Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'm a Daring Baker!

Opera Cake

{Warning - this will be my longest post ever!!}
I recently joined a very talented group of baker-bloggers (blogger-bakers?) called the Daring Bakers. It is a huge group of online bakers, and once a month we are given a challenge, then given a specific day to post the results of said challenge. For my first month as a member, we were given a whopper of a challenge - Opera Cake!!! When I printed the recipe, it was 9 pages long!! Believe me, I had second thoughts about joining such an ambitious group, but decided to give it a try. The recipe we were given was SO thorough - any little question I may have had about any step to the recipe (and there were many many steps), were answered in instructions. I tried to include as much as I thought necessary in my posting of the recipe below. If any ambitious readers of my humble blog attempt the recipe and find it is missing some important piece of information, please comment and ask for help!
I made the cake for a lovely Mother's Day dinner at my friend Roseann's house. She invited me and another friend of hers over to celebrate with our kids, because all of our husbands were out of town (her friend's hubby was deployed). Roseann made a tasty veg lasagna and salad, and I brought the Opera Cake. (I also brought cupcakes for the kids, since they might not have such sophisticated tastes!)
The cake turned out so much better than I expected. I was unhappy with the color of the glaze - I put too much yellow food coloring in. I was going for a soft, subtle yellow, but I ended up with egg yolk colored glaze. Once it was set and the ends were trimmed nicely, it looked much better, but when I first poured the glaze, it looked kind of gross!
The Elements of an Opéra Cake:
Joconde: The base of an Opéra Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).
Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup that can be flavoured to suit your tastes.
Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.
Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse.
Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.
Opera Cake
For the joconde
(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)
What you’ll need:

-2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)

•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)

-parchment paper

•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer

•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


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 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.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:
•a small saucepan

½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.) **I used 1 tbsp wildflower honey and 1 tbsp limoncello


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

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
-a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


2 cups (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 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
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
cups unsalted butter, at room temperature (CUPS - NOT STICKS)
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.) **I used 1 tbsp lemon zest

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

(this step is optional )

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:
•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer
7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.) ** I used limoncello, but I couldn't taste it!


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)
**I also added yellow food coloring - but too much! I should have put a few drops at a time, then stirred well, instead I put a LOT in, then realized it was too much.


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.

Option 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.

Option 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.

Please check out the amazing creations of all the other Daring Bakers by visiting their blogroll.

I was really inspired by the other member's beautiful creations. I have a lot to learn from them!


chrismacd1 said...

Welcome to DB you did a fabulous job on the Opera Cake! Didn't it feel like you were writing a novel typing up the recipe?!? Sure did for me!

Barbara said...

Great job on your first challenge! I think the color of your glaze is beautiful!

Mary said...

Great job on your first challenge! Call me crazy, but I really like the bright yellow glaze.

Angela said...

Congratulations on your first challenge! Your Opera looks fantastic to me!

Renee said...

Great job. Congratulations on your first challenge! Your cake looks yummy!

Maddy said...

Looks gorgeous! I'm sure everyone at the party was delighted to see you bring this masterpiece :) Welcome to DB!

toontz said...

My first Daring Baker challenge, too. Whew! We made it! Great job, I am very impressed that you managed to take photos along the way. I was too stressed to do anything but make that cake!

Tanya said...

Your cake looks beautiful and I love the orange glaze.

moowiesqrd said...

The glaze is quite cheery for springtime... not too yellow at all! Great job!

Tanya said...

Your cake looks beautiful and I love the orange glaze.

Debyi said...

I'm a first time DB'er too! You did a great job, your cake looks so yummy and the color is really nice too, it says spring to me!

Bumblebutton said...

Nice job! Welcome to the group. Your cake looks delicious!

Claire said...

Looks just wonderful...and welcome to the DBers! I'm glad you had someone to share this with.

Virginia said...

It was my first time too! Your glaze turned out great, I commend you for typing out your recipe! I was too lazy to do it myself :S Great job fellow newbie DB!

Cynthia's Blog said...

nice job, and I am going to join for the next month. Way to inspire!

PAT A BAKE said...

Wow excellent work on your first challenge. Welcome to DBs. Do visit my blog to see my adventure too

marion said...

welcome !!! what a great challenge to start with :) you've done a great job :)

Mcwhisky said...

Prettily done! Congrats on your first DB challenge! :)

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a wonderful job on your cake. Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Texana said...

Congrats on your first DB Challenge! Your cake looks marvelous. Good Job.

Erika said...

Congrats on your first challenge! I also love the yellow, it is so cheery!

Lunch Buckets said...

Welcome to the group and congratulations on your first DB success!

Kiandra said...

great job! your cake is beautiful and i love the color of your glaze...its perfect for spring!

Celine's Cuisine said...

Welcome! Wow you did really great on your 1st challenge.
I love the orange- yellow color you used.
Mine was a little bit more Orangy.

Anne said...

That looks great - congratulations on your first challenge :)

Dolores said...

You are correct... you ARE a daring baker! Congratulations on your first successful challenge... what an initiation that must have felt like! And I'm with some of the others here... I find the bright yellow of your glaze festive and fun.

Anonymous said...

Paula Jane, I am impressed, not only with the cake and its complexity and how well it turned out, but the Daring Bakers Blogsite as well. Way to go....Dad

Lili said...

I am speechless. Really. Wow. I am so impressed with your baking talent!

Rebecca said...

This was my first challenge, too. We made it!!! Nice work. ;)

Brownie said...

Welcome to the DBs! Your Opera Cake looks fabulous! This was my first challenge, too--I certainly felt daring after completing it! :)

silverrock said...

Amazing looking opera cake, and way to go on your first DB challenge! Yeah, isn't it fun to bake as a group?! :)

RedLegMeg said...

Looks wonderfully yummy, but way too much work for me! "Daring Bakers" seems an appropriate name, that's for sure. Heck, I couldn't even read the entire recipe. I just scrolled through with my mouth agape - whew!