While writing grants and brochure copy for the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, I meet a lot of dancers. Most staffers have trained in studios as the athlete/artists that all dancers are. They are disciplined and they don’t complain about hours, workload, conditions, nothing. Never in my 30 + years of office life have I worked in a shop without a slacker. We don’t have one. Except when it comes to eating desserts. And then, I’m afraid, we have a few.
If I arrive at the office with a tell-tale Tupperware container that screams: I BAKED YOU SOMETHING, I get the glare. They stare me down. But they forget. They forget that I spent years in the food business and I understand that hospitality means this: give the guests the things they want. It’s that simple. Dancers want skinny. And really, does anyone ever want a full dessert after a full meal? Don’t you really just want a couple of gorgeous bites?? This is how I became obsessed with petits fours (small cakes and pastries, also known as “mignardise”). These dancers don’t eat and they dance 10 hours a day. When I look at them, I, too, am hungry. Theirs is a diet of denial. So, in addition to fruit and heartfelt praise, I give them TINY cookies. Here is a video of a few sweet dancers and one of their acclaimed educators.
Small, carefully prepared mini-masterpieces of dessert are just enough to feed the soul. Our event planner includes this logic when we puzzle out menus for university deans, dance moms/dads, and the lithe little freshmen. We now have a line item in the budget for “dancer-size desserts”, and trust me, it’s a small one. But even decadent Fudge Brownies can be sliced dancer-style, so that our sugar plum fairies are as light as candles and as deep and happy as Christmas.
FUDGE BROWNIES (Recipe from Chocolate Bliss)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (preferably unsalted European style, such as Plugra)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon strong brewed coffee or espresso
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup broken walnuts or pecans
Sifted confectioners’ sugar, to dust
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a standard (13 by 9-inch) brownie pan by lining it with a sheet of parchment paper or lightly spraying the pan with cooking spray.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl, stir, then set aside.
Place the chocolate and butter together in a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and allow them to melt together.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment, combine the eggs, vanilla, and coffee and mix on low speed until blended. Add half of the sugar, then mix on high. As the mixture becomes lighter, stop the mixer and add the remaining sugar. Whip until the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Add half the flour, fold in by hand, then add the rest of the flour and continue folding. Finally, fold in the nuts. Fold until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for about 30 minutes. The cake will still be gooey in the center; the top and sides should be crispy. Allow the brownies to cool on a rack in the pan for about 30 minutes. Place the pan in the refrigerator for about an hour if possible to condense the moisture inside. Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Take a paring knife and run it around the sides of the pan, loosening the cake from the pan. Cover it with a sheet pan or large cutting board covered with parchment paper and flip it, allowing the brownie cake to gently fall onto the parchment paper. The cake will be upside down. Remove the baking pan, remove the parchment paper it baked on, then place a large cutting board over the cake, and flip it back over. Your cake is now right side up. You can slice the brownies into square or triangle shapes (SKINNY) and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
For more on Petit Fours & Mignardise https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petit_four
Bite-size Desserts by Carole Bloom
Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker
Gale Gand’s Just a Bite by Gale Gand
Much of what I know about petits fours I learned at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culnary Arts where I taught for more than a few years. They announced their plans to close all of the schools in the US today. Bittersweet farewell.
Art Credit for illustration top of post: www.richardbramble.com