plate1border.jpg

If you hear music in the air it’s because Daring Bakers the world around are posting their tribute to one of the world’s great confections: Opéra Cake or L’Opéra as they would say in France.

For the May 2008 Daring Bakers‘ challenge, I have the privilege of hosting with my incredible co-founder Lis and with two of our newer Daring Baker members: Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful.

The challenge chosen is the aforementioned Opéra Cake, but with a twist. We decided that in honour of spring, we’d attempt a lighter version of the cake and by lighter I don’t mean reduced calories. What I mean is we wanted to create cakes that were light in flavour and colour.

opera-cake-with-symbolsborder.jpg

While we did our best to research the origins of this cake, we were unable to find out much beyond the fact that the creation of the cake is attributed to a gentleman by the name of Louis Clichy who first presented it in the early 1900s in Paris. Dalloyau, the great Parisian pâtisserie, is also attributed with offering a version of the cake that is considered by many to be the definitive version.

Traditionally, L’Opéra consists of layers of almond-based cake (joconde) that are moistened with syrup and then filled with buttercream. The cake is then topped with a mousse or ganache and followed by a glaze. Usually the flavours tend towards coffee and chocolate.

For our version of the cake, we relied on two sources: Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle’s and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

opera-cake-squiggly1border.jpg

The building blocks of this cake, namely the joconde and the soaking syrup, were relatively straightforward. I didn’t have jelly roll pans that were the size required so I ended up using my trusty old sheet pans, which were slightly larger. The resulting joconde was a bit thinner than what the recipe intended but I was extra careful in handling them and cutting them to size so I didn’t have any troubles there.

For the soaking syrup, I decided to flavour it with a lovely liquid called Talea Amaretto Cream Liqueur. I wanted my cake to have a very strong almond flavour (to mirror the almond meal in the joconde) so I chose a liqueur that was very almondy (and delicious!).

buttercream1border.jpg

Having the joconde and soaking syrup ready, I proceeded with the buttercream. This buttercream begins with a syrup of sugar, water and flavouring (vanilla in my case) that is cooked to a certain stage and then added to a whipped mixture of egg. The trick is to add the syrup very slowly because if it hits the spinning whisk it can create threads and strings that will ruin your buttercream. Once all the syrup is in, you add butter. I also added a liberal amount of almond extract to help with the flavour.

I adored this buttercream! It was silky and buttery. It was rich without eaving a greasy taste in your mouth as buttercream sometimes does. And it was a dream to spread.

While I was anxious to build my cake, I decided not to skip one of the components that is often found in Opéra Cake: the mousse or ganache layer that goes on top of the cake before the glaze is added.

The mousse was basically a mixture of melted white chocolate, heavy cream and more Talea. The heavy cream is whipped to a fluffy consistency and then mixed with the chocolate and refrigerated until ready to use.

Finally, it was time to start building my cake!

cake-assembly1border.jpg

I began by cutting the pieces into the appropriate sizes with the first piece being a rectangle. I brushed it liberally with soaking syrup and then topped it with most of the buttercream. I fit two square pieces of joconde over the first layer of buttercream and brushed those with more soaking syrup. I then used the remainder of the buttercream. I ended with the final piece of joconde which I dampened with the remaining syrup.

When I build cakes with many layers, I like to take breaks in between to referigerate the cake. I think letting it get cold helps to stabilize it and it also gives me a break to ensure that I don’t rush and make a mistake or a mess, which is often what I do. Patience is not one of my virtues in the kitchen!

So after letting the cake sit in the fridge for about thirty minutes, I took it out and added the white chocolate mousse layer. I then popped it back in the fridge while I made the glaze.

The white chocolate glaze was simply melted white chocolate mixed with heavy cream. The key is to let the glaze cool so that it’s still spreadable but not too hot (or it will melt your mousse layer).

Of course I got a bit impatient and poured the glaze on a bit too soon. Some of my mousse melted into the glaze (or vice versa) and I ended up with not the prettiest of top layers. To resolve my blunder, I melted some candy coating (in pink) and used it to create a squiggly design on the entire top of my cake. This effectively hid the “ugly melty spots” as I came to call them and gave my cake a very colourful and light look.

musical-symbols1border.jpg

I used the remaining melted candy coating to pipe out musical symbols, which was a lot of fun. I let the cake and the symbols chill for several hours before trimming it. As careful as I was, parts of my cake were a bit uneven and I wanted a cake with perfectly even sides. So I trimmed off the uneven bits and thoroughly enjoyed eating them!

The rest of the cake was given a few final touches and photographed. I brought it to work the next day where everyone loved it. While it was sweet, the cake is not meant to be eaten in huge portions. A little goes a very long way.

opera-sliceborder2.jpg

Overall, I was very happy with my first attempt at Opéra Cake!

The most important thing I can tell you about this month’s challenge is that it’s dedicated to Barbara of winosandfoodies.com. Many of you know may know Barbara from her blog and many of you may also know her for her support and efforts for LiveSTRONG, the Lance Armstrong Foundation. As part of her efforts for LiveSTRONG Day, Barbara hosts A Taste of Yellow, which is an event that unites food bloggers everywhere in the fight against cancer.

Barbara was a member of the Daring Bakers for awhile but had to resign for personal reasons. But as Lis so eloquently put it, she’ll always be a Daring Baker because she represents the very qualities that we all work hard for: she’s is strong, she is passionate, she’s a fighter.

Barbara, this cake is for you!

Ciao!

The Daring Bakers’ Opéra Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle’s and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde:

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
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

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 425â—¦F. (220â—¦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.

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.

Add the 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.

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.

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.

For the soaking syrup:

½ cup (125 grams) water
â…“ 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.)

Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream (The recipe for the buttercream that is listed here is based on the original. When testing the buttercream, we tested a slightly modified version that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. But we don’t want anyone to be afraid of our modified version so you have the option of using the original above or the quantities we’ve listed here in this note):

1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar (Used to say 2 cups but should be 1 cup)
¼ cup (60 grams) water (Used to say ½ cup but should say ¼ cup)
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 (Used to say 1¾ cups of butter but it should be 1¾ sticks).
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

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 225â—¦F (107â—¦C) (Note: The original recipe instructs to heat the syrup to 255â—¦F (124â—¦C). We heated it to 225â—¦F and it worked just fine. However, if you are concerned, then by all means heat your syrup to 255â—¦F.) on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

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 flavouring 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).

For the ganache/mousse:

7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. 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.

For the glaze:

14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.

Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour 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.

Enjoy!