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.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hearty Lowfat Brownies

These are one of my go to snacks, really hearty and indulgent, but somehow healthy too! I took them to my bike team for my final prep before our ride around Lake Tahoe next weekend and they disappeared very quickly!

The recipe suggests to bake them in a 9 x 13 baking dish, but I took most of the batter and put it in a mini muffin tin and then had enough to pour the rest into a loaf tin with about 2/3in of batter. I really like these mini muffin bites as they are quite hard to cut and this eliminates that hassle. My estimate is that there would be at least 30 brownies, 2 per serving.
Heart -y Lowfat Valentines Brownies-Shape Magazine Feb 2004
Makes 15 brownies
Prep time 15mins
Cook time around 20mins.
Nonfat Spray
3/4 cup white sugar (143g)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (143g)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsps unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2 whole eggs
4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups prunes (250g) pureed in a food processor with
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup white flour (70g)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (70g)

Preheat oven to 325f
Spray a muffin tin or 9 x 13in baking pan with oil
Combine sugars, cocoa, eggs and egg whites and beat until light and creamy, around 5 mins
Add pureed prunes and beat until mixed in, add vanilla and salt and beat, then sift baking soda and flour and add to the batter and mix just until combined.
Optional-add walnuts as a topping
Put into pans and cook for either around 20 mins for mini muffins or 35-40 mins until a knife comes out clean.

Nutritional score per 2 muffin serving, or 1 brownie (15 per recipe)
148 calories, 8% fat (1.41g, 0.6g saturated), 82% carbs (33g), 10% protein (4g) 15mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 2g fiber, 127mg sodium. Add more for walnuts!

I also made my favourite carrot cakes by delia and they were all gone but two, these are always very popular!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

WCB- after breakfast nap time

Tina likes to get up at 5.30 for breakfast, with us watching her eat, then she likes to have a little nap while we're sitting in the living room.

So sundays are her favourite. Unfortunately for her, we dont like her plan, so we give her breakfast, then shut the door so we can have another couple of hours sleep, which is obviously just terrible, so we endure a good few minutes of talking to.

She's a very vocal cat, the vet thinks she's a british blue, I dont know if that has some siamese or burmese in, but she is jolly chatty.

Here she is post breakfast relaxing. Look at her little back rabbit foot sticking out. Oh bless! Her coat is looking nice and sleek for the summer now that she's done moulting.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Anzac Biscuits, nom nom nom

I wanted to treat my bike team tomorrow as we're climbing mount palomar again. The fun catch is that we're starting in Solana Beach(110 miles and 10,000+ ft climb!). Ha ha ha!! See my other blog to see if we made it!

These anzac biscuits seemed the perfect choice. I wanted to make them anyway, but I was really happy to find a recipe in cooking light, as I didnt want them to be too fatty as that is really not good for a cyclist!!

They are really delicious! The golden syrup is a must, and they really remind me of 'hob nobs'. The coconut isnt too prevalent, which is good as I'm not really a fan.

Anzac Biscuits- The complete Cooking Light Cookbook
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup regular oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup (Important, but I wont kill you if you use honey)

Preheat oven to 325f
Combine flour, oats, sugar, coconut and baking soda
Melt the butter, mix in water and golden syrup.
Mix the two and roll balls of dough in your hands and flatten them onto a silpat/greased cookie sheet.
Cook for around 12 minutes. They harden on sitting, so leave them on a sheet for a while to harden, then cool on a rack.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Its a friend's birthday coming up and I wanted to bake something for him. I'm told he likes a good chocolate chip cookies, and I wanted to try the alton brown recipe I'd been given by a friend.

They were wonderful! I ended up eating two of them as they were so delicious, especially straight out of the oven! This was a total winner recipe and definitely worked better with the flat cookie sheet. I scooped the flour, so decided to reduce the amount to two cups and I was worried they would be tough.

The Chewy
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Show: Good Eats
Episode: Three Chips for Sister Marsha

2 sticks salted butter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
oven 375 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.
Pour the melted butter in the mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Heat the oven to 375 f. Chill the dough, then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Tina under Siege

Tina has found another cupboard to sit in. This is a bit tricky, she just has to launch herself in there and then she's in, but she cant stand up in there, so she has a bit of trouble getting comfy.

It always makes me laugh when my yoga teacher says 'like a cat' implying grace and smooth movements. Tina isnt really one of those types of cats!!

Anyway, unfortunately we have a new cat next door which is now called 'leopard cat' and is twice the size of tina (remember, she's 14 lb!) and is terrorizing her a little bit, so she's very needy at the moment. I hope she learns to stand up for herself a bit.

To see the other cats, and to find out what mischeif pumpkin and Laura have been in visit sher at what did you eat.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Gift baskets and Loquat Jelly

For Cinco De Mayo this year I became a waitress for the evening at the wonderful Big Kitchen in South Park. I'm told they do a great breakfast, so I'll be back! It was my last fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Many local restaurants were kind enough to offer raffle prizes, Better Half, Kous Kous, Wits End, and Khyber Pass were all very generous!

I donated a gift basket of home made goodies, including loquat chutney, blood orange marmalade, fleur de sel caramels, fudge, chocolate truffles, candied peanuts, amaretti cookies, world peace cookies and cocoa nib sables. They seemed to be very well received!!

I thought I'd also mention my loquat jelly that I made with the remainder of my loquats. I basically took the seeds out, halved them, covered with water and boiled them for an hour or so until they are a pulp. I then strained them and weighted them and added 3/4 of the weight in sugar. This was then boiled until I pushed my finger through a blob on a plate and it remained as two separate parts.

Its made a very solid jelly, I think this would be good with cheese. It reminds me of the very trendy quince jellies I've seen around.

For a more traditional jam, I think this fruit would be best paired with another fruit, it seems to have set quite solid, and could help a fruit lower in pectin to set.

PS. A loquat is a stone fruit that looks a little like an apricot. Another name for it is japanese medlar. It seems to be something many people have in california as it is a really pretty tree, but they just leave the fruits to rot. I've seen them in quite a few gardens. What a shame!

PPS I always wear rubber gloves when dealing with any stone fruit to save my poor nasty fingers from getting stained! Thanks for the reminder, anonymous!