Cakes, biscuits and petits fours

Cakes, biscuits and petits fours

By
Justin North
Contains
9 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740665377
Photographer
Steve Brown

I find that even the most reluctant cook will get excited at the thought of a bit of home baking.

A light sponge cake, sandwiched with jam and cream or dripping with chocolate icing, is one of the easiest ways to celebrate a birthday or special occasion, while a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread biscuit or a delicate madeleine cake is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon cuppa – or a tisane, if you’re feeling particularly Proustian!

In France, these sweet bakery items are known generically as gâteaux, a term that encompasses all manner of patisserie items, from pastry-based concoctions such as mille-feuilles, to whisked Genoese sponges, fragile meringues, dainty wafers or exquisite little petits fours.

While the trend in modern-day cooking is for lighter, less-rich eating, sweet bakery goods are one area of the kitchen where the use of eggs, butter, flour, sugar and cream is simply not to be compromised. However, it is probably true to say that pièces montées – the multi-layered, buttercream-rich, elaborate constructions that reached the height of popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – have been replaced in our affections by simpler cakes and biscuits.

I’ve covered some patisserie items in the lesson on pastry and tarts, where we looked at different kinds of pastry, so in this lesson I’ll focus on the techniques involved in making various sorts of sponge cakes and biscuits (what the French call gâteaux secs). Some items straddle both categories, and are simply miniature versions of the original recipe. These dainty petits fours are often served with coffee after a meal, as part of a buffet table or with morning or afternoon tea.

All sponge cakes are made with the same four basic ingredients: butter, sugar, flour and eggs. The basic batter is prepared in such a way as to incorporate air in varying degrees, making the finished product soft and light, or dense and rich. Sometimes a rising agent, such as yeast or baking powder, is used; other cakes, like the famous Genoese sponge, are leavened with whisked egg whites. A variety of other ingredients, such as nuts, fruit, chocolate or spices, are added, making the range of flavours and textures immense.

While biscuits are usually made from the same basic ingredients, the end result is quite different: they are typically flat, crisp and crunchy, without being dry in the mouth.

Recipes in this Chapter

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