Daring Bakers in May: Opéra Cake

May 28, 2008 at 5:16 am | Posted in cakes & tortes, daring bakers, groups, layer cakes, sweet things | 81 Comments

opéra cake

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.  


opéra cake

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.

opéra cake

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.

opéra cake

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).

DB whisk


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. Oh my first Opera Cake comment! This lloks really superb. You have a great talent. I love the idea of pastichio.

  2. Very pretty! the pistachio sounds divine… I didn’t think posting was until tomorrow… I haven’t made it yet! Guess I’ll be late (won’t be the first time!)

  3. Yours turned out ten times better than mine! First, my cake was stuck to the parchment paper, then the buttercream didn’t really set. But I guess it pulled through in the end. Thank god, or else I would’ve been pissed at the waste of ingredients. You are lucky you had experience making the cake too in your past endeavors. I’ve only eaten these delicious things in Paris, and mine fell pretty short to that standard.

  4. Wee, that looks great, unfortunately we don’t care for such rich cakes…

  5. Yours looks fabulous, and you were so smart to scale back we couldn’t eat it all..

  6. Gorgeous… I LOVE the idea of the pistachio with lemon and almond.

  7. Yes, the scraps are bad news, aren’t they! Your cake looks great 🙂

  8. Your cake looks fab. I used rose water in mine too and got one comment that it tasted like hand cream!

  9. A beautiful cake Steph – and the photo with the frangipanis is just perfect.

  10. Oh, Meyer Lemon Bomb sounds wonderful. I still have some jaconde and might do that….

  11. Golly, what fabulous photographs! The flowers are stunning, good old neighbors, huh? Good show, really.

  12. Wowzers Steph! It looks and sounds fantastic. I love the parallel to eating perfume, I could have had that with my lavender but think I did ok. As usual, you’ve blown me away! Thank you for always inspriring.

  13. Beautiful job! I love your version – great post too!

  14. Looks gorgeous. I love reading about all the flavor combinations. I scaled back my cake, as well, and there is still plenty.

  15. Woah, you are a freaking genius. Wow.

  16. Lovely as always Steph. You present everything so beautifully. We were very similar. Great minds and all that.

  17. Picture perfect!

  18. What a beautiful cake!! Congratulations on a job well done.

  19. Perfectly executed, and gorgeous too! Yours is the first opera cake I’ve seen posted, and it’s an impressive start to the reveal of this month’s challenge.

  20. This looks stunning!!!! I need you to visit me…:)

  21. I’m so jealous! Your Opera cake looks absolutely fabulous! And so delicious! Great job!

  22. Great flavor combos and presented beautifully! You are the queen of minis. Wonderful job!

  23. What a great shot and great combination. I was just happy to get through my first challenge – my speed would have been a 4 ingredient cookie – and I’m still here to tell the story.


  24. Your opera cake looks just lovely. With all of my alcohol fueled madness I didn’t even think of pistachios!

  25. gorgeous opera cake! love the flavor combo, especially the idea of pistachio buttercream.

  26. Ah Steph! Your cake looks just lovely and I love the photos too. Pistachio sounds just lovely! I prefer the traditional opera with dark flavours but this challenge was fun too! Well done – as always!

  27. Just beautiful and I like your flavorings, especially the pistachio.
    It was a great challenge, lucky you coming into winter.

  28. It is absolutely magnificent !

  29. It did come out amazing! I love the flavor combo you chose. I knwo what you mean about the thickness of the layers, mine were good but a little to thin for my liking.

  30. All sorts of lovely.

  31. Gorgeous cake and the flowers are stunning too.

  32. Wonderful take on the challenge my friend! It turned out awesome!

  33. So lovely! Your flavor ideas are wonderful.

  34. Loved the way you accented the glaze with a squiggle -your experience shows!

  35. Stunning cake…standing ovation for one as pretty as this. Love the frangipani’s too…we call them champa here in India.

  36. Steph… this is absolutely beautiful!

  37. The combos that you used sound delicous! Your pictures are beautiful and so is your cake!

  38. A complete visual feast. really beautiful and nice flavour combination.

  39. waow!!!

  40. That’s quite the beautiful cake you have there. Such lovely layers.

  41. Well, apparently you don’t just make beautiful cupcakes. Your cake looks amazing! And I love the middle eastern flavorings!

  42. I love your blog…. read it all the time. I am dying to get your recipe for this lovely opera cake. ~

  43. Sadly, my joconde was a bit thin and dense. Yours looks much more airy. Great photos btw!

  44. Simply gorgeous!

  45. It’s gorgeous! Congratulations! Great flavor combo too…

  46. Beautiful, and I’m guessing NOT reminiscent of anyone’s panty drawer?!!!

  47. Your cake looks beautiful, and I love the pistachios in the buttercream. Great flavor combination!

  48. Mmmm … that looks absolutely delicious. I’m so glad you transcended the seasonal difficulties!

  49. Wow, that looks so good. I learn so much from your blog and love the flavors you came up with: almond, lemon, pistachio, rosewater. Thanks for the tip about how to work with the pistachios to flavor the buttercream. I hope to see your new platter in a later photo shoot!
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  50. Wow that butercream! I know what you meant about the scraps being dangerous… It looks so good!:)

  51. nice job, it’s a pleasure having you on my blogroll

  52. My mouth is hanging open – what beautiful Opera Cake! Bravo!

  53. Absolutely beautiful.

  54. Very nicely done! The flowers go beautifully with it!

  55. oh this is so lovely, I will be back to see more!

  56. What a lovely Middle Eastern twist to your opera. Simply delicious!

  57. beautiful presentation/plating!

    LOL at the rosewater and panty drawer comment

  58. gorgeous!!! great job!

  59. Quite lovely slices and very elegant presentation with the flowers. The pistachios give the buttercream just the right amount of color and the flavor combination is so nice. Great job!

  60. This is a beautiful looking cake and it sounds like a lovely flavour choice. Your food photos are gorgeous!

  61. wow steph that looks great and i love how you flavored everything…i bet the flavors together were fabulous.

  62. That’s a very classy cake, and beautifully photographed. Great job!

  63. I’m so impressed that you made your own pistachio paste!!! Your cake looks gorgeous!!! I wish jaconde had risen a bit more, but now that I’ve gotten this recipe under my belt, I look forward to improving on it!

  64. You have outdone yourself! That is absolutely gorgeous!

  65. Pistachio buttercream sounds to die for… in fact, all your flavourings sound great! This is a stunner…

  66. Your cake is beautiful…and all the photos are framed perfectly. Great job!!!!

  67. Impressive I always love your pics you do great work and love the flavor combo

  68. Pistachio sounds like SUCH a great idea!

  69. This looks spectacular. Perfect!

  70. Beautiful! What amazing photography!

  71. Nice looking opera cake and photos. I like the sound of the pistachio buttercream.

  72. It looks really nice, great job!

  73. What a masterpiece!! Your cake as well as your photo’s, the color scheme in all are superb!
    And that zebra cupcake..I was about to ask about the icing but I was glad to see you posted the recipe! Thanks for sharing your beautiful talent! 🙂

  74. Oh, it’s not only gorgeous, it sounds wonderful! And I love your photos. I’m posting my opera cake rather late, and I ended up with one layer too many!

  75. What a gorgeous cake! Great job!

  76. Love the flavours (um …Grannies pants drawer aside *hee*)
    Your cake and photos are beautiful and I love the florals!!!

  77. Beautiful opera cake. The pistachio buttecream must taste amazing.

    Wonderful pictures!

  78. I am LOVING the specs of pistachio peaking through.. and call me crazy (or psychotic) but I’ve been awake for roughly an hour & 1/2 today (Yay! I slept in! WOO! *cough* sorry.. lil excited over here) but all I want for breakfast is a bowl of pistachio studded buttercream. Is that bad? 😛

    Beautiful cake! And I love the idea of petit fours ala Opera! Bite sized deliciousness for sure! 🙂


  79. Lemon-rosewater and pistachio–sounds divine, and your photos are gorgeous!

  80. Your cake looks beautiful! I will defintilely use your method of adding pistachios paste to buttercream. I had read someone else used a pistachio flavored buttercream and I wondered how – thank you! Your rosewater lemon combination sounds tasty too. Beautiful photos Wendy

  81. That’s a thing of beauty, Steph!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: