I can’t believe time has come to post the May Daring Bakers challenge! I feel like it was only a week ago, ok, two, that we devoured our Cheesecake Pops and here it comes again - another fabulous challenge. This month’s challenge is being hosted by the founders of the Daring Bakers group, Lis of La Mia Cucina Lis & Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and they chose Opera Cake for us to bake. Ladies, thank you for the pick!
Let me tell you. It WAS a challenge. The cake was not difficult to bake, but I found the waiting times to chill/freeze and etc quite time consuming and they didn’t really fit into my super busy schedule. But then again, it is a challenge, and I am a daring baker, so no complaining, Farida:)
Some of the things I experienced/changed/used in the recipe along the way.
1. I made my own almond meal.
2. The layers took 15 minutes each to bake, as opposed to 5-9 minutes the recipe suggested. Plus, the layers seemed way to thin to me. They didn’t rise a bit. And were they supposed too? The recipe doesn’t mention it.
3. As a flavoring for the syrup I used honey - 1 tablespoon of it. I don’t think it added much flavor to the sponge. I think coffee could have done a better job.
4. As a flavoring for the butter-cream I used orange - peeled zest of 1 orange. Again, not a great idea. Didn’t go well with the overall taste of the cake. I also sprinkled the buttercream with halved fresh cherries for a fresh summery taste. Wasn’t that bad of an idea.
5. Also, I didn’t quite like the idea of using white chocolate for the glaze. I am not a big fan of white chocolate and I think it made the cake too rich. The amount of glaze could have been reduced.
6. I just don’t think my cake looked very pretty. My picture says it all, doesn’t it. In fact, I think my coffee cup and my antique teaspoon I brought from Azerbaijan look prettier:) When I was making the cake, I really expected the result to be something out of this world. But it didn’t happen. I am really wondering what might have gone wrong. I did a search on google to see how opera cakes look (not daring bakers’) and wow, was I impressed! Most looked beautiful, with thicker butter-cream layers and sponges, and with perfect dark chocolate glaze!
7. I made this cake for my daughter’s B-day party and the guests loved it. I kind of liked the taste too, but not too much. I am assuming my choice for the flavorings was not quite good. But even with that, it just didn’t look quite appealing to me. Am I being picky here?
My Verdict: The cake is delicious but not super delicious. This is my personal opinion. Don’t trust me though, I am picky:) If you are going to make it keep in mind its preparation requires dedication, lots of time and patience. And I would suggest you make the best of your imagination for the flavorings. Dark chocolate would go better for the glaze. In spite of all the challenge along the way, I still had fun making the cake. Thank you Lis and Ivonne for the challenge! If you would like to see Opera Cakes my fellow daring bakers made, please check them out at the Daring Bakers blog. There are hundreds of opera cakes singing Eat Me Eat Me (I wish I could) posted on blogs around the world today! Enjoy!
This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.
The Elements of an Opéra Cake:
Joconde: The base of an Opéra Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).
Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup that can be flavoured to suit your tastes.
Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.
Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. While not hard to make, this makes the recipe quite involved. We are giving Daring Bakers the option of either using the buttercream to cover the final layer or, if they’re feeling up to it, to go ahead and make the ganache/mousse.
Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.
For the joconde
(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)
What you’ll need:
•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.
2.Preheat the oven to 425?F. (220?C).
3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.
5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.
6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).
7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.
9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.
10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.
For the syrup
½ cup (125 grams) water
? cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)
1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.
2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
For the buttercream
1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)
1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225?F (107?C). Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.
3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.
4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).
6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.
7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.
8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.
9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).
For the white chocolate ganache/mousse
7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)
1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)
14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)
1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.
Assembling the Opéra Cake
(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).
Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.
Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.
Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.
Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.
Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).
Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.
Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.
Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.