Gluten-free petits fours

I haven’t made petits fours in at least five years–I’ve been involved with hardly any wedding or baby showers since then until the last two weeks and hadn’t been in a baking mood–and I’ve certainly never made them gluten-free. I’ve only ever made the Southern Living recipe for petits fours, so when I decided to try making gluten-free petits fours for a baby shower this past weekend, I just went back to that. I was lost on the question of how to adapt a white-flour, non-gravy, non-fried-food recipe to use gluten-free flour instead, and frankly, I’m a little lazy and haven’t researched what works best, so I decided to try it with Pamela’s baking mix and see if it was remotely close.

Elle was throwing the baby shower, and the mom-to-be had asked for something gluten-free, having had Pamela’s wonderful gluten-free chocolate chunk cookies at Elle’s wedding shower (also, Elle’s just nice and wants me to be able to eat). We went to Caldwell and looked for something at Cliff’s Country Market, which has a big selection of gluten-free items, including a lot of baked yummies in the freezer. We didn’t see what we were looking for (though I did take the opportunity to pick up a few things), so I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, I would give petits fours a shot.

I told Elle I would try to make them, and on Thursday I ordered a new beater for my Kitchenaid (you can’t leave those burnished beaters soaking, or the coating starts to come off in your batters thereafter). I told Elle the same day that I wasn’t sure if they’d come out, and I basically told her to have a backup plan ready. I figured they had a twenty-five percent chance of survival.

Well. They survived.

You may have noticed from the terrible picture (my kitchen lighting sucks, I have no kitchen windows, and I haven’t yet bought the flash for my camera) that my petits fours aren’t perfect little squares like you would see in the Southern Living book (I have the older version of that book). Yeah, well. I’m an amateur, and I kinda like how they’re all different sizes. They’re supposed to be individual cakes, so why should they conform? Also, mine aren’t always even, as you see. That’s because I’d rather have a slanted cake than no cake at all.

Okay, I’ll stop talking and give you the recipe.

Gluten-free petits fours: adapted Southern Living recipe

I measure out the first 6 ingredients before I ever get started:

1 cup shortening (it hurt to use Crisco for the first time in three years, but it tasted so good)
2 cups sugar
3 cups Pamela’s baking and pancake mix (one day I’ll learn to mix them myself, but for now, this works)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup ice water

Beat shortening at medium speed until fluffy; gradually add 2 cups sugar, still beating.
Combine baking mix, baking powder, and salt while the shortening and sugar are beating; add to shortening mixture alternately with ice water, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix at low speed after each addition just until blended. After your last flour addition, dump the batter into a giant bowl.

1 1/2 tsp clear imitation butter flavor (I only had yellow–it does not matter)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp almond extract

Add the three flavorings to the batter, mix in well. Wash your mixer bowl. Taste the batter. Thank the Lord that anything so tasty exists.

4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until stiff peaks form (I actually used my wire whip instead of the beater for this part). This takes a few minutes. If you’re not sure if your egg whites are stiff, they’re probably not. Gently fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour batter into two greased and floured 8-inch square pans. I always forget to flour them. You can use either rice flour or the baking mix–I used the baking mix.

Bake the cakes at 325 degrees for 40 to 43 minutes. The first batch, I went with 40; second batch, I baked for 40 and kept them in the turned-off oven for five more; the third batch, I baked for 43. They all came out pretty much the same. Just insert a toothpick in the center of each cake and make sure it comes out clean.

While the cakes are baking, sift ten cups of powdered sugar.

Cool cakes completely in pans on wire racks. (The first batch, I made the mistake of taking them out of the pans after ten minutes, and that doesn’t work so well in GF baking.) When the cakes are completely cool, remove them from the pans to the wire racks (this is a delicate process, be careful). Freeze cakes on the wire racks until firm.

Trim crusts from all surfaces, making sure the tops of the cakes are flat. Or do the best you can, because you can always cut a little here and there from each cake if you have to. Or you can have little slanted cakes like me! Oh, I sometimes flip the cakes and trim the bottom crust, and I sometimes don’t. That bottom crust just tastes heavenly, so I like to have it–but the picture in the SL book shows it without the bottom crust, so let’s call it baker’s choice. I find that my Pampered Chef bread knife works best for trimming the crusts and cutting the cake.

Cut each cake into 16 squares and brush away the loose crumbs. You can use a ruler for this, or you can do what I do, which is cut down the center, then cut each half down the center, then turn the cake and do the same thing. Place cake squares 2 inches apart on wire racks. Make sure you put the racks over cookie sheets (the kind with sides–I seem to have none of those anymore, so I used the bottom of my broiler pan), and do not try using just paper towels on top of your ceramic stove, because that would be bad and cause a giant candy mess all over the stove that is very hard to clean up. Not that I would know or anything.

10 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 cup water
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract (I use almond, because I love the flavor hard. I’ve also used peppermint extract in the past, and those are yummy too.)

Combine powdered sugar and next three ingredients in a large saucepan; warm over low heat, stirring constantly (I whisk) until smooth. Quickly spoon warm icing over the cake squares, completely covering the tops and sides. This takes a while, and your shoulder may hurt. Apply Tiger Balm and move on. To the shoulder, not the cakes.

Scrape/spoon up all the excess icing that fell through the wire racks and into your cookie sheet. Put it back in the pan and reheat until smooth. If necessary, add water to maintain the icing’s original consistency–I wish I’d seen this little instruction, because my icing just kept getting thicker. Continue pouring and reheating icing until all cakes have been iced twice. Let icing dry completely.

You can decorate these with frosting, or you can just throw little ornaments on top like I did. OR you can leave them plain, which I have done in the past. Instead of using decorator frosting, I decided to color the icing a pale baby pink. Except that I used a tad much food coloring (ya think?!) and turned them Pepto. It worked out anyway, because they matched the decorations, but next time I’ll either leave them white and throw on the ornaments or use a wee smidge of paste food coloring instead of four wee smidges.

This is supposed to make 32 petits fours, but I was only able to get about 24 out of each batch. Because in each batch, one of the cakes would fall out in the middle when I removed it from the pan. It was a different pan each time, so I don’t know if it’s because my oven is tiny, or maybe it bakes unevenly, I don’t know. All I know is that I have never been able to get 32 by making only one batch of this recipe, even when I made it with gluten.

The baby cakes were a huge hit at the shower, at home, and in my belly.

23 Responses to Gluten-free petits fours

  1. Oh my gosh… those are so cute! Thanks for posting the recipe! I’m going to use it for sure… I have some family members who are on gluten-free diets as well. :)

  2. Thanks! You’re welcome. Let me know how they turn out!

  3. No One of Consequence

    Have you checked the temperature in your oven? I’ve found I have to turn my oven down about 25 degrees from what the recipe recommends to get a good cake out. It takes longer to bake, but it is well worth the time.

    You can also try a heating core in the center of the pan. Wilton has a product specifically for this, but I’ve also read that you can use one of their flower nails for the same effect.

  4. This was only my second time to use the oven, so no. :)

    The heating core sounds like a good idea. It was just the center of the cake, and just one each batch. Weird.

  5. Those are adorable!!

  6. So if that’s a petite four, then what are little clamshell cake things?

    They look tastey by the way. I only just yesterday learned of the frosting coloring you use a wee smidge of. I thought it was all regular food coloring, then wondered why my face turned blue after eating a blue cupcake.

  7. gorgeous little bits of heaven is what they look like! hey…someone told me the quickest way to a straight cut cake (and a banquet cake maker as well)…use dental floss (new, not used!) to cut the cake. comes out perfect every time. :)

  8. jayne, coming from you… I don’t even know what to say. Just. Wow, thanks!

    maya, I’m not sure… Do you mean macarons? Other than that… petits fours come in tons of varieties. This is just one of them.

    They are tasty indeed. I’d seen references to paste food coloring, but this was my first time to use it.

    ma, great idea! I may try that next time!

  9. awesome! will try these for the crazy aunt!

  10. They are so tiny and cute! Nice work and YUM! I love almond flavoring, too.

    Maya–clamshells = madeleines? Proust!

  11. Gully, make sure you save the crusts that you cut off and anything that doesn’t turn out, because ugly petits fours cake is still yummy petits fours cake.

    Kate, thanks! And I’m pretty sure God invented pure almond extract just for me.

    I think you’re right on the madeleines, too!

  12. yes, looked up the cake pan, they are indeed madeleines (spellings?) and I guess I should have called it a scallop, not clam. And I decided I hadn’t recognized the petit four because I must have seen them as the tiny flower shapes. But I’m still pretty sure I’ve never eaten one. That may have to change…

  13. No One of Consequence

    When I was taking cake decorating classes, our instructor suggested putting any parts of the cake we cut off into a bowl, and do the same with any excess icing. Looked terrible, tasted wonderful!

  14. Yeah, the petits fours come in all shapes and varieties. They’re so cute! I should try a different kind sometime. And those madeleines look so cute that I now want to try those. But not before I try making jayne’s dolphin SYC cookies.

    NOOC, yep, I just put them all in a big baggie (but not the icing, didn’t think of that). Still have 3 or 4 baggies from Saturday in the fridge.

  15. Wow, looks like they came out great!

  16. OK, it’s probably because I work in a used bookstore and have to check the internet price level used books for underlining and other damage, and after seeing a few awful things in medical textbooks, and having developed a habit of… kind of looking above the pages of the medical textbooks while trying to catch out of the corner of my eye whether they have underlining, highlighting, or dumb notes without seeing hideous things that cannot be unseen… call me sick, but am I the only one who thinks those babycakes have a certain… segment of fresh lung tissue look to them? I mean, the first thing I thought when I saw the cakes was, oh Lord, SarahK’s had a lung biopsy and got hold of the photos, I hope she’s ok. Then I noticed the diaper pins and bows… I’m sick, please forgive me.

  17. You have inspired me to make petits fours for our church potluck this weekend (plus the gluten, minus the crisco :)) I hope I have as much success as you did. I’m nervous yet terribly excited.

  18. Oh, good luck! Let me know how they turn out!

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  20. the LOOK yummy… you’ll have to tell me how they go over with the ladies.

  21. They went over fantastically!

  22. I’ve been watching Julia Child’s baking show re-runs on PBS. One of her guests made fabulous looking petits fours and I decided I could do the same only gf. Well, it turned out to be a tasty, boozy, cake slide before I was done so they never made it to the tea table but they sure tasted good! I’m going to try your recipe.
    p.s. don’t know if you have new lighting for your camera, but you can try reflecting light into your kitchen or buy one of those big, round, hanging paper lamps from Pier 1 or World Market. They provide natural looking lighting at a decent price.

  23. Oh, thanks for the tips on lighting. I may do that, or I may just break down and buy the flash. :) Let me know how the cakes turn out!