I'd like to say it seems to be the season for food blog contests right now, but I think it's more of a matter of contests that have piqued my interest enough to go thru all the effort I inflict on myself in making my entries. The creative pondering, flustered experimenting and the occasional mini-inferno I run into while submitting posts means it's gotta be good for me to do it. When I saw Sanjana's contest over at KO Rasoi, I knew it was time to pull out the fire extinguisher again and get baking.
Sanjana's contest asked that you create a dish inspired by a super adorable charm bracelet...
The bracelet is almost as adorable as the cool blue sparkly nail polish you can see she's wearing in the picture... see it now? Other than the polish, the thing that caught my eye was the little white and blue delft style china cup charm. Seeing as it's a roughly "tea" themed bracelet (though I don't remember the last time I had a margarita at tea, sadly), I decided I'd make something I've always wanted to make - petit fours.
What I didn't realize is that "petit four" is actually a French phrase meaning "insanely difficult" or "frustrating to the point of drinking a 3 glasses of wine rapidly, on an empty stomach because these 'petit fours' refuse to provide you with something suitable to feed yourself with." Or something roughly like that.
You see, I wanted these to be not just any petit fours. Oh, no, that's just too dull (wise) for me. I wanted to make the sort of cakes that you could write on with edible marker to create patterns - in this case patterns that match your tea service. This meant coating them with something that dried hard enough to accomplish this. Typical petit four icing is a little too fragile for this, I figured. I first tried rolling on some of my trusty recipe for marshmallow fondant, but I didn't like the way it draped. Next my mind turned to royal icing. Royal icing was something I vaguely remembered using on sugar cookies my mother made when I was little, but I always remembered liking them better without it. Despite that and the fact most recipes I read included warnings like "Use immediately or it will harden indefinitely" and "Good as a glue, but not pleasant to flavor with" I was not to be deterred.
An hour later I had coated a beautiful set of little chocolate cakes in a gloppy, uneven mess of what amounted to Elmer's glue... and it tasted about the same. I honestly don't know if it was my recipes (I tried 2), the cook or a combination that did me in, but in the end I tossed the whole collection of useless lumps into the trash. Enter wine.
The next day I did some more research and turns out it's not a great idea to coat entire cakes with royal icing. I also realized I needed a denser cake - like a génoise or sponge. Who knew? Lots of people do, as my reading was leading me to understand. Obviously I'm still new at this cake thing. In the end the tea cakes shown in the pictures have a combination of petit four icing with a top piece of fondant. Which works, but I think it's a bit too labor-intensive for such little cakes, don't you? In fact, when Jason saw these and then looked at the sample I kept of the strictly fondant version, he said he liked the fondant version better. It was my drive for perfectly smooth shapes that made me wish for the perfect icing. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the fondant ones didn't look too shabby, I liked their little pillow-y edges... and they certainly were less conducive to reducing me to near tears. Less tears = win in my book any day.
How to Make: Blood Orange and Chocolate Petit Fours
Since I take the cake recipe directly from the Joy of Baking site, I'm not going to reproduce it here. It's adapted from the Cake Queen: Rose Levy , so you know it's good. The link can be found below...
Recipe for Chocolate Sponge Cake on Joy of Baking
Once you've made your cake and allowed it to cool, cut it into desired shapes using cutters or a serrated knife. You'll want and even number of every shape since you'll fill w/frosting and stacking in doubles...
To make the Blood Orange Frosting...
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice and zest of 1 large blood orange
Orange food coloring (if desired)
With a hand or electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add vanilla and the zest and blend. Gradually beat in sugar. Add the blood orange juice and whip on high until fluffy. You may add a drop of orange food coloring if you like.
For the icing...
Approx 1 cup by volume of marshmallow fondant
Various edible marker colors
To put it all together...
Roll out your fondant to an 1/8 inch thickness and cut into shapes that allow you to cover your stacked cake shapes.
Spread a layer of blood orange frosting between two layers of sponge cake. Frost the outside with a thin crumb coating of frosting to allow the fondant to adhere evenly.
Drape your cakes with fondant pieces and smooth tops
Using your food-coloring pens, draw patterns based on your tea cups on the tops of your cakes. Done!