If this momentous occasion is lost on you, you’re clearly not a fan of Empire Records: a movie I loved (and still love—”you! It’s still you!”) so much that I convinced a bunch of friends on my freshman hall in college to dress up as characters from the film on a random weekday—for the record, I was Mark—and typed up the entire screenplay dialogue while bedridden in my dorm room during a particularly boredom-inducing flu. Play, pause, type. Play, pause, type.
It’s such a 90’s movie with such a young-gun cast (Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger, Rory Cochrane, Ethan Embry) and an equally nostalgic soundtrack (Gin Blossoms, Cranberries, Cracker, Throwing Muses, Sponge); a perfect time capsule of the era. Don’t believe me? Check out the original theatrical trailer. But who wouldn’t be won over by the romanticized notion of working—even if it is for The Man—with a bunch of friends and experiencing daily dramatic shenanigans like saving your gorgeous, independent record store from being consumed by corporate greed while hosting a past-his-prime, pompous pop star for an album signing and dealing with a skate-punk shoplifter who calls himself Warren Beatty? That’s what makes Empire Records and hence, Rex Manning Day so awesome, and because it’s a holiday, we must celebrate with food.
Though many things are consumed in Empire Records—beer, cigars, cupcakes (“Dad says there are 24 usable hours in every day, thank you!”), pizza, pot brownies, M&Ms, speed (“diet pills, oh, what a surprise?!”), the salad Rex attempts to eat as Corey attempts to seduce him—nothing seemed appropriate to build an edible homage around. So in lieu of bringing Rex his lunch, I baked a batch of “Say No More, Mon Amour” Petits Fours in honor of the man himself.
It’s true that I came up with the idea based on name alone, since I love a good pun and a good rhyme, but then I realized that petits fours are the perfect dessert for Rex Manning. Basically a pain in the ass to deal with, coiffed, coddled, and manicured (helloooo, Rex’s wardrobe: satiny purple fringed shirt, black velvet jacket, and purple fringed pants!), sugar-pop-sweet and a little fruity; it all makes sense. Rex is a fancy, finicky French confection when it comes down to it.
I wouldn’t call these petits fours washed-up impostors because you are taking the time to make them from scratch, after all. But they do have a secret inside: thin layers of blueberry jam, as an homage to Rex’s navy blue Jockey briefs. Don’t leave them alone with Renee Zellweger if you value their virtue, if you know what I mean.
Damn the Man. Save the Empire.
Say No More, Mon Amour Petits Fours for Rex Manning Day
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 3 hours
Makes 40 petits fours
- 1 1/8 cups (4 3/4 oz.) cake flour
- 3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup organic canola oil
- 6 tablespoons (3 fluid oz.) ice-cold water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 325˚F and spritz a rimmed quarter sheet pan (approximately 9 by 13 inches) with nonstick baking spray.
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.
Whisk the oil, water, vanilla, lemon juice, and egg yolks together in a separate medium bowl, then beat them into the flour to make a smooth batter. Reserve.
Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.
Gently and slowly fold the egg whites into the batter until incorporated, then pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cake is just starting to brown at the top and edges. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack.
- 1 12-oz. jar blueberry jam
- a double batch of Poured Fondant Icing with a drop of two of food coloring, if desired
Assemble the Petits Fours:
I’m not going to lie, making these things can be as much of a pain as dealing with the inflated ego of a pop star. But once you get the hang of it, you can crank these babies out without a problem.
While the cooled cake is still in the pan, slice it into quarters. Transfer one quarter at a time to a clean cutting surface and cut it in half again so you have two rectangles each approximately 2 3/4-by-3-inches. Slice each of these in half horizontally to make two very thin layers. (Afraid of dividing layer cakes this way? Start on one side, then switch to the other uncut side halfway through so you meet in the middle.)
Repeat with the remaining halves so you end up with 16 thin layers of cake. You’ll only need 15 of these, so feel free to eat the crappiest-looking layer right now, if you want.
Spread a layer with about 1 tablespoon blueberry jam, working it evenly across the surface so the cake absorbs some of the jam. Top with another layer of cake, then repeat with the blueberry jam. Top with a final layer of cake.
Slice any wonky, uneven or overly browned sides off the cake to make a clean rectangle, then cut the layered cake into 8 pieces. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
To ice the cakes with fondant, get your prep station ready: line a large rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper, then top with a wire cooling rack. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer, and transfer the fondant to a stainless steel bowl if you haven’t done so already following King Arthur Flour’s instructions.
The fondant should be loose enough to fall from a spatula in thick ribbons—King Arthur Flour recommends keeping it around 100˚F—so place the bowl of fondant on top of the saucepan of simmering water to make a double boiler situation as needed.
Place a piece of cake on a fork—I like to rest mine on the tines instead of stabbing it through—then drizzle the fondant thickly and evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Briefly let the excess drip into the bowl, then use a thin knife or offset spatula to gently push the petit four onto the wire rack to continue dripping as the fondant sets.
Be careful to keep crumbs out of the picture as much as possible, since they’ll mar the clean look of your fondant if they fall into the bowl. Continue with the remaining cakes, reheating the fondant over the simmering water as needed.
Let the finished petits fours sit at room temperature for at least 90 minutes so the icing can firm up completely. Even if they’re not entirely perfect, they’ll still taste great and give you a sugar high.