Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Baking! Opera Cake!

This months challenge looked like a real doozy, the kind of challenge I expected when I joined! It was an opera cake, a multi layer, difficult sponge, scary buttercream, daunting mousse, intimidating glaze! Added to that, they decided that we would only use light colours, white chocolate, no dark chocolate or coffee or dark colours. I loved how much flexibility we had to make it our own. There were lots of strawberry cakes, lemon, lime, mango and matcha, a true inspiration to see the endless variations!

Every step seemed to give me the jitters, but it really wasn't that difficult to make if you follow the recipe. I made four layers of a delicious almond jaconde. This was delicious as it was mostly almond meal, a favourite of mine! I softened it with a cherry juice syrup mixed with amaretto, then layered with almond essence flavoured buttercream, cherries and cherry mousse. The top was covered with a further layer of cherry mousse, followed by a white chocolate glaze. I'd already cut the cake to clean it up, so the glaze oozed a little over the cake, but I actually quite liked the way it looked.

I'm so grateful to the daring bakers for suggesting this challenge, its a beautiful and delicious cake and something I wouldnt probably have tried on a whim.

I think I'd actually really like this cake in the traditional form with a delicious dark chocolate top and a coffee syrup and mousse. I'll be very happy to try this again now that I know its not as much trouble as I expected and is truly delicious and very impressive! My coworkers loved it, they were very impressed with the elaborate nature and delicious flavours!

I baked the cake in regular half baking sheets, the recipe suggested three layers, one of which was split. I decided that was probably setting myself up for failure, with two halves sandwiched together, so I went for four clean layers.

A Taste of Light: Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

Reveal date is Wednesday May 28.

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperature)

What you’ll need:

•2 1/2 baking sheets (10 x 18)
•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 almonds (from vine ripe market, la mesa)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) 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 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

(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) cherry juice (trader joes)
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. amaretto

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 (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
1/2 tsp almond essence

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).

Note: I made a mistake and used 1/2 cup water. The buttercream was runny, but after 30mins in the fridge it came together ok.

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 handheld blender
•a mixer or handheld mixer


8 oz cherries
1 cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
2.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cherries to form a mousse.
3.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
4.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


7 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 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 in half to give four pieces of cake

Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about one-half of the buttercream over this layer. Dot with cherries and push into the buttercream

Top with the another piece of cake, moisten with the flavoured syrup.

Spread 1/3 of the cherry mousse on top

Top with the another piece of cake, moisten with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another half of the buttercream on the cake, dot with cherries and then top with the fourth square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde.

Spread the remaining mousse on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the 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. Cut to give clean sides. Note that I cut before pouring the glaze, this gave a slightly oozy looking glaze!

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.


moowiesqrd said...

Beautiful! I love cherries and your flavor combo sounds perfect! Great pictures!

maybelles parents said...

The cherry mousse sounds wonderful.

Sheltie Girl said...

Your Opera cake is simply beautiful. Great job!

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Aparna said...

Fruit in this cake tastes great, doesn't it?
Your cake looks nice.

abby said...

i love the addition of fresh fruit - it almost manages to create the illusion of healthiness in the cake!

Christine said...

Beautiful job! The cherry mousse sounds wonderful!

How To Eat A Cupcake said...

Cherry mousse??? OMG!! It looks fantastic!

francijn said...

I like your picture, the cherries do it very well on your cake. Nice!

madcapcupcake said...

Great job, the cherry sounds inspiring!!

Dolores said...

I love your focus on cherries. I'm glad you took a deep breath and dove into this one.

Debyi said...

Your opera cake looks so good! I love cherries, what a great flavor choice for this cake. Great job.

Betsy said...

I love how you decorated the top. It looks beautiful.

Shari said...

Cherries and almond would be perfect!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

Barbara said...

mmm cherry mousse. Your cake looks great!

Rebecca said...

Cherries! This cake is really lovely.

Deborah said...

Gorgeous! It looks and sounds delicious!

Molly Loves Paris said...

Your cake is really lovely, and the cherries look soo yummy. The cherry idea is a great one. I accidently made Dorie's version, and it is now my all time favorite cake. It was sad when it was all gone. My youngest daughter wants it for her birthday cake instead of her usual Swedish Princess Cake. You're going to love it.