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What is a petit four?
All About the Miniature Dessert, in All Its Forms

By Renee Shelton
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Petit fours are basically miniature, bite-sized confections. The name comes from the words in French: petit—small or little, and four—oven. Therefore, essentially small, baked pastry items, although some confections are considered by some to be petit fours that are not baked (see fruits déguisés below). The 1965 6th printing version of the Larouse Gastronomique states that petit fours are a "name adopted for many kinds of small fancy cakes and biscuits" and fruit deguises (see below for description) as "candied fruits". When most think of petit fours, an image of a little cake iced and decorated comes to mind. Petit fours can range from this to little cookies, macaroons, eclairs and tartlets.

Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen breaks the petit four into two different styles: glacé and sec. The Roux Brothers on Patisserie, by Michel and Albert Roux, use categories for petit fours that most pastry professionals use: frais, secs and fruit déguisés.

From all of this, I list the basic categories of Petit fours as these, and some examples of each:

Petit Four Glacé or Frais—cream filled or iced petit fours, fresh (small éclairs, tiny iced cakes, tartlets and miniature soaked and glazed babas)

Petit Four Sec—dried petit fours (small cookies, tuiles, Palmiers, meringues and macaroons)

Fruit déguisés—glazed fruits such as cherries and segmented oranges dipped in fondant or hard crack sugar and dates wrapped in marzipan dipped in fondant. While these are sometimes termed as confections, these can also be categorized as petit fours.


Restaurant Menu Terms: Mignardise, Mignonardise, Friandise, Lagniappe

A few of you have noticed other terms, Mignardise or Mignonardise and Friandise on menus, to be served after dinner as treats. These two are basically the same thing and can be any tiny, bite-sized confection or sweet, as any of the above examples. What do they mean? They both come from the French. Here are what the base of the words mean, according to Larousse's French-English English-French Dictionary:

Mignard/Mignon: dainty, tiny

Friand: dainty, delicacy

If you've been to the gulf states, a popular creole term is Lagniappe. This can mean anything from a small pastry to a covered petit four or a cookie. In any case, it's a genuine gift to the diner, so enjoy.

References used:

Dubois, Marguerite-Marie. Larousse's French-English English-French Dictionary. Revised ed. New York: POCKET, 1971.

Gisslen, Wayne. Professional Baking. New York: John Wiley, 1985.

Montagné, Prosper. Larousse Gastronomique. 6th Printing. New York: Crown, 1965.

Roux, Michel and Albert. The Roux Brothers on Patisserie: Pastries and Desserts from 3-Star Master Chefs. New York: Prentice, 1986.

Copyright © 2004-2010 Renee Shelton.
All Rights Reserved.


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All rights reserved.
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