Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers—Opéra Cake

Opéra CakeI decided to join the Daring Bakers, started by Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, who in November 2006 decided to try baking the same recipe and writing about it. Gradually, it grew into a sizeable baking group that currently has more than 700 members dedicated to baking something daring each month. This month was truly daring‑Opéra Cake. A multi-layered cake of delicious cake, syrup, mousse, and ganache that requires perfection and patience (both of which I need to work on!). Its undecorated sides show all the layers, and all the imperfections that I usually rely on icing to hide!

Thanks to the hosts for this month’s Daring Bakers event: Lis of La Mia Cucina, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Shea of the blog Whiskful.

History (and a dedication)
According to Food Timeline, Opéra Cake is a modern, 20th century cake with ancient roots. A typical Opéra Cake consists of an almond sponge cake with a coffee and chocolate filling and icing.

In this version, the Daring Bakers put a “light” (color not calories) twist on it for Spring and dedicated it to all the hard work that Barbara of winosandfoodies.com has done for the food blog event called A Taste of Yellow. This event supports the LiveSTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong. You can check out all the entries for this amazing event at her blog. Here’s the link to LiveSTRONG With A Taste Of Yellow Round Up 2008 Part 1 (180 bloggers contributed posts for this event!). Check out Part 2 as well when you're there.

Recipe
This is a long recipe with 5 parts, but each component is not hard. And, the good thing is you can do 4 of the 5 parts ahead of time.

To see the different Opéra Cakes cropping up all over the food blog world, check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

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

Ingredients for Opéra Cake
Click to enlarge image

Joconde
The cake part of Opéra Cake is made up of a sponge cake called a joconde, named for the Mona Lisa (La Joconde in French). Some spell joconde as “jaconde”, but joconde is the proper way to spell it. The married name of Lisa Gherardini, who is believed to be the subject of da Vinci's portrait, is Giocondo, which means cheerful and full of good humor in Italian, as does “jocund” in English. Perhaps it's the lightness of the sponge cake that gives joconde its name.

Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425˚F (220˚C).

Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

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.

In another bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the almond flour (or chestnut flour), icing sugar, and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

To make almond flour, you mix 50% ground almonds with 50% icing sugar. This is called "Tant pour Tant" ("that much for that much"). You can do this with chestnuts too, but I was able to find both almond and chestnut flour at a specialty grocery store. I tried joconde twice: once with almond flour and once with chestnut flour. Although both sponge cakes were delicious, the almond played a better supporting role for the other layers.Almond and Chestnut FlourAdd the all-purpose flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!).

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. A tip I read was to run your thumb against all sides of the pan to prevent over-baking at the edges.

Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven. 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. Do not over-bake. It should only take a little color.

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.

Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

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

Syrup
Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

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

Buttercream
Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225˚F (107˚C) on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

According to Joe Pastry, the baking guru I like to consult, “eggs must be warm before you begin. Why? The answer is that a cake batter is an emulsion, which is to say, a matrix of tiny fat blobs dispersed in a watery medium. That emulsion plays a critical role in leavening the cake, and in maintaining its soft, creamy texture.” So, warm those eggs before starting this buttercream.

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.

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!

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).

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.

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.

At this point add in your flavoring and beat for an additional minute or so.

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: 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, if needed.

Mousse
Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tablespoons of heavy cream in a small saucepan. 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.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.

If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable. If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

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

Glaze (ganache)
Note: Make the glaze when you’re ready to finish the cake.

Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes and then spread over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.

Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling
Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day (but I stored it for more than a week, and we still enjoyed every crumb!).

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 flavored 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 flavored 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 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 mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled.

Makes approximately 20 servings.

Opéra CakeTasting Notes
We enjoyed both the almond and chestnut Opéra Cakes, but preferred the almond one just slightly. One of my daughters even wanted this for her birthday cake! Each part was delicious: the syrup, the sponge cake, the buttercream, the mousse, and the ganache. So together, how could it go wrong? I kept stealing tastes as I was assembling it. I think one of the tricks to making a perfect layer cake is to put a ton of buttercream in-between each layer, which might level it out better. I’m going to have to make this over and over again to improve my layering skills, but I don’t think anyone will mind!

Someday, maybe mine will look more like these:

• A perfect Opéra Cake from Bonbini
• A hexagonal one
Dalloyau's (pronounced doll-why-oh) in Paris, considered by pastry chefs in the know to be the best according to Paris Breakfasts
• Green Tea Opéra Cake from Nordljus

I’m looking forward to seeing the variety of Opéra Cakes from the Daring Bakers this month!





88 comments:

Heather said...

your cakes look wonderful! Great job! Welcome to the group!

Prudy said...

Wow-Cakes and Buns! They look so very delicious. You've been busy. I just joined DYB for next month too. It's so fun to bake in groups. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Mary said...

Your cakes look great! Welcome to the DBs!

Mary said...

Your cake looks great! Well done!

rainbowbrown said...

Wow, what a great write up. And photographs. And cake. It's all just amazing.

Jessy said...

i really like that you put the ingredients on the pictures, it's a good use of space!

Chris said...

First, welcome to the DBs. Second, I love, love, love...in case I wasn't clear, LOVE your pictures and descriptions. Third, Your presentations are stunning and you've given me lots of ideas for the restaurant. :) Have a great week!

Sandie said...

These look great, I love the flowers

Mara said...

oh shari those cakes look AMAZING!!!! i love the one with the big pink flower, you are such a maven!!

btw i didn't know that the KA mixer has an overload reset button!! where is it? i need to try that first.

ostwestwind said...

Your cups are so nice a perfect gallery for your lovely cakes.

I don't think I can visit all DB's in one day...
Ulrike from Küchenlatein

Engineer Baker said...

Beautiful cakes! Welcome to DB!

Dianne said...

Your cakes look wonderful! The flowers give them such a lovely touch!

Anne said...

They look awesome and I love reading your posts- so much good information and such beautiful presentation. Great job!

Michelle said...

Your presentation with the tea cups is so cute and very unique! Nice job!!!

Welcome to DB!!!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Love the slivers of Opéra cake on upside-down tea cups...it's a lovely image! I was pulling my hair out at certain points, but I love, love, loved the results!

steph- whisk/spoon said...

your baking skills and detailed posts are a wonderful addition to the DB group! and i think you must have infinite patience to produce such fantastic variations of every recipe you try. your operas look wonderful, and i love that they are able to balance themselves on the bottoms of teacups!

Tammy said...

wow! You are very talented. they look gorgeous!

briannalee said...

Your cakes are soo beautiful, I love how creative you are and your pictures are amazing. Great job!

Patsyk said...

Your cakes are simply beautiful! Wish mine had turned out as nice.

maybelles parents said...

Fantastic job, love the write up and the pictures.

Big Boys Oven said...

Amazing to read a good recipe well executed, so detail explain so do the pictures.

Erin said...

What a great post! Thanks for all the details and wonderful pictures. Even if you're new to the Daring Bakers, I can tell you've had some practice :)

marias23 said...

I love that you experimented with different flours! Great job on your first challenge!

PAT A BAKE said...

Welcome to DBs. Your cake looks cool and your write up was amazing. Cya at future challenges. Do visit my blog too

PAT A BAKE said...

ha..third time am posting a comment..blogger plays spoiltsport again. Your cake looks beautiful and your write-up is wow. Welcome to DBs

one spicy mama said...

Absolutely gorgeous! Fabulous photos too!

dessertobsessed said...

you always have the most gorgeous photos!

Dayna said...

I adore your ingredients layout er mise en place.

Very lovely. Welcome.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Your cakes are just beautiful! I really love the photos. Great job!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I absolutely love it that you decorated them with flowers! So beautiful!

Candace said...

Very nice! Love your creativity with the teacups!

genkitummy said...

your cakes look lovely! i love your pictures!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Sari great debut!
Welcome to the gang!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

They look great and I love the tea cup plating. Very nice work!

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Great photos! I love how you put the ingredients on top of the photos of the ingredients:-)

Mary Ann said...

looks so beautiful with the flowers and the flavors sound so good!

AranciOnissimA said...

Hello! your cake are so little and so cute! in Italy we have several types of sweet that are little, we call it pasticcini...

Barbara Bakes said...

I love your post - the beautiful pictures and the great links to more beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing.

Michelle said...

Your Opera cake looks so pretty and so yummy! Great job!

Vegan_Noodle said...

What beautiful opera cakes! I love your photos with the ingredients listed... looks like it should go in a cookbook! Thanks for stopping by my blog as well. Yay for completing our first DB challenge! Can't wait for June!

marion - il en faut peu pour ... said...

your opera looks great, you don't have to complex !

Hannah said...

Honestly, I don't see how you could think that your cake is anything less than perfect- It's really gorgeous! I like how you cut yours into dainty little portions too.

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a wonderful job on your cake. I love your pictures of the cakes on the tea cups. Congratulations on finishing your first challenge. Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Kitchen Vixen said...

Your photos are beautiful. I'm excited to see what DB gives us for June...Thanks for stopping by my blog!

kellypea said...

Wow, your comment section is all fritzy right now!

How cool that you tried chestnut. Very creative. Nice to know there's another finger licker out there in DB land, too. ;) Very lovely display of your work here. Impressive.

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Not only your cake is gorgeous but your post is so beautiful, we can see how much care you've put into it. Great job!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Welcome and congrats on you very first challenge! Your cakes look very pretty! Great job here!

Cheers,

Rosa

jasmine said...

Congratulations on your first DB challenge!

Looks wonderful.

j

Vitor Hugo said...

I loved the tiny ones! So cute, :)

Chesnut almond is more dry than I thought. Well, looks like. :)

Erika said...

Your cakes are so cute and I love the pictures of them on the tea cups!

Jaime said...

WOW, i love all the variations in shapes you did! beautiful!

Hetal said...

these are so cute....can I have a bite???

adventuresinshaw said...

these cakes look unbelievably fantastic! encore! encore!

Virginia said...

This was your first challenge? Incredible! I love the upside-down teacups. :) Lovely, simply smashing!

Amara said...

I love how amazingly detailed your post is. I didn't even include the recipe this month... Thanks for the comment >.o

marye said...

The set up on your images is great! I love it!

Tara said...

BEAUTIFUL! I love your imaginative way of photographing them, too. The flowers are a great touch. They look so perfect! I like the idea of making them round and small, very dainty!

pacificoutpost said...

Bezwuaautiful!

familiabencomo said...

Superb! You really did a great job. How lucky your daughter is to have you as her personal baker. It's the best when you can bake to order for you family. Great photos & write-up. Welcome to DB!

xoxox Amy

Elle said...

What a delicious write-up. Makes me want to bake it all over again. Lovely photos and I especially like the flowers. I'm impressed that you made both almond and chestnut versions. Glad you are a daring baker!

Mandy said...

Your opera cakes look so good! And welcome to the DBs!

Ally said...

I love your description of the "Jaconde". My gf is a french teacher and she told me the same thing, how interesting! Your cakes of course are beautiful, well done!

wmpe said...

How clever to use teacup bottoms as plates! Wonderful display. Your cakes look delcious. Your photography is great. I, too, am always trying to improve my layering. Lovely cake. Wendy

Dolores said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers; it's clear from this post and the commentary that follows that you fit right in. I love your ingredient photos! :)

Zita said...

Wow... a summer flowery opera cake.. looks stunning... beautiful blog you got here ;)

Joy said...

Your blog is so pretty and calming; I love it. Those cakes are definitely opera rather than music hall - so elegant.

Astra Libris said...

Your cake has already achieved perfection! Your photos are beyond beautiful!

farida said...

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. It helped me find your blog:) I like it here and I subscribed to you to be updated on your yummie yums!

What a beautiful cake you made! Nice and clean, as opposed to my sloppy creation:))

rebekka said...

I have had a great time looking at all you daring baker's opera cakes. But yours!!!! Oh, my goodness...they are my favorite. They look like gorgeous, oversized petit fours (and i mean that as the biggest of compliments!) Your teacups are darling, too. Love, love love.

Faery said...

Your presentation is unique and the cakes look really delicious,I love the detailed description you made and the photos.Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the nice comment

silverrock said...

Wow! Your opera cake tops mine by a mile. You are quite the talented baker, I must say :) Way to go and yay for Daring Bakers!

eatme_delicious said...

Wow your cake looks beautiful!! I especially love the photo of the pieces of cake on upside down tea cups.

COZINHA QUENTE said...

Wow Shari,
what a piece of art you´ve got there!!!
I´m impressed with your talent!!!
COngratulations!! YOur Opera Cake is marvelous!!!
xoxo,
Giovanna

strawberriesinparis said...

wow! I love your blog! good job on the opera cake too!

landa said...

Your presentation of everything is lovely. Great job.

Rebecca said...

Lovely photography and great cakes!

Nangil Girl said...

WOw!! Your cake looks awesome! And you have cut it different shapes too. You are brave! I was happy enough just to complete the challenge. Thanks for your comment :)

Ann said...

Your cakes looks really lovely!

creampuff said...

All I can say is wow! Those are some pretty little cakes!

Dana McCauley said...

Stunning photos!

Katie said...

Your cakes look simply lovely!

Ruth Elkin said...

Your cake looks awesome!!! you did a great job with this challenge!

Cheryl said...

wow, what a work of art! and I never thought to try chestnut, thanks for the inspiration

Jasmine said...

Wow, quite impressive for a first challenge! Your cakes are beautiful! And thank you for your comment on my blog, it is greatly appreciated.

Snug said...

your cakes are lovely. i love your photos, especially the ones of the opera cake on teacups :).

madcapcupcake said...

No need to hide imperfections under icing here - your cakes look perfect! I love the idea of chestnut flour - very nicely done :)

Pam said...

Nice cakes and photos. Love your site too. Welcome to the DB's.

Shari said...

I'm overwhelmed with everyone's nice comments. It's going to be fun and challenging to be part of this amazing DB group! Thanks to everyone for stopping by!
Shari