A mignardise is a bite-sized dessert, and its name is used interchangeably with the French term petit four. The word "misnardise" is a French noun referring to an artificial air, or a show-off, but it also refers to an assortment of small desserts typically served with coffee at the end of a meal. A mignardise should be as pretty as it is tasty. Chocolate truffles, mini tarts and spoon-size pound cakes are just a few examples of different mignardises. Mignardises are not systematically served at the end of every meal and instead are reserved for special occasions.
A chef can display his or her talents when creating elaborate and refined mignardise pastries. These small sweets typically are served with coffee at the end of a meal. They are bite-size to make sure that they not to distract from the rest of the chef’s creations, but these sweet little bonuses also are served as a reminder of the chef’s skill.
All sorts of deserts can be mignardises, such as chocolates, cookies and cakes, as long as they are individual servings and can be eaten without utensils. Mini trifles served in shot glasses with espresso spoons would not be considered a mignardise, nor would a small slice of cake. Bite-size chocolates, such as chocolate truffles, chocolates decorated with nuts and dried berries and fruit dipped in chocolate would be considered mignardises. Confections such as delicate almond cookies, meringues or even flavored marshmallows also would be some common mignardises. A final category of mignardises are miniatures of regular-size cakes, such fruit tarts and pound cakes.
Mignardises are not part of a common three-course meal. In fact, they typically are available only on special occasions when guests would like to extend their dining experience as long as possible. In both France and the rest of the world, mignardises typically are not served except in the fanciest restaurants. More commonly, in place of mignardises, a piece of chocolate is left with the dining bill, sending a similar message from an establishment, thanking the guest and extending an invitation to come again.
In French, the word mignardise has a variety of definitions, but all mignardises are pleasing to the eye. The word also is used to describe a person who is a show-off, a decorative type of carnation flower and the brightly colored braided ribbon used to decorate military uniforms. The use of the word to describe an elegant little dessert combines the notions of decoration and showing off as well.