Monday, October 02, 2006

Making Mignardises

(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.

Bay Area Resources
Figs and lemon Verbena from Tairwa' Knoll
Rose Geranium from Eatwell

2004 | Sunday Night Chez Nous: Mustard Crusted Pork Loin
2005 | Unplanned Coincidence: Figs & Caramel!

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Making Mignardises


  • At 3/10/06 00:15, Blogger Beccy said…

    They look yummy Sam, they also look like they take a long time to make!

  • At 3/10/06 01:37, Blogger Bonnie said…

    Absolutely gorgeous Sam! And I love the slide effect!

  • At 3/10/06 05:16, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    These look wonderful Sam; the slide show is so good you can almost taste them. I wish I had your patience in the kitchen.

  • At 3/10/06 06:47, Blogger wheresmymind said…

    waaah! I can't see the slideshow :(

  • At 3/10/06 10:08, Blogger anni said…

    Sam -

    Truly a feast for the eyes. I like the slideshow effect. So high-tech.

    Mmmmm...I can only imagine the mix of flavors. Makes the palate wanna "get jiggy wid it"....

    Gonna try the figs with the infused caramel sauce. A good way to use up the last of the fresh figs on the tree. Lovely!

    Anni :-)

  • At 3/10/06 11:51, Blogger Catherine said…

    Wow! These look and sound sensational! I love Lemon Verbena so much I'm growing my own.

  • At 3/10/06 13:40, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    More time in the kitchen? Are you thinking of retiring also Sam?

  • At 3/10/06 14:25, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So beautiful and drool-worthy, mmm! When will technology be good enough so that what you see will actually appear in front of you in real-time??

  • At 3/10/06 16:31, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your mignardises look beautiful! The combination of lemon verbena and blackberry sounds so good, as does the caramel as a match to the texture of the figs (and the rose geranium as a match to their floral character). I'm happy that you were inspired by the graduation. I've become quite the mignardises convert, too -- after scouring NYC kitchen supply stores, I returned to Napa yesterday with a shoebox full of all kinds of tartlet tins... so, in other words, a lifetime supply. :)

  • At 3/10/06 21:30, Blogger krista said…

    Very nice slide show.

  • At 4/10/06 06:18, Blogger Kaer Trouz said…

    That single vineyard Rivetti Moscato is indeed sublime. If you ever make some mignardies based in a more chocolately vein, there is a lovely bubble from around the Savoie (France) called Cerdon du Bugey, a little sweet must slightly musty strawberry/raspberry flavors.

  • At 4/10/06 06:59, Blogger Julie said…

    It is so much fun to cook when you just let things come together organically. I love experimenting, especially with flavors for dessert. It looks like these tarts made all the peeling of the awful stickers worthwhile!

  • At 4/10/06 18:45, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh my goodness look how cute and delectable those little babies are!!!

  • At 5/10/06 23:51, Blogger Alice Q. Foodie said…

    Where did the slideshow go??

  • At 6/10/06 10:27, Blogger Alanna Kellogg said…

    Wow! Talk about a great reason to get OFF RSS and onto the blog!

  • At 6/10/06 13:47, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ooh. I just love a good slide show featuring tarts.

  • At 8/10/06 12:32, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    beccy - yes - a very long time

    bonnie - check out, very easy to use - and free

    mum - thankfully i like it and it helps me relax.

    wmm :(

    anni - i love the idea of herbs in dessert

    catherine - lemon verbena is wonderful!

    barbara - huh - i wish - i just started a new job so time in the kitchen is going to be a rare thing from now on, I think

    shelly - slide.comis free and easy to use - check it out!

    janice - i wish, huh?!

    nina - i am jealous of your new collection - please be careful not to cut you fingers! thanks for the inspiration.

    krista - thanks

    palette - great tips - dont you worry, i am already familiar with the sparkling gamay from savoie

    julie - even so i am going to get them gift wrapped next time!

    ivonne - i am sure you could make some great versions of these

    alice - it hasnt gone anywhere?

    AK - yes unfortunately the slide doesnt show in RSS

    Karina - tarts. a double meaning only one of which i am fond of!


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