A petit four is a fancy French dessert that is essentially a mini pastry. This type of pasty is typically served with coffee, tea or wine and is an elegant treat that can even be served at a wedding. There are three types of traditional petits fours—petits fours glaces, petits fours secs and petits fours frais. Each type is composed of its own class of ingredients and showcases its own personality.
Petits Fours Glaces
Petits fours glaces is the most common type of petit four that you will find within the United States. These small pastries are made from sponge cake or pound cake with layers of chocolate, fruit or buttercream in the center. These cakes are then cut into small shapes such as squares, rectangles, circles, hearts or diamonds. The shapes are glazed with a pourable fondant, icing or ganache glaze.
Petits Fours Secs
Petits fours secs are created with cookies rather than cake. The traditional type of cookie used is shortbread, which is a crisp, buttery cookie. Petits fours secs can also be created using butter or sugar cookies. A filling is added between two cookies. Fillings include fruit preserves, chocolate or a nut paste such as almond or praline. Petits fours secs can be left as is or glazed with ganache, fondant or icing.
Petits Fours Frais
This type of petit four is created with mini pastries. The most common types of mini pastries are fruit tarts, éclairs or cream puffs. Cream puffs and éclairs are typically filled with buttercream or pastry cream, while fruit tarts are made with custard and then topped with fresh fruits. Some petits fours frais are also made with marzipan and look like truffles. Petits fours frais are not typically glazed, but some éclairs and cream puffs will have a chocolate glaze placed on top to finish them off.
Decorating Petits Fours
Decorative touches on petits fours vary. Petits fours can be left without decorations and served or even sprinkled with a light dusting of cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Petits four glaces typically have some type of decoration on top of each miniature cake, with the most common types being miniature flowers, scroll work or chocolate swirls. Decorations do not have to be elaborate. Something as simple as a strawberry, orange peel or candied nut on top of a petit four will do the job.