Daring Bakers in May: Opéra CakeMay 28, 2008 at 5:16 am | Posted in cakes & tortes, daring bakers, groups, layer cakes, sweet things | 81 Comments
This May, the Daring Bakers’ challenge had a quartet of hostesses– a four-part harmony, featuring founders Ivonne and Lis and newer members Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful. In voices heard across the world, they sang out this month’s challenge: an opéra cake.
A traditional opéra cake is a thing of delicious beauty, carefully orchestrated with alternating layers of sponge cake, coffee buttercream and ganache, topped off with a dark chocolate glaze. As part of the challenge this month, our hostesses tasked us with rewriting the opéra for spring– the same basic components, but lightened up in flavor and color. For me, part of this challenge lay in that we are fast approaching winter here in Australia. While you can see from the flowers I pinched from a neighbor’s lawn, that I am by no means in a bare, frozen tundra, a lot of the things I may have chosen to flavor this cake are kinda off limits right now.
I’m no stranger to making opéra cake. At the first restaurant I worked for, we used little tiny pieces of the traditional version as a petit four. At least every other day for a few months, I’d make and assemble an opéra (and the scraps are dangerous– I would devour them as I portioned the cake into pieces!). Despite this, I did hem and haw my way through the month, wondering what to do flavor-wise. This past week, though, it was time to get down to business. Looking through my pantry, I realized I could easily make something that would pair perfectly with the Middle Eastern dinner I mentioned I would be making. My opéra would be composed of almond joconde moistened with lemon syrup, pistachio buttercream, lemon-rosewater mousse and white chocolate glaze.
I will make the same confession that I do with every DB challenge– I drastically scaled back the recipe. I made just one pan of joconde (the recipe halves perfectly), and only used half of that to assemble the cake. The rest I froze to use for other things, like the base for a meyer lemon bombe. My one-quarter sized opéra was small, but big enough to give the two of us dessert for three nights, and that’s about my maximum tolerance for any one particular thing.
We were allowed to use any buttercream recipe we liked…I used a whole-egg buttercream that I’ve made before, so as not to be suck with any bothersome extra whites or yolks. To turn it into a pistachio buttercream, I first eyeballed an amount of pistachios and blanched them so I could slip off their brown skins and expose their bright green insides. Then I roasted them in the oven just enough to dry them out, but not to color them, before grinding them in my mini food processor with a little bit of almond meal and drizzle of plain simple syrup. This formed a rough, homemade paste that incorporated easily into the buttercream and gave it pretty green flecks throughout.
I flavored the simple syrup used to moisten the cake layers with a few drops of lemon extract. I also used the lemon extract and rosewater to flavor the white chocolate mousse, which was the cake’s top layer, just beneath the glaze. I did this to taste–enough to make the flavor pronounced, without tasting like I swallowed a jar of perfume. (A chef that I used to work for once said that rosewater reminded him of “grandma’s panty drawer”–what?? And how the hell did he know what that smells like anyway??)
I must say that I was really pleased with how this cake came out. The joconde baked up to be my idea of the perfect height. Too thin and the joconde can be rubbery…too thick and you wind up with an opéra that’s crazy tall. I am quite particular and like all of the layers to be the same height, without feeling like there is too much of one component, and I was able to achieve that here. And the flavors were delicate, but wonderful. I was a little worried that the whole thing would be a bit too girlie for R’s tastes, but he loved it!
I tried sooo hard to get a photo of the whole cake, but it just wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t squeeze the whole thing into the frame without going on a weird angle that made it looked lopsided. That was a bummer, especially since I had bought a new platter to display it on. But it sliced really nicely, so at least I was able to get some good shots of individual pieces.
Last, but certainly not least, the Daring Bakers have dedicated this month’s challenge to Barbara of winosandfoodies.com. Even if you don’t know Barbara, it’s evident through her words that she lives everyday to the fullest and she lives strong. I think we can all sing to that.
If you haven’t had your fill of opera-related metaphors after that post, check out the DB blogroll! And visit Ivonne’s post for the recipe (which was adapted from two sources, Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle’s and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion).