28 May 2008

1st daring bakers challenge-opéra cake •

My first Daring Bakers challenge, and what a challenge it was! I wanted to join this fantastic group for that reason. To challenge myself, and stretch myself creatively in the kitchen. Ever since I gave birth to the little darlings, I have been baking-impaired, hardly having enough time and patience to get dinner on the table, let alone an elaborate dessert. They are old enough now to entertain themselves (and help with dishes afterwards), and I find myself itching to be more creative and adventurous with recipes. 

Now, would I have made an Opéra Cake, ever? Absolutely not. I would have seen the number of steps, and would have been sufficiently intimidated. But I was pleasantly surprised how manageable it really was. The hosts (Lis, Ivonne, Shea, and Fran) changed the recipe up a bit, in honor of Barbara over at Winos and Foodies, creator of Taste of Yellow for LiveStrong Day. Instead of using dark ingredients (chocolate, cocoa or coffee) we were instructed to use only light colors and ingredients. 

I flavored the cake with orange extract and vanilla extract. I did the same for the buttercream, adding orange zest. I placed drained mandarin oranges on top of the buttercream when I assembled the cake. The syrup was also flavored with orange and vanilla extracts. The garnish was candied orange slices (another first for me). My first impression was mixed. I was proud of the fact that I persevered and made this cake, but I was disappointed with the taste. It was just too sweet! My family had no difficulty taking it out of my hands and gobbling it down, however. My Opéra Cake would not have won any awards for beauty; I know this. But I am very happy I made the effort. Thank you, Daring Bakers!

Opéra Cake •

The elements of an Opéra Cake are as follows:

Joconde: A thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal.

Syrup: The joconde is flavored with a sugar syrup.

Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in buttercream.

Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. (I did not do this layer)

Glaze: The final step is a glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance (unless it is too hot and runs off your cake, like mine did).

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


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

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 cups ground blanched almonds
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. 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 425 degrees. Line two 12-1/2" x 15-1/2" 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.
I added 1 teaspoon of orange extract and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract at this point. 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. 


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

1/2 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavoring 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.

Buttercream (I used the recipe from the Daring Bakers March Challenge Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake)

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. 
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in more lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.


(Note:  It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped 
1/2 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.

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 so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total):  one 10" square and one 10" x 5" rectangle. 

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

Spread about one-third 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 flavoured syrup.

Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

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.

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