Sunday, October 10, 2010

PFB Challenge #4: Tiny Hell-Cakes


This is a story of how one mother’s stubborn nature can be (if humility be added) reversed, momentarily, in order to bake a cake.

I like trying new things. (Cooking things, not roller blading or jogging.) What I like is the process of inspiration guiding me on a journey to the final and hopefully successful execution of whatever my little heart desires, but that isn’t always the case, now is it?

I could have easily hidden from you that I royally screwed up these delicate tiny cakes. I could have edited my photographs to make the process look seamless. But, I would rather share with you my victory in overcoming my frustrations and learning a lesson. Not to mention, presenting some pretty darn cute mini cakes that Marie Antoinette may have been referring to.

I had seen an episode of French Food at Home on The Cooking Channel, where Laura Calder is the chef and she is exceptional at making intimidating food look insanely easy. So much so, that for weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about these tiny cakes. “You must make these!” I would mentally exclaim, like a battle cry to weary pastry soldiers, but in my case, to a tired, not-so-pastry mommy. What do I need tiny cakes for? No reason. Except for Project Food Blog's Challenge #4: Picture Perfect, where we were asked to give you a step-by-step pictorial tutorial of making whatever we wanted to make. And I picked these. What is wrong with me?

I started early in the morning baking the cake, photographing ingredients and playing short order cook to my three tots. Order up! Two bowls of toasted O’s, one bowl of oatmeal, two pieces of toast – buttered with cinnamon sugar- two sippy cups (one soy, one 2%), one baby bottle of whole milk with a shot ‘o liquid vitamins and two chewable vitamins for the older siblings. Phew.

With breakfast dished out I quickly got to work, setting up my tripod, adjusting the blinds, doing far too many test shots and wishing I wasn't running on just coffee. As soon as I get the eggs and sugar in the mixer, voices start chiming for seconds on the above said orders. Not wanting to leave my Kitchen Aid mixer's side, I hollered over Elmo singing his extremely annoying song and the 747 whir of the mixer, for the kids to ‘hang in there’ and I would get them seconds, just as soon as the eggs and sugar were ribbony and tripled in size.

That’s how it pretty much went the whole morning. Adding to that, there was stopping and starting a thousand times, breaking up sibling fights and playing nursemaid to bumps (or “dumps” as my daughter likes to call them) on the head and wondering if the cake would ever make it to the oven.

And it did. Thank God.

You may be asking, “What is with this woman? Isn’t there a better time to make petits fours?” My answer would be, “Good question, and yes, there probably is a better time, except, I’m crazy like that.” I simply adore chaotic culinary situations. (awkward cough)

Oh these little cakes! They come across as so simple, so delicate, but I should have known they had hearts of evil. They drew me in with their perfectly square edges, simple aesthetic and glossy, pourable fondant.

Let me just say, the cake is angelic on all accounts. It's easy to make, bake, cut and eat. But the fondant…oh wretched, thy name is fondant!

Actually, to be extremely honest with you, I cannot blame the fondant or the recipe, or Laura Calder, for that matter. I would like to, but the truth is, I committed a pastry sin. I did not measure EXACTLY when I was making the fondant. No, my savory side kicked in with its pompous attitude, flair for egotistical non-measuring and foiled the fondant. Yes, I simply “eyeballed” the tablespoons of water and corn syrup, all the while, the pastry gods were whispering in my ear “You know you shouldn’t do that. You will fail.” But being the stubborn mommy that I am, I shooed those cautionary thoughts away like an irritating gnat.

And I failed, miserably. I owe my fondant catastrophe to my rebellion and kid-distraction. It was somewhere between making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and looking for a lost sock, that my fondant cooked and seized. To accentuate the stupidity, I added more than enough pink food coloring to put the nauseating Pepto pink to shame. Overall, it was complete disaster. I continued on with my stubborn ‘know-how’ and attempted to dress my little cakes in the molten, grainy, hot pink sugar robe. I had a bad feeling as the fondant started to harden, midair before it even reached the naked little cakes.

What do I do? Do I fake it and pretend that I wanted my cakes to actually look this way? Who am I fooling? I wanted to throw-up just looking at them. Instead of making the fondant again (properly), I chose to try and whip out some rolled fondant that I had left over from my son’s birthday party and cover them with that. Well, all I know about covering cakes with fondant is what I have seen (and never actually done) on Food Network Cake Challenges or from Chef Duff. Disaster number two…check!

Now, nearly to tears and naptime running out, I had a choice to make. Do I chuck the whole petits fours idea and make meatloaf instead? Or do I press through and make the fondant one more time, preferably with correct measurements? I pulled up my proverbial boot straps and did it. And guess what? It turned out perfectly. What a novel idea- measuring.

So here we go. You will now learn how to and how not to make Petits Fours, which mean, “little ovens” in French. (I would have guessed they meant “little, square hell-cakes”.) But in all sincerity, they truly are delicious and if I had followed directions the first time, they would have been a breeze. Enjoy!

Assembly of ingredients.

4 cracked eggs.

In for a spin.

Add the sweet stuff...

and whip into oblivion (approx. 3-5 minutes).

Add the vanilla and mix a bit more.

The mixture should be thick and ribbony, like this.

Prepare your pan with parchment paper.

Sift the flour and salt.

Add flour in spoonfuls.

Gently fold in flour, cutting down the center of the mixture and coming back up again. Turn the bowl and continue until the flour is just mixed in. Be careful to not over-mix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake.

Time for the not-so-fun stuff...clean-up.

Jelly, marzipan and journal filled with grandiose ideas. I found out how much I love marzipan- nearly ate the whole tube while waiting for the cake to bake.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the pan.

Invert onto a cooling rack and peel away parchment. Cool completely.

Get to rollin' the marzipan, very thinly.

Generously paint on the warm jelly.

Lay the thin sheet of marzipan over the jelly and trim the edges.

Ready for some plastic wrap...

and a nice cold stay in the fridge for 30 minutes, to firm up the cake.

After it has chilled, trim the edges of the cake to make it square.

Divide the square into 4 equal widths.

And  again.


And so the pastry sin began. First with the corn syrup...

and again with the water...

and for whatever reason, I did measure and sift the powdered sugar.

Looks okay, right?

But then the food coloring thing happened...

And bad went to worse.

The angelic little cakes sat patiently awaiting...

a crusty, hot pink, catastrophic enrobing. Oh, God.

Poor little things.

They were so distraught that they did a pyramid formation.

And then I picked off every last bit.

And started over.

This time, using the proper measurement, the fondant worked like a dream.

Perfectly drippy and pink.


I couldn't resist the glitter in my pantry, just begging to be used.

For half of the cakes I cut out tiny rolled fondant (you could use left-over marzipan for this too) hearts with a cookie cutter and brewed myself a cup of tea.

A setting fit for a queen.

Oh, don't mind if I do.

The towering tiny treats...

took a tumbling roll. Reminiscent of one famous Marie's head? Ironic? I think not.

Petits Fours

Adapted from Laura Calder's French Food at Home cooking show

Prep time: 30 minutes

Inactive time: 2 hours

Cook time: 25 minutes

• For the genoise (that's French talk for "sponge cake")

• 4 eggs

• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted with a pinch kosher salt

• For the topping

• 3 tablespoons apricot or red-currant jelly (I used a mixed berry jelly)

• 4 ounces marzipan

• 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

• 2 cups icing sugar (confectioners')

• Food coloring, optional (I used Wilton's pink gel food coloring. A tiny, tiny bit for light pink color.)

• Silver balls (dragees) or icing flowers, for decoration (I used edible pink glitter that you can get at speciality cake supply stores)


To prepare the genoise:

Grease and line a 9-inch cake tin with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the eggs and sugar, preferably with an electric mixer, until tripled in volume, and thick and ribbony, like whipped cream. Add the vanilla. Scatter over the flour and salt, a spoonful at a time, and gently fold it in, without over-mixing. Pour the batter into the pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before removing to a rack, and cool completely.

To prepare the topping:

Melt the jelly with a the water in a saucepan, and strain. Lay the cake on a rack, bottom up, and brush the jelly mixture over the surface. Roll out the marzipan exactly to the size of the cake, and lay it on top. Trim the edges of the cake, wrap, and chill for half an hour so it will cut neatly.

While the cake chills, make the icing: Put the corn syrup with 2 tablespoons warm water in a saucepan, and heat to dissolve. Beat in the sugar, adding about 2 more tablespoons of warm water (or part liqueur, if you like) to make a smooth icing which, when poured, will drape over the cakes like a satin sheet. Tint the icing with a few drops of food coloring, if using.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and cut into perfect 1-inch squares with a sharp knife. Place them on a wire rack set on a baking sheet. Spoon the icing over each 'cakelet' to coat completely. Let the icing set, and repeat. Decorate the cakes, and store in an air-tight container until serving.

To the judges and voters, I want to say thank you so much for allowing me to continue on in Project Food Blog! This contest has lit a creative fuse inside of me and has pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and think bigger. I want to go all the way with this. That would be a dream come true. But for now, I take one challenge at a time, savoring it and enjoying the journey.

Voting starts 6AM Pacific Time October 11th and goes through 6PM Pacific Time October 14th.

Love ya, Foodies!


  1. You are such a champ! First of all, this post was extremely well-written. Second, I could NEVER have the patience to make these tiny hell cakes (knowing me, I would have done the exact same sinning with measuring fondant ingredients). How great that you can just pick the fondant off and start over with that step rather than having to bake a whole other cake. Super congrats for making it to the 4th round. The end result looked really beautiful and I don't know where you're finding a heart-shaped cookie cutter that tiny, but it's adorable. I can't imagine the time, energy, and thought you have put into these projects! When does voting begin?

  2. I appreciate someone who's not afraid to show failure, although I didn't think that Pepto-Bismol fondant looked that bad. Then again, I've never made or worked with fondant, so maybe it was truly horrid. Either way, excellent post!!! Good luck in the next round! :)

  3. Yay you! Great post. Love it. I love the fact that everything wasn't perfect but you just rolled on and made it work.

  4. Gorgeous! I love the way you styled all the shots.

  5. YAY Lauren! You've got a gift! This post is positively enchanting. I hope you are already thinking of pizza!

  6. Fabulous as always!!! You've got my vote :-) Kate

  7. Don't mind if I do either!! How precious! Please send me some...even if you don't, I'll vote!

  8. I do think its always best to be totally honest, screw up or not, the important thing is that you overcame the problems and presented gorgeous petit fours! Your post is so very well written too!! Great job with challenge #4, you certainly have my vote!

  9. Can't wait to come back and cheer you on and vote! Adorable little cakes. Glad you pushed through and not give up. Best of Luck!

  10. They're so pretty and dainty! These would be perfect for a girly tea-party!

    And your story. Oh my god I know how you feel. Tripod, short order cook, 5 hours to make one simple cake. Yeah, I feel your pain. And you came out of a disaster WAY on top! The fondant looks absolutely glorious! And I bet the tastes even better. I just love the jelly on the cake. Then the marzipan. You made this look uber simple despite everything. You're good, ma'am. Very, very good!

  11. Baking is definitely in your wheelhouse! Excellent job! I love looking at other peoples' mistakes. It is entertaining and a learning experience for everyone. Thank you for sharing and good luck in this challenge.

  12. I honestly don't know how you do it. Yes, I have three kids too, but I send them away to play on their own before I even attempt baking. And I've never worked with fondant and I am not sure I plan to! But I think this post is fabulous, and I think your readers will appreciate knowing what CAN go wrong when you don't always pay attention to detail. I am so very guilty of that myself!

  13. Kudos for your honesty, ability to think logically and stay cool under stress, and fix the problem! I am proud! :) Great job!

    Whit @ Amuse Bouche

  14. I love it!! Despite everything that happened, these ended up looking SO cute!! Way to go- you definitely have my vote!

  15. Love it, Lauren. You had serious patience to pick off every little bit and start over with the fondant. They came out looking so cute and elegant! I can't believe, to top it all off, that you accomplished this while also playing mommy. Tomorrow, I am going to cook with my two-year old daughter, but I can guarantee we won't be making Petits Fours! I don't have the patience for it tomorrow! :) You've got my vote for sure!

  16. Thank you everyone for visiting! I so love hearing from you! The support you give is amazing and it keeps me going. Love ya.

  17. Love the name, and I can totally relate to having to start over on something that is not turning out...great post, and your photos (and the finished fixed petit fours) are beautiful! Great job :)!

  18. Another great job! Can't wait to see you make it to the final round!

  19. I must say I appreciate your honesty...and your beautiful step-by-step photographs. So often I don't show my failures, but there is so much to be learned from sharing! Your end results were beautiful and showed not only talent but determination. Thanks for sharing with us love!

  20. Lauren, you always tell it like it is! Its so great! And after all the Fondant Hell, I loved that there was a happy ending - the petit fours were adorable . . . Cheers, Michelle

    P.S. Great photos - I particularly love the step by step and ingredient photos . . . those are such a struggle for me, but yours are gorgeous!

  21. So sweet and pretty (and, yep, girlie) You are sure to move ahead to round 5. GREG

  22. Lauren, I really, really love and appreciate your honesty. This was a great post and you should advance just for your perseverance alone :o) I think your "tiny hell cakes" turned out beautiful, I would have loved to share a few over a cup of tea ;o)
    You have my vote for sure!

  23. So pretty! great job Lauren! You have my vote, or course. I agree that these challenges have really pushed us outside of our comfort zones and inspired some really great blogging from us all. =)

    Good luck! I hope to see us both in round five!

  24. That was great! I love your step by step story, very funny. You definatly have waaaaay more patience than I do, not to mention a gift for baking!

  25. Hey Lauren, Thanks for telling us the true tale of those sweet little 'hell cakes' seriously I thought this was a post about goodies for Halloween:) I love your writing and photographs, so Marie Antoinette-ish. You have my vote, little miss foody-house!

  26. Wonderful job...they look delightful :)

  27. you are my hero - my vote is in....

  28. These are so darn cute!! Great photos...they are absolutely lovely!

  29. Fantastic in every way...voted for you!
    Winnie @HealthyGreenKitchen

  30. this is a fantastic post! and the whole start/stop during cooking...OH.EM.GEE...that is my household. and that whole scene you described with elmo...that was me a last week! the things we do.

    i'm a big fan of yours! i hope you go far in this competition!

    Amy K.

  31. Lovely results! Voted for you! Good luck!

  32. I couldn't wait to see you 4th entry after reading your 3rd and I have to say that I absolutely LOVE what you did. Not only are those cakes so cute but I love your honesty. I'm really looking forward to trying out these cakes. You definitely have my vote again! :)

  33. How fun! They look lovely. Great photos. Got my vote! -chris (

  34. You did a GREAT job with this. If my icing had done that, I would have sat in the floor and pouted a while. Kudos for doing it again until it was right. And it looks PERFECT! you have my red heart!

  35. Excellent post - you got my vote for this! Good luck :) Feel free to hop over to leave a comment :)

    Have a wonderful day!
    jen @

  36. I actually think the hot pink fondant was kinda... hot. Brave of you to do it again. I would have certainly been terrified that it would turn out exactly the same. Great story, great post.

    P.S. Can you please turn on ability to Comment as: Name/URL? I think it would solve problems for people who are having trouble with OpenID, etc.


  37. Ah, much better. :) Thank you!

  38. "The angelic little cakes..." You made me laugh out LOUD! I read your profile and you said we would have fun. I did! On Monday, I'm making these for my friends. I will call petits fours "hell cakes" forever now.

  39. They were so distraught...they did a pyramid! Hahahaha! That was awesome....way to go, Lauren! You've once again got a vote from me! I hope you go all the way :)

  40. OH MY GOSH WE ARE PETIT FOUR TWINS! Come to my blog and look at my petit fours:

    I'm serious, I don't think it's us. I think the cake is conspiring against us.

    Hilarious post! You have a vote from me!

    My own post is a romp through croissant making that's filled with humor, exhaustion, and a little bit of popstar glamor. Come see if you'd like :)

  41. Truly you've been to hell and back with those cakes. I would have given up, or at least pretended that hot pink was really the in thing for petit fours. Bravo on a job well rescued and a story well told.

  42. Congrats on advancing to the next round!!! =) Well deserved.

    I can't wait to see what you do for the pizza challenge! =)


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