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Petit fours refer to bite-sized pastries that are often served at the end of a large meal or with afternoon tea. Originally a French term, the name literally translates as "small oven," and it comes from the method in which they were made. Historically, cakes in France were baked in coal-fueled ovens, which burned hotter than wood-fed ovens, in temperatures that were harder to control. After baking large cakes in the oven, the heat remaining while the oven cooled was enough for baking smaller ones. These came to be known in the modern day as petit fours.
These confections can be found both ready-made and fresh in stores that offer fine baked goods, but they can be made at home as well. They fall under two categories, called sec or glacé. All petit fours have layers and are covered in fondant, which is a pasty sugar and water mixture. In addition, there can be hard or soft candy decorations on top of them, often in the shape of a rose or some other dainty thing.
Petit fours sec are "dry" confections that do not involve further embellishment once they have been baked and are readily served. These include ladyfingers, macaroons, and cigarettes. Petit fours glacé, on the other hand, can be manipulated in a variety of ways once baked. They can be dipped and decorated with icing or any form of glaze, or filled with sweet fillings like jam, cream, or chocolate. Miniature sponge cakes or angel food cakes make appropriate bases for these confections. Other glacé types include eclairs and tarts.
Traditionally, petit fours are consumed on two occasions. One is as snacks with afternoon tea, complemented by a sweet frozen dessert like sorbet or ice cream. They can also be eaten at the end of a large meal or buffet, accompanied by a glass of dessert beverage, which include liquor, coffee, tea, and dessert wine.
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