Monday, December 16, 2013

Marzipan cameos and petit fours from hell.

Jane Austen's birthday is today. That's a big thing for us Janeites. We at the ORS arranged to hold a tea in her honour, and the food and centerpieces were my lot for this occasion.  I was resolved to try my hand at making petit fours, and the experience left me exhausted and sore. 

Lesson #1 of petit-four making... If you're doing it for the first time, don't wait for the actual event to make them. A practice session would be helpful, and it may serve to turn you off of the idea forever more.

Lesson #2 of petit-four making... Ignore lesson one if you are determined to make them for your event.  You probably won't want to touch them if you find out exactly how much work and how miserable this task can be for the unprepared.

Lesson #3 of petit-four making... Unless you are really talented or really lucky, get rid of the final product you envision. There is very little chance your cakes are going to look like this:

They will more likely look like this:

Yes, this is my final product. The white speckles
 is just some Devon
Or possibly even this:
Ah, the hell with it, the author of this photo said. They still
tasted awesome. LOL.
So the hard truth about the process was this:

1. The posts I found on petit-four making were pretty non-specific about the viscosity needed in order to make a smooth, unblemished coat of poured fondant icing.  So I'm going to be explicit, because by the time I covered my thirtieth cake, I think I had a good idea of how it should have been done from the start, and how the icing process should be handled.

Tip #1: Buy 2 two-pound bags of fondant icing, and be prepared to double the recipe. I did and the last petit four was barely covered.
Now this is the recipe I used from Bakerella:

A 2 lb bag (@7.5 cups) powdered sugar, 1/2 cup light corn syrup, 
1/3 cup water, 1 tsp vanilla extract.
Heat on low and stir until everything is completely combined.

That is about it on the description of the process of making it.  Here was my experience with this recipe:

 - it was too thick. I added about another tablespoon or two of water later on to thin it out a bit because it was falling into huge, thick ribbons and making the petit fours look like mounds of molten wax.  The trick is making a thin frosting and applying a few coats if necessary.

- temperature is also really important. She says keep it on low and keep it warm. One site recommends a double boiler, another says microwave it frequently. I started with a double boiler but it wasn't keeping it warm or liquid enough, so I ended up pouring it into a pot and putting it on low (higher-low... towards medium) on the stove, and I constantly had to scrape the hardening sides to remelt it.

- the one good thing about this stuff, if it hardens on the drip tray or the rack, you just have to scrape it off and throw it back into the pot. It is reusable as long as it doesn't get crumby from the cake.

- there is GREAT wisdom in cleaning up as you go, because this is a MESSY process. And you will get fondant on your stove burner, so if you have the option to line it with foil, do that. I have a glass-top, so it just carmelized on the surface and smelled the house up.

- pouring it over the cakes can be a messy process.  Sites recommended using a sheet pan and rack and pouring it over that.  The problem with that is that the frosting stacks up beneath the cake and mounds at the base (because you have to pour a lot) and then you have to scrape the stuff off, back into the pan.

- holding the cake over the frosting pot and spooning it might work better for some, but it did not work for me. 1, that frosting his hotter than the surface of the sun and burns like a motherf*&ker. 2, the marzipan top sticks to your finger and can pull off completely when you try to put the cake down.  My solution? I have smaller drip-racks, and I used one to put each cake on, and held it over the pot, and spooned each side first, and then one last spoonful to cover the top.  The frosting should be pretty thin, and doing two coats will make it smoother and more opaque.

- there is a youtube video of a woman who frosts them using a pastry bag. She's a professional pastry chef, so ignore that byatch. She has asbestos hands and has made so many petit fours, she could probably frost them with her feet.  I tried the pastry bag first. It was way too hot to handle, and it took the entire pastry bag to cover one cake.  Not worth it.

Best practice: Make your poured fondant in a pot on the stove, keep it warm and liquid, it should be more like maple syrup in consistency rather than pancake mix.  Use the corner of a small drip rack to hold your individual cake over the pot, and cover sides and then top, or use a huge ladle, and pour a massive volume over the top at once.  Do it twice if you want a thicker coat, but not too much, or it will look like wax drippings. Stir your fondant every single time you take it to get the warmest, ooziest pour.  Use an offset spatula to pry the cake off your rack, wait two or three minutes before you do. To expedite it, I used two of my small drip racks and poured one, and then let it sit while I poured the next. Then I just moved the dry one off, and put a fresh cake on it for the next pour.

I did not lose any cakes that I made. That's the good thing. They may have been more clunky and frankensteiny than the elegant little dainty cakes I had hoped for. But they were still much enjoyed, and the marzipan cameos I put on them were a hit.  Those, on the other hand were very simple to make.  Here's how you make little cameos in marzipan.

Marzipan cameos:
Make a mold. I used Sculpey and a cheap plastic cameo.
Bake it at 225º for about ten or fifteen minutes depending on size.
I made two, one was deeper.
I made a cut-out using an old cookie cutter I didn't care
about anymore. I wasn't perfect, but it worked. I also
used a round-headed pin as a tool.
I coloured my marzipan for the cameo base, and left the
natural colour for the figure. I pinched a tiny bit of the white
and rolled it into a ball and dropped it in the mold.
Using the pin's round end (using fingers doesn't work since
marzipan sticks to skin), I carefully pressed the marzipan into the
figure part of the mold.
I then made a small pastille of the pink marzipan and placed it
on top. And using the back of the second, shallower mold,
I pressed it down.

I carefully peeled it out of the mold.
I aligned the cutter around it and trimmed off the edges.

The front of the cameos will dry out fairly quickly. In about an hour. Make sure you carefully pry them up and turn them over to dry the backs too, or they'll stick to the work surface and remain moist.  Once they're dry you can just toss them into a little container to store until you need to use them.  I affixed them to the petit fours with melted white chocolate.

The full spread.

1 comment:

Queenie said...

I am DYING LAUGHING at your descriptions of making petit fours! You're so funny. I haven't checked out the blogs I follow in at least a year but am so glad I decided to start with yours! So very funny, thanks for the laugh!


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