(or Petit Fours)
I had a hard time extracting the other French word for Petits Fours from a gathering of almost a dozen French people in San Francisco. They furrowed their brows, they twitched their noses, they looked at each other, puzzled and then they lost their words.
I had learnt about the existence of mignardise a few weeks earlier, when I had been invited to accompany a friend who had been asked to be the guest speaker at the graduation of a bunch of Pastry Chefs at the Californian branch of the Culinary Institute at Greystone. We were treated to an amazing lunch time feast which included a fine selection of breads, a cheese plate, a palate cleanser and no less than three plated desserts all prepared by the students. But the sweet delight that captured my imagination the most was the stunning display of mignardises on offer.
I clearly couldn't remove the thought of these sweet little treats from my mind. And as you will probably remember, neither could I remove the darned stickers from the little tart tins that I was consequently inspired to buy.
A couple of weeks ago a friend had a grand dinner party where she served us mozzarella and heirloom salad, foie gras, mussels and roast lamb. She asked for dessert volunteers and so I was naturally the first to offer up my services. After establishing that the other dessert-maker would be serving up a good old-fashioned apple pie, I decided that I would contrast her choice by creating a selection of bite-sized mignardises instead.
The most fun part was not using a recipe. Instead I let the seasonal ingredients at the market that week, and the imaginary voice of an absent pastry chef inspire me. First I patiently baked up several batches of the pie shells using the pate brisee from one of my favourite cookery books.
Fresh figs drowned in a gloopy caramel filled my first set of tartlette shells. The twist was that the caramel had a subtle essence of rose geranium. My first stab at the caramel was a total disaster. I popped some rose geranium leaves in with some sugar and left it overnight for the flavour to infuse, forgetting that when you make caramel, the sugar must be pure. Any alien bodies (such as leaf debris) can cause the caramel to irreversibly crystallize. On my second attempt I made a 'tea' from the leaves instead. I cooled it, strained it and then used that 'tea' in place of water when making the caramel sauce. The second solution worked perfectly and gave the caramel a little hint of je ne sais quoi that reminded me of the filling of one of my favourite chocolates.
Carrying the herbal theme even further, my second set of tarts featured a lemon verbena infused creme patisserie lightened with whipped cream which, as I suspected, matched wonderfully well with the fat juicy blackberries I used to decorate them.
The third nibble on the dessert plate were the Pierre Hermé Bittersweet Truffles with Lime and Honey I featured the other day.
Due to the five courses prior, everyone was quite full by the time we arrived at the mignardise. Thankfully, considering the amount of work I had put in, this didn't stop everyone from polishing the tarts off, helped no doubt by a delicious glass of my favourite moscato.
I had a lot of fun preparing these mini-desserts and I can't wait for the day when I will have enough time to fiddle with more little things like them in the kitchen again.