History of Petit Fours

Petit four which simply means “small oven” is the precise name for those miniature cakes that you locate on trays at parties and on the table at elegant dinners. They are present as mini-pastries made out of cream and fruits. The ability for chefs and caterers to create new and special kinds of petit fours is boundless. They can work as appetizers and as a full meal, depending on circumstance.

If you are unsure why appetizers would be called little ovens, here is the answer for you. In 19th century France, there were no gas ovens. The breadmaker’s oven was the single type of oven during that time. It was a huge cabin made out of stone, underneath which one would lit a fire. These types of ovens took a long time to get going, became really hot for some time, and then took a long time to die. In addition, it didn’t really have a knob one could turn to modify the heat. In fact, it only had two settings.

The first setting was the grand four, big oven, where the fire was at its strongest. This setting was used when the roasts, the boars, the pigs, the beef ribs, the platters of vegetables and potatoes were placed in to bake.

The second setting was the petit four, when the fire started to die out and the heat to weaken. This setting was used when one could bake individual pastries and bite-size appetizers to serve with tea. This is how novelty foods became petit fours after the way they were prepared.

Petite Fours Recipe (from landolakes)



1 (18 1/2-ounce) package white cake mix

1/2 teaspoon almond extract


3 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla

3 drops food color


Candy flowers, if desired

Frosting flowers, if desired


Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 (8-inch) square baking pans. Set aside.

Prepare cake mix according to package directions, adding 1/2 teaspoon almond extract with water. Evenly divide cake batter between prepared pans. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans. Cool completely. Trim edges from cake; cut each cake into 24 (1 1/2 x 1-inch) pieces.

Combine sugar, cream of tartar and water in 3-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a full boil (12 to 14 minutes). Cover; boil 3 minutes. Uncover; continue cooking until candy thermometer reaches (228°F. to 234°F.) or small amount of mixture dropped into ice water forms a 2-inch soft thread (15 to 20 minutes). Remove from heat; cool to 110°F. or until bottom of pan is slightly warm to touch (do not stir) (1 hour). Stir in powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon almond extract and food color.

Place wire rack on baking sheet. Place cake pieces cut-side up on wire rack. Carefully spread icing over edges of cake pieces using small spatula or spoon. Spoon about 1 tablespoon over top of each cake and let drizzle over sides. Repeat, coating each piece twice, if needed. (If icing becomes too thick, reheat over low heat until thin consistency and easy to drizzle (2 to 3 minutes)). Scrape icing from baking sheet; reuse, if needed. Garnish each petit four with candy flowers or frosting flowers, if desired.

Jacqueline M. Faulkner

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