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ode to the opera

After months of seeing monthly roundups of the Daring Baker’s club, I finally relinquished and joined. From the french bread to the Gateau Saint Honoré, I must admit, I felt like that lonely kid who watches everyone else playing in the playground. So finally, this month, I was able to play around, and man was it a doozy. Shea of Whiskful and Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie chose the diva-esque Opera Cake. I won’t lie, my heart skipped a beat when I read the challenge recipe. The 4 page booklet has a way of intimidating the shit out of a novice baker, especially one like me who is prone to accidents/mistakes/general bad behavior. But I knew I had to just suck it up and try it out.

My love affair with the opera started late in my life, but I’d like to think that my healthy obsession with it has made up for time lost. I can remember the first time I heard the original soundtrack to an opera, mesmerized by the orchestra and the singer’s ability to pierce through the silence with her firm and strong voice. Then, I read Phantom of the Opera and fell in love with the mystery and darkness that can happen at the opera. Always a sucker for the dramatics, right?

Finally, I was lucky enough to find myself savoring the infamous Opera cake two years ago at some discreet bakery in Paris. I remember browsing quickly through the patisserie’s sweet collection. A strawberry tart seemed to fruity, and the pain au chocolat rather heavy. But the mini layered cake filled with coffee buttercream and topped with dark chocolate ganache called out my name. 

An Opera cake is made out of 5 components: a sponge cake, simple syrup, buttercream, ganache/mousse, and a glaze. I remember the way the dark chocolate ganache snapped under the pressure of my fork and how the soft sponge cake layers gave way to the coffee buttercream. This cake is all about texture and the different layers keep you wanting more. The memory of sitting in that cafe with the busy Parisian streets and bustling crowds outside is forever emblazed in my brain. I’d like to think that I had found my one true soulmate, in cake form, of course.

I wish I could say that my cake came out even better than the one I had in Paris, that the whole experience went off without a hitch. But, then I’d be a liar, and while I can stand being an inexperienced baker, I can’t stand being a liar.

After a little shaky start where my membership and access to the recipe was prolonged, I finally familiarized myself with the ingredients and steps. But I was already a little antsy and my shaky nerves probably didn’t help. Baking the joconde, a thin sponge cake made out of almond meal, went ok, until I had to take it out of the pan. Instead of following my instincts, I lined my baking pan with parchment paper even though I knew I’d have problems tearing it apart from the cake. Sure enough, the parchment paper was literally glued to the sponge cake. Two hours later, and three glasses of wine, I tossed one pan into the dumpster, where I knew the ants would have a field day. I managed to save my slightly damaged other half and pressed on.

We were given firm instructions to not use any dark colored ingredients in the cake but we could play around with the flavors in the syrup and buttercream. I flavored my buttercream with almond extract, which I thought would enhance the almond sponge cake. I also added Frangelico liquer to my simple syrup, which really added a slight spicy aftertaste, if that makes sense.  I left the ganache out, and topped the cake with the white chocolate glaze, sprinkling sliced almonds on top for garnish. 

I made a few notes about the cake throughout the baking process. I’ll bullet point these suckers:

  • The sponge cake is pretty pliable so don’t worry about bending it.
  • When adding the butter into the cake mix at the end, make sure you incorporate the butter evenly. Don’t be left with pools of butter at the bottom, like me.
  • A meat thermometer will not work like a candy thermometer. Duh. But still, I had hope.
  • this buttercream frosting a bit fickle and mine turned out really soft. I left mine in the fridge before assembling the cake. Be sure to do a crumb coat first as your layers may crumble a little. 
  • The frosting is a tad bit on the sweet side. It didn’t bother me, but it might cause your blood sugar to spike.
  • Even though I only had one sponge cake that I divided into thirds, I had more than enough buttercream frosting. So your frosting layers should be thinner than mine, but I took it to town on the frosting. 
  • After finishing the layers, I put it in the fridge overnight, and boy am I glad I did. The buttercream hardened up a bit, and made it easier when pouring the glaze. 
  • That being said, the glaze will melt your buttercream top layer if you add it too quickly. Learn from me and let your glaze cool or else your top layer will have both bits of buttercream and glaze. 
  • After pouring the glaze on top, I put the cake back in the fridge overnight, letting the glaze harden. It was the perfect consistency after a night in the fridge. Don’t worry about the cakes either, because they were still soft and squishy.

While this Opera cake might not have been the one dreams are made of, I feel satisfied and pleased with the end result. All the toil and troubles paid off in the end. The thin little slices were the perfect size for a late night treat, accompanied by a big glass of wine because after making this, you will need some booze to numb the baking fatigue. Next time I make this, and there will be a next time, I think I will go the coffee/dark chocolate route, as those flavors are my favorite and totally outrank sissy white chocolate. Make sure to check out the growing blogroll, and join if you can! You’ll have fun, I promise.

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May 28, 2008 - 7:23 am

corre! - oh my, the opera looks great! Just looking at the photos makes me drool a little :)

May 28, 2008 - 7:36 am

Celine - gorgeous, as always.

May 28, 2008 - 8:41 am

food librarian - This is beautiful!!! It looks so tasty!

May 28, 2008 - 8:46 am

Shari - The toasted sliced almonds on top are a nice touch. I hear you about the glass of wine as a reward after making this daring cake! Great job. I’m sure the ants adored you!

May 28, 2008 - 9:06 am

lou @ the higher nest - Oh, to be in Paris eating Opera cake! I agree that the sliced almonds are lovely. I wish I had thought of that for mine…Beautiful blog altogether!

May 28, 2008 - 9:09 am

Caitlin - I love the sliced almonds on top! And your cake layers look so very moist. It looks like a successful salvage operation :)

May 28, 2008 - 9:22 am

sleepingbear - Luscious!!! Almond and Frangelico Opera and a nice Auslesé now that is a fitting end!!! The hurdles were there but you jumped them well!! Great lookin Opera!!!

May 28, 2008 - 9:31 am

Bumblebutton - Wine emboldens. Fabulous job!

May 28, 2008 - 10:03 am

rainbowbrown - “at some discreet bakery in Paris”? Sounds like you’ve had the real deal. I hope I’m lucky enough to be able to try one of these beauties in France one day. Yours does look fantastic as well.

May 28, 2008 - 11:10 am

heather - your cakes look great! Very delish!

May 28, 2008 - 1:47 pm

Katie B. - Beautiful job! So dainty and elegant!

May 28, 2008 - 3:38 pm

Mary - I think your cake is beautiful. And it sounds so tasty!

May 28, 2008 - 4:14 pm

steph - you were able to turn a frustrating situation around and come out on good in the end! while i liked this “light” opera a lot, i do agree that nothing beats the real-deal.

btw, i know that pam spray is gross, but did you spray the parchement? i always do, because despite supposed non-stick coating, unsprayed parchment can stick like mad (restaurants go thru like a can of pam a day!).

May 28, 2008 - 4:54 pm

Megan - Congrats to a first time DB’er like me. Your cake looks amazing and I wish mine came out that good!!

May 28, 2008 - 6:01 pm

maybelles mom - GOrgeous cake and pictures. I do feel very similarly to you that this would have been different if it wasn’t white chocolate in terms of satisfaction.

May 28, 2008 - 6:12 pm

Renee - Your cake looks wonderful. Yummy!

May 28, 2008 - 6:55 pm

Amanda - Steph- I did spray it with it, but that didn’t seem to help at all! I want to write an angry letter to the makers of my parchment paper. They should reimburse me a tossed half of sponge cake :)

May 29, 2008 - 6:17 am

Big Boys Oven - a beauty yet so amazingly attractive, that is how I would describe this opera of yours.

May 29, 2008 - 7:27 am

Caroline - Always drooling over your photos!

May 29, 2008 - 5:57 pm

Kevin - Your opera cake looks so moist and good!

May 30, 2008 - 4:17 am

Ulrike - Your cake looks just perfect!
Ulrike from Küchenlatein

May 30, 2008 - 5:04 am

mari - My butter pooled at the bottom of the bowl too, but it all turned out okay in the end. Your cake looks lovely, you should feel proud!

May 30, 2008 - 8:56 am

nicole - amanda, your photos are awesome! love the idea of using a white cake … i’ve made an opera cake before, but the more traditional way. i’d like to try this one sometime. have a lovely wkend -

May 31, 2008 - 6:56 pm

Mandy - congrats on completing the first challenge! Your Opera Cake looks great. :)

June 1, 2008 - 1:33 am

Y - Lovely cake, and I quite like the nuts on top as well!

June 3, 2008 - 7:46 pm

Joanna - Wow! That cake look incredible. I want to have a huge slice right now! Congrats on becoming a DBer… can’t wait to see what next month has you baking :)

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