Opera Cake: A Classic French Dessert
Over the long weekend, I attempted my first opera cake and was pleasantly surprised and excited with how it turned out. Sitting in front of the television while cheering on your favourite teams during the London Olympics surrounded by family, meringue, almond flour, and smell of coffee buttercream was probably one of the best ways I could have spent the weekend -if not, the best. I’ve always had a fascination for french desserts so when I stumbled upon a stunning picture of the Opera Cake, I knew baking an opera cake would become a top priority during the few summer weeks left.
A little research revealed that the opera cake was created by Louis Clichy who also gave the cake its name. The Opera Cake consists of three layers of joconde (an almond sponge cake and contains whole eggs instead of just the egg yokes), layers of buttercream, chocolate ganache, and the top is a beautiful chocolate glaze. The cake displays it’s layered brilliance after the finishing trimming. Traditionally, the opera cake would have writing on top of the chocolate glaze reading ‘opera’. Unfortunately, my lack of fine penmanship skills detracts from this notion so I refrained from adding this touch.
I debated with myself over the shape of the Opera Cake seeing as I had only a circular baking pan, but no square shaped one. In the end, I picked up a new baking pan when I dropped by the grocer to gather all my ingredients and I couldn’t be happier with my decision! The square shape truly showed off the cake’s multi-layered personality!
Looking back, I really enjoyed putting this cake together. I haven’t been able to bake for a while now with the hectic summer schedule, but I guess this has made me appreciate baking in my kitchen even more. For those of you who might wonder whether this cake is too filling or too sweet, fear not -the cake is definitely less filling than your average cheesecake though not as pure as your angel food cakes. I found it to be less sugary and more about the subtle tastes. It was definitely an interesting blend of taste for such a heavy cake and I would definitely recommend this is to anyone who loves chocolate or is looking for a cake with less sugar content!
Recipe is adapted from A La Cuisine! and the cake serves around 12 people.
Order to make the different components of the cake:
Day 1: Make coffee buttercream, the chocolate ganache, and the coffee syrup. Keep them in the refrigerator.
Day 2: Make the joconde layers and the coffee creme Anglaise. Make sure you cool the joconde layers first! At night, you can assemble the cake after the layers have been chilled and leave the assembled cake to firm up for the big day!
Day 3: About 45 minutes before you want to serve your cake, make the chocolate glaze and pour this generously onto your cake. Serve 30 minutes after chilling the cake in the fridge with the chocolate glaze. Ensure you take out your Coffee Creme Anglaise so it can warm up a bit.
Joconde Cakes (3 thin cakes):
- 2 tbsps (60g) unsalted butter, melted
- 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 tbsps (30g) granulated sugar
- 2 cups (225g) almond flour or finely ground almonds
- 2 cups (225g) icing sugar, sifted
- 6 large eggs
- ½ cup (70g) all-purpose flour
- Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Line two 12½ x 15½-inch jelly-roll pans (pans with raised edges) with parchment paper, and coat parchment with 1 tbsp of the melted butter. [Note: You can use smaller pans and change the amount you put into the pan! I ended up using a smaller one and baked three different layers instead of two large layers & splitting them.]
- In a clean, dry mixer bowl whip on low speed until the whites become foamy, then whip on medium-high speed until the whites reach soft peaks. Add granulated sugar, and whip on high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy.
- In a larger mixer bowl: beat almond flour, icing sugar, and eggs on medium speed for 3 minutes or until light and voluminous. Add flour and beat at low speed until it disappears. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold meringue into the almond mixture. [Note: I did not add in the extra butter]
- Bake cake layers for 5 to 7 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from their pans, and let them cool to room temperature.
- ½ cup (125g) water
- 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
- 1½ tbsps (7g) instant coffee powder
- In a small saucepan, combine water, sugar and coffee powder, and bring to a boil, while stirring to dissolve ingredients.
- **Make sure the mixture becomes thick before you remove from heat and allow syrup to cool.
- 2 tbsps (10g) instant coffee powder
- 2 tbsps (15g) boiling water
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 cup (100g) sugar
- ¼ cup (60g) water
- ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
- 14 tbsps (200g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- In small bowl, combine coffee powder and boiling water and stir until dissolved.
- In a mixer bowl, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg and egg yolk on high speed until pale and foamy.
- In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and vanilla extract, and bring to a boil, while stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook without stirring until it reaches 255F(124C). [Note: I did not have the thermometer with me so I judged based on the consistency of the mixture. Wait until it has firmed up a little so it’s not watery before adding to the egg mixture-almost like syrup]
- With the mixer on low speed, pour the syrup from the saucepan into the bowl with the egg mixture, trying to avoid hitting the whisk. Raise speed to medium-high and beat for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick, satiny, and at room temperature.
- Beat the butter until it is soft and creamy in a separate bowl . Add the butter to egg & syrup mixture in 2 tablespoon chunks. Raise mixer to high speed and beat until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
- Add the coffee syrup, and beat until combined.
- Transfer the mixture to a container; cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until it is firm enough to be spread.
- 8oz (240g) bittersweet chocolate (70% +), finely chopped
- ½ cup (125g) whole milk
- ¼ cup (60g) heavy cream
- 4 tbsps (60g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a saucepan, bring milk and cream to a boil, and pour over the chocolate. Let the chocolate melt for 30 seconds, then gently stir the mixture until smooth and fully combined. [Note: I ended up putting everything in one bowl and heating it up]
- Beat the butter until smooth and creamy and stir it into the bowl in two or three additions.
- For extra precaution, pass the mixture though a sieve, and cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally until it is firm enough to spread [I did not do this step. There were no chunks in the mixture so I went ahead and cooled it down]
Coffee Creme Anglaise
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsps granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 tsps instant coffee powder [Note: I used only 1/2 tsp to tweak it to my family’s taste buds]
Warning: Don’t take your sweet time with these steps!
- In a small saucepan combine milk, cream, vanilla and 1 tbsp sugar. Heat over medium heat while stirring to dissolve sugar. [Note: Make sure not to wait too long!]
- In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 2 tbsps sugar until mixture turns light/pale yellow.
- Pour half of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture and whisk, and return the tempered mixture to the saucepan.
- Heat mixture over medium-low heat stirring often, until mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.
- Add coffee powder and stir until dissolved [Note: My family doesn’t like a bold coffee taste so I refrained from adding the full amount. I used half a teaspoon]
- Strain the mixture through a sieve and into a bowl sitting on a cold ice water bath. Let the Strain into a container and refrigerate until cool. The mixture will thicken as it chills.
- 8 tbsps (115g) unsalted butter
- 5oz (150g) bittersweet chocolate (70% +), finely chopped
- In a small saucepan, bring the butter to a boil. Remove from heat and clarify the butter by spooning off and discarding foam and solids. In a double boiler, or in a bowl over a pot of hot water, melt the chocolate, and stir in the clarified butter until combined. [Alterative option to this below]
- Alternatively, you can melt the butter & chocolate together in the microwave (2 minutes in total while stopping to stir every 30 seconds).
- Working quickly, pour the glaze onto the cake and use an offset spatula to smooth the glaze evenly across the top, allowing the glaze to drip off the sides. **If more than one minute has elapsed, do not return to fix any small imperfections, as the buttercream underneath the glaze may have melted, and smoothing the surface may mix the buttercream with the glaze. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes, or until the glaze has hardened.
Assembling Your Cake
If you used the specified dimensions for your pan in the recipe then follow these instructions:
- On a cutting board, use a ruler to trim each joconde sheet to produce one 10-inch square and one 10×5-inch rectangle. Place one 10-inch square on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and moisten with 3 tablespoons of coffee syrup. Use an offset spatula to evenly spread half of the buttercream over the joconde. Freeze the cake for 10 minutes to allow it to firm.
- On top of the buttercream, place the two 10×5-inch rectangular pieces of joconde side by side. Moisten with 3 tablespoons of coffee syrup and use and offset spatula to evenly spread the ganache over the joconde. Place the last 10-inch joconde square on top of the ganache, and moisten with the remaining coffee syrup. Freeze the cake for 10 minutes to allow it to firm.
- Use an offset spatula to evenly spread the remaining buttercream over the joconde. Make sure the surface is very smooth and even. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour, or up to 6 hours. Alternatively, freeze the cake for 20 minutes.
If you used a different pan dimension (like I ended up doing):
- Before starting, I suggest you remove your chocolate ganache from the refrigerator to allow it to return to room temperature (probably close to an hour before you plan to put your cake together). Carefully ensure your cakes are not stuck to your baking parchments. Make sure you keep them refrigerated if you’re not using them yet. First, you take one joconde layer out along with your buttercream. Using the joconde as your base, brush the coffee syrup onto your base (about 3 tbsp) before you spread half of your buttercream mixture over the joconde. Freeze this for 10 minutes to allow for it to firm up.
- On top of your buttercream, place another layer of joconde. Again, brush 3 tbsp of coffee syrup onto the surface of your second joconde. Now, spread all of your chocolate ganache onto your joconde evenly. Put your last joconde layer on top of the ganache and brush coffee syrup on top of this new layer. Place your cake Spreadthe fridge and freeze for another 10 minutes to let it set.
- Spread the remaining buttercream over your final joconde layer. Make sure the surface is smooth and flat as this will affect the evenness of your chocolate glaze later on. Freeze your cake overnight.
- On the day you plan to serve your cake, plan to make your chocolate glaze 30 minutes prior to that time. When you pour your chocolate ganache make sure to work fast and smooth it out as much as possible. Once your glaze is set, place it into the fridge and let it freeze for around 30 minutes.
- Right before you let your eager friends and family to feast their eyes on this cake, take a warm dry knife and trim the edges so the layers are easily displayed.
Your Opera Cake is ready to be served!