Daring Bakers Challenge for May: Opéra Cake!
May 28, 2008
Let them eat cake! My Marie Antoinette-inspired opéra cake.
This was my very first Daring Bakers Challenge and what a month to join! We were to create an opéra cake, a French pastry traditionally done in chocolate and coffee flavors. It usually consists of five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer of cake or of ganache/mousse). However, in honor of the season, we were not allowed to use any dark colors or flavors.
I am not a trained chef – I’ve never even taken a cake decorating class. I mused on how to make my cake different from the hundreds of other Daring Bakers, some of whom are professional bakers and chefs. Hmmm …. opera … Phantom of the Opera … French pastry … aha! I have it!
Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, Halloween 2005
I had created Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI costumes for my children several years ago, pre-dating Sophia Coppola’s visually delicious Marie Antoinette (2006). How could I not use a palette inspired by the doomed queen infamous for her alleged love of cake?
My little homage to Kirsten Dunst as Marie-Antoinette.
I settled on raspberry buttercream, partly for the taste and partly for the color. The almond in the joconde led me naturally to flavor the syrup and ganache with Amaretto. I chose to tint the glaze with a single drop of blue candy dye to tie in the color palette I was striving for. The glaze was a bit sweet and the next time I make this, I will definitely make the layer of glaze very thin (1/8″ thick). The joconde was delightfully substantial on the teeth (translation: it had a slight crunch), the raspberry buttercream sweetly creamy with the hint of tartness, the white chocolate ganache ethereally light and the white chocolate glaze richly gooey and sweet. All the elements melded in my mouth to create a symphonic movement, dare I say, of operatic proportions. Così fan tutte? I am not sure, but I think Marie-Antoinette would have approved.
Raspberry Amaretto Opéra Cake
Part I: The Joconde
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 C. ground blanched almonds
2 C. powdered sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ C. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1. Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.
2. Preheat the oven to 425◦F.
3. Line two 12½ x 15½- inch jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!).
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.
Part II: The syrup
½ C. water
⅓ C. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. of amaretto
Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.
Part III: The buttercream
1 C. sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 Tbs. of strained fresh raspberry puree
Put the sugar and the egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar will 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 the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and smooth, 6 -10 minutes. During the time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice and raspberry juice/puree, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more and then the vanilla. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream if you want to set it aside.
Part IV: The white chocolate ganache (mousse)
7 ounces white chocolate
1 C. plus 3 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. Amaretto
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 Amaretto 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. The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.
Part V: The glaze
14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ C. heavy cream
Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream in a small saucepan. 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.
(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): two 9.5″ squares and two 9.5 x 4.75″ rectangles.
Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavored syrup.
Spread about half 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 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 ganache/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 ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.
Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour it over the top of the chilled cake (be careful not to let it cool too much or else it won’t pour nicely). Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze. Using a hot knife, cut the edges in sawing motions to make clean edges. Serve the cake slightly chilled and cut into long, thin rectangular slices. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.
Eating the edges is my son’s favorite part.
I wrote “Opéra” in melted white chocolate on parchment paper and placed the hardened writing on to the slices of cake.
The final product