This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge is Opera Cake. May’s challenge is hosted by Daring Bakers founders Lis and Ivonne, and two newer members Fran and Shea. Before this challenge I’ve never heard of opera cake. Opera cake is a fancy shmancy French dessert, consisting of five different component –leave it to the French to make a complicated dessert. There is a cake (joconde) layer, syrup (to wet/flavor the cake), buttercream, mousse/ganache, and finally a glaze. Traditionally this cake is made with dark chocolate and coffee flavors, but our creative hosts wanted us to make our cakes light in flavor and light in color.
I will be honest with you, I was overwhelmed from the minute I read the recipe, so many different parts to concentrate on. Coffee and dark chocolate combination sounded so delicious, but we were once again forbidden to use dark flavors. Raspberry and lemon were the first to flavors that stuck in my head, it seemed to be a popular choice. My husband called home while I was preparing this cake and asked if I was a daring baker, I replied “No I am a challenged baker!” So true –at least with this challenge.
This cake was delicious, but extremely sweet. I’ve never thought anything was too sweet but this cake is. I ate only a tiny bite and that was enough. Now what am I going to do with all this cake? This was a fun experience, but I don’t think this will make another appearance in our house. Check out all the other flavors my fellow bakers created at the Daring Bakers Blogroll.
ALMOND CAKE (JOCONDE)
* The cake can be made one day ahead, wrapped and stored at room temperature.
I could not find almond meal at any of my local grocers, so I had to grind my own. WORD OF WARNING: Buy already blanched almonds… I accidentally did not, and had to blanch my own… a MAJOR pain, and not as easy as it sounded. After I had my almond meal the cake came together very easily.
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.
* Can be made up to one week ahead and stored covered in the fridge
The cake was moistened and flavored with this simple syrup.
½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
2 tbsp. of lemon extract
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.
*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.
I thought this buttercream was more buttery than creamy. I’ve never been a huge fan of buttercream, but people seem to “OOOO” and “AAAHHH” over it.
1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp. strained/seeded raspberry
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).
WHITE CHOCOLATE GANACHE
*The ganache can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.
7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.) ***I omitted this step***
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.
RASPBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE GLAZE
* It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.
4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)
2 tbsp raspberry extract
1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth, add extract.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake.
ASSEMBLING YOUR OPERA CAKE
*The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
2. 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.
3. Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.
4. Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.
5. Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.
6. 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).
7. 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.
8. Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze (at least 30 minutes).
Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.