IMG_3242 by you.

After a savory Challenge last month, I was ready for a diabetic coma-inducing sweet dessert and this month’s challenge delivered. This challenge was hosted by Dolores of Culinary Curiousity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food, and the amazing cake recipe was created by Shauna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater.  I was forewarned that the cake and frosting may be overly sweet for some, so I decreased the amount of sugar and increased the fluer de sel accordingly.  The end result was a rich, moist cake with a sweet, creamy frosting.  I used the optional caramel (see recipe below) to decorate the cake with floral accents.   I then drizzled some of the leftover caramel syrup over the cake slices, which some might consider overkill, but my children sure didn’t. 


10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients.

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

IMG_3167 by you.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers.

IMG_3160 by you.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS (from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, 2007)

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

IMG_3170 by you.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife.  Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

IMG_3172 by you.

I used two small floral cookie cutters to cut the caramel to decorate my cake.  And to mask the lumpy icing job.

IMG_3214 by you.


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.


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):  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


Au revoir!