Petits fours and their history
Kelly here: I bought petits fours this weekend for a friend’s bridal shower. Petits fours are what I consider the perfect bridal shower treat. A guest at the bridal shower happened to be from Maryland and I overheard her tell another guest that she’d never eaten or known about petits fours. Another guest responded that they’re a “southern thing.”
It got us thinking about these diminutive sweets and how they made their way onto bridal shower and wedding reception dessert tables.
Petit four is French for “small oven,” and the name really came to be because of the way desserts were made in circa-1800s France. There were no “modern” stoves, and the big brick or stone ovens were heated only to the highest level, called “grand four” or “big oven.” This was then used to cook meat, bread or large cakes. As the fire was put out and the oven was cooling down, this was known as a “petit four,” or “small oven,” and used to create individual cookies, small cakes or tinier pastries that didn’t need the high heat of the grand four.
The petits fours (plural) that we know and see at local bakeries, coffee shops and favorites like Haydel’s, Gambino’s, Bywater Bakery and the like are typically a square piece of cake glazed in an icing with an adornment in buttercream or something of similar sweetness. But get this, petits fours don’t have to be sweet. There are typically four (ha!) different types of petits fours – petits fours sec, which are dry cookies like macarons or palmiers; petits fours glaces, cake topped with marzipan and then encased in fondant or chocolate (what everyone thinks of when you hear petit four); petits fours frais, small pastries like sponge cakes or madeleines, as well as eclairs and tartlets, which typically need to be eaten the same day they are made; and petits fours deguises, fresh or dried fruit dipped in a sweet coating like chocolate or cooked sugar. There have also been some petits fours sec that include a savory filling or petits fours sale, which are more salted and served as appetizers. (Melanie here: I really want some petits fours now — any of them!)
Though petits fours are great for bridal showers and small gatherings, these tiny treats can provide an alternative for couples that don’t like a typical wedding cake or wedding cake flavors. Additionally, we suggest creating a champagne wall with a glass of bubbly and an accompanying petit four for each guest to toast and nosh while speeches are commencing or at the end of the night for a sparkler send off.
As we mentioned above, most local bakeries create a type of petit four, or could work to create a special treat for your Big Day.