipping them in candy coating. Alternately, cut the cake into squares and you won’t have any waste. You can also vary the fillings—anything firm-ish like jam, buttercream, or Nutella will work. Avoid curds and creams, which don’t have enough stability to hold together during the dipping process. I cheated a bit and bought my poured fondant from a local cake supply place. If you don’t have access to a cake supply store, it’s actually easy to make at home—here is the recipe I recommend using. There are also other recipes that use powdered sugar instead of a cooked sugar syrup. I’ve had less success using those, but if you want to give it a try, here is a recipe from Wilton for a powdered sugar-based fondant. And finally, here is a video of someone demonstrating the dipping technique I describe in the recipe.