Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May Daring Bakers Challenge - Opéra Cake

Bonjour! I have successfully completed my second Daring Bakers Challenge. May's challenge was cohosted by Lis, Ivonne, Fran and Shea. It is an Opéra Cake, something I had never heard of until joining this group.

A classic Opéra Cake is seven layers; made up of three thin layers of almond cake (joconde) which are soaked in a coffee syrup, two of which are topped with a layer of espresso buttercream, and the last topped with one layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache, followed by a chocolate glaze.

However, the Daring Baker hosts have dedicated this month's challenge to Barbara. Barbara is the force behind the food blog event called A Taste of Yellow that supports the LiveSTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong, and she is battling cancer herself. Because LiveStrong Day is in May, the hosts decided that we could show our support by dedicating our respective challenge posts to Barbara, and instead of making the Opéra Cake with the traditional coffee and chocolate flavors, we are making Opéra Cakes that are light in both color and flavor, to tie in with the LiveSTRONG theme.

So without further ado.... my Opéra Cake song and dance: (ha! Get it? Song? Opera? ... never mind.)

When I first printed out the recipe, it was about 12 pages. 12 pages for a 7 layer cake? Yikes.

I first went through the recipe and cropped out all the filler mumbo jumbo and different fonts and such and that brought it down to 8 pages. Much more doable. I wasn't as nervous anymore.

I read through the recipe and realized it was actually pretty simple. There were a lot of steps to do and when seeing it all out on paper as a whole, it could be a bit overwhelming. But when you break it down into each individual little piece of the puzzle, it actually ended up being not at all difficult. There weren't any steps that I was unfamiliar with.

I did choose to grind my own almonds to make the almond meal. That was pretty harmless but probably the only "tricky" thing in the recipe... and pushing the "pulse" button on a blender is not very tricky!

The only problem I had was that while baking, my bottom layer was borderline burned- while the top layer was perfect. So I would bake the sheets separately next time, using the center of the oven for both and omitting the bottom of the oven.

Mine also ended up being 9 layers instead of 7. I used a different sized pan so I just sliced each cake in half to have four equal sized pieces. I should have probably made more buttercream and syrup to have thicker layers, but it worked out okay.

As for the taste-- I was a little unsure of how it would be. I actually didn't think I would like it at all, as I don't like buttercream and I don't like white chocolate. And knowing that the real recipe calls for chocolate and coffee flavorings paired with the almond spongecake (which I love), I just didn't think I'd like it.

Faux pas numeral uno. Wait, that's French AND Spanish...

If you're looking for a perfect cake recipe to make for a WOW factor, this is it!
Try it out!

Bon appétit!

Be sure to check out more Daring Baker's results by clicking here.

Here is the recipe:

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)
•parchment paper
•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 over mix 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

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ 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

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


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
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) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. 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

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liqueur 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.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


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.


Marye said...

You did a great job!

Gina MarySol Ruiz said...

Very pretty. I love the white cake with a raspberry garnish. Lovely.

FoodieFroggy said...

Your cake is wonderful,

chrismacd1 said...

My bottom layer burnt to so we just ate all around the burnt cake! Yum! You did a great job!

Renee said...

You cake looks so pretty. Great job!

Mary said...

Your cake looks terrific!

Barbara said...

Pretty cake, love the fresh raspberries on top.

Anonymous said...

Great job, and I had the exact same problem with my cakes. One sheet came out perfect while the other one was overly browned on the bottom. It wasn't burnt though, so I used it anyway.

Rachel Rayne said...

What a marvelous cake. I love it! Kudos.

landa said...

Looks yummy.

emacgrass said...

it looks so perfect, like it belongs in a cook book! :)

Elle said...

It really does have that WOW factor, doesnt't it? Your slice looks perfect, especially with the fruit presentation. Glad you are a Daring Baker!

Claire said...

Glad you ended up liking it! Wondeful job.

Lisa Thibault said...

This is fantastic - what a beautiful cake.

wmpe said...

Your opera cake looks great! Your filling and glaze are so perfectly white! My cake ended up having 9 layers, too. I enjoyed your write-up! Wendy

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a wonderful job on your cake...congratulations!

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

MamaDotz said...

You are AMAZING Michele! And your cake looks FABULOUS!! Congratulations on another successful Daring Baker Challenge ~ You've got a knack for sure!

Shari said...

The red raspberries look delicious on the white cake. Great job!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

Lunch Buckets said...

Nice job - that's a lovely cake.

Andreia Sousa said...

Your cake is gorgeous!
My buttercream was not that great but it was yummy!

Jen said...

I made the almond meal in my blender too! You are totally right that the cake was actually not that complicated even though there were so many instructions.

Great job!

Virginia said...

They look fabulous! I love the white and accent of red. I bet it was a hit!

Rebecca of "Ezra Pound Cake" said...

Gorgeous! This one was such a challenge. Good job.


Kim said...

Michele- It only took me a week how to figure out how to sign up for a blogger account. Your cake is wonderful,I adore white cakes. Thanks for your wonderful comments btw.