Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Sick Day and Petit Fours

My poor little guy got sent home from school Thursday afternoon, because as his excellent teacher observed, "He's just not himself and he's not getting anything done, I think he doesn't feel well." Weeell, she was right, and later that afternoon (after coming home) Hen started throwing up. He'd caught that stomach bug going around his campus.

Thankfully his nausea didn't last long and we were going into a weekend, so his lethargy and recovery could take their own course. At our house, that meant lots of warm baths with Epsom salts and lavender, pjs all day long, and 'Cake Wars' nonstop for almost 3 days in a row.

What that meant for me was by Saturday afternoon (and about the 90th episode of 'Cake Wars'), Mama wanted cake. Like, now.

To be honest, I've never been that successful at making "regular" cakes from scratch- they always turn out dry no matter what the recipe. However I picked up a few little hints as to what I might have been doing wrong in the past from all those cake baking shows, and I gave it another go. Just in case I got it wrong again, though, I set myself up in advance for a recovery strategy- I was going to make petit fours.

I'm happy to say my cake did not turn out dry, and the petit fours were really fun and tasty! So here is my first successfully moist "regular" cake recipe, with all the extra stuff I did to make them fancy:

Vanilla-Almond Petit Fours with Prickly Pear Jelly Filling
and Almond Glaze
Adapted from the Swan's Down recipe for 1-2-3-4 Pound Cake
(Makes at least 2 dozen petit fours or more, depending on how you cut them)

For the cake:
2 sticks salted butter, at room temp
2 cups (scant) plain ol' sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted together with
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the glaze:
1 1/2 TBS light corn syrup
1 tsp almond extract
~4 cups powdered sugar
boiling water

For the prickly pear jelly:
prickly pear juice
lemon juice
Pomona's Universal Pectin
(I think strawberry preserves, raspberry preserves, or lemon curd would have been good, too, but prickly pear jelly is what we had on hand, and we weren't getting out that day!)

Preaheat oven to 350F and spray a sheet pan with nonstick spray, then line with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time and beat until mixture is very light and fluffy (the more air the better). Add extracts. While mixer is on lowest setting, slowly add 1/3 flour mixture, followed by 1/3 of the milk, and alternate the two until all is incorporated. Do not over mix! Spread batter onto parchment-lined sheet pan and bake on middle rack for ~20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool completely before moving on to next step!

Once cake is cool, trim any rounded or sloped edges so you have a very sharp rectangle (this will be impossible if you try while the cake is still warm). Cut resulting rectangle in half, and spread one half with prickly pear (or other flavor) jelly/jam (I made the prickly pear jelly by first making prickly pear juice, then following Pomona's directions for reduced-sugar jelly). Place other half of cake on top and make sure edges are straight and square (trim more if needed), then place in freezer for ~20-30 mins or until pretty darn firm. 

While cake is in freezer, get the royal icing ready by putting powdered sugar, corn syrup, and extract in a mixer on lowest setting (with wire whisk attachment), and slowly trickle in boiling water until a fairly thin glaze is achieved (the amount of water needed will be different for everyone; you basically just need to make sure the glaze is thin enough to pour over petit fours without having to be spread, but not so runny that it immediately soaks into the cake).  

Once cake is firm, remove from freezer and with a serrated knife carefully cut into desired shapes. I cut mine into a grid of squares, then cut about half the squares diagonally across to make triangles and kept the others as squares for the fun of it. I don't think there's a wrong shape, you just want to make sure the shape/size you make only requires a few bites per piece. 

To finish, roll out a few sheets of waxed paper and using a fork and a spoon, glaze the petit fours: place petit four on the ends of the tines of the fork, hold it over the bowl of glaze, and spoon the glaze over the cake. Make sure each side is completely covered with glaze all the way down to the bottom, allow excess to drip away as best you can, then transfer to waxed paper and slide off the fork using the back edge of a butter knife. Don't worry if you drop a few into the glaze, just pick them out and let them drip and keep going!

I put some colored sugar on top of mine for fun, but you could top these with anything you like (designs in thicker colored icing, sprinkles, fresh fruit...) or leave them completely plain. 

Allow the glaze to dry before attempting to eat one or even cover with plastic wrap! 

These fancy little cakes are being picked off pretty quickly, and I'm proud to say everyone so far has given them the thumbs-up. I think, if I had presented these to the baking contest judges, I would have made it to the next round............... or at least that's what Henry said. I'll definitely be trying this recipe again!

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