May’s Daring Baker’s challenge by all accounts, should have flopped. Though Murphy was an unwanted guest plaguing this daring baker, I persevered and managed to kick him out the door.
This month, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina, our founders were also our hosts together with Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful chose a complex looking cake---the opera.
Act 1 The Distraught Baker
Scene 1 the Joconde
Enter, the baker. She is in her kitchen on a Saturday morning, bright and full of hope, yet distracted by many personal issues. She goes about making her hazelnut Joconde carefully measuring her ingredients. She even melts her butter properly by defrosting it in the microwave...
She follows the recipe precisely or so she thinks. She folds in everything beautifully and divides the batter between four 9” tins. She is about to load them in the oven when she spies the melted butter on the counter.
OH NO! NO! NO! What shall I do? How shall I fix this?
What shall I do? How shall I fix this?
She divides the butter between the four tins and folds it in and prays! It seemed to be working. She places the tins inside the ovens and then looks at the recipe. She turns pale and worriedly removes the pans from the oven.
FLOUR! OH FLOUR! How could I have forgotten you?
OH NO! NO! NO! What now shall I do? What shall I do?
She sifts the flour over the four tins and tries to fold them in. She returns the tins to the oven and prays for the best. Against the odds, she produces decent cakes. They are not tall but they don’t feel dense. And boy are they moist! The hazelnut gives it a sweet nuttiness that is just incredible.
BRAVO! BRAVO! What a beautiful cake!
BRAVO! BRAVO! In spite of every mistake!
She makes a syrup of white crème de cacao. She wraps the cakes and promises to finish it off the next day to cap off the tournedos Rossini lunch with her family. She exits. Lights out.
Scene 2 the Buttercream
Our Daring Baker returns to the Kitchen. She is making a brioche for her tournedos and some time during the morning, she starts the crème de framboise buttercream.
Alas! She forgets to soften the butter. She keeps the butter close to the stove where she is making the syrup for the buttercream. When the syrup gets to 225, she removes it from the heat and adds it to the whisked eggs. At first it seems to work well. Then she adds the butter and it starts thinning out.
OH NO! NO! NO! Where did I go wrong? Was the syrup too hot?
Was it perhaps the medium egg? No! I think not!
The butter that didn’t melt! I forgot!
Dorie to the rescue! She attempts to make new buttercream using Dorie’s recipe which she successfully made before… Except that now she doesn’t have softened butter again… She tries to soften it manually and starts adding it to the whisked eggs. It starts losing volume. Disheartened, she leaves it in the ref for another hour. She whips it again and after a few minutes, it actually has structure!
MARVELOUS! MARVELOUS! Dorie saves the day once more!
MARVELOUS! MARVELOUS! Murphy is finally out the door!
With a sigh of relief and a smile on her face, the lights go out.
Act 2 The Proud Baker
Scene 1 the White Chocolate Ganache and Assembly
Enter, the baker. She is in her kitchen on a Sunday late afternoon. Yes, with all her problems, she was not able to make it for dessert. However, her family stays on to wait for her cake to be finished. She makes the ganache without incident and layers the 9” cakes within a 9” mould. She gets a 4” mould and cuts through the center to make an ‘opern ring’ and a smaller 4” cake.
She layers the cake and buttercream and tops it with the ganache. She serves it to her family and they sing in chorus---
BRAVA! BRAVA! What a beautiful cake!
BRAVA! BRAVA! In spite of every mistake!
Applause for Lis, Ivonne, Fran and Shea
This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.
For the joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temp
•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans or 10 x 15-inches.
•a few tablespoons of melted butter and a brush (to grease the pans)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) 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. (220◦C).
3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) 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 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.
For the syrup
½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice
1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.
2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
For the buttercream (Update Note: The recipe for the buttercream that is listed below was originally based on the original but we had some typos. It's all very confusing (we're good at confusing ourselves) but here is the short of it: When testing the buttercream, we tested a modified version (we're crazy like that!!!) that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. Yes. That's right. 1¾ cups of butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. VERY. CREAMY.
1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice
1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.
3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.
4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).
6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.
7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.
8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.
9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).
For the white chocolate ganache/mousse
7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)
1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)
What you’ll need:
•a small saucepan or double boiler
14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)
1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.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): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.
Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse): Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup. Spread about one-third 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 another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour). Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze. Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.
Step B (if making the ganache/mousse): Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup. Spread about three-quarters 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/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze. Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.