Opera Cake

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We’re leaving for a quick trip to Disney World this afternoon.  Just like every other vacation we’ve recently taken, we’re traveling heavy.  I’ve packed a big bag of tricks so as to prevent the dreaded “plane meltdowns”, lots of snacks to take my mind off of plane crashes, my book that I won’t ever get to open, and all of the horrible diseases that attach themselves to children in the winter months. Cameron has a nasty cold accompanied by a 102 fever.  Wesley has a not-as-nasty cold, but a pretty mean ear infection, and I’m sporting a cute, little sinus infection.   Aron is healthy for now, but, you know… tick tock.  I am aware, however,that as hard as it will be traveling with the kids, I’ll still look back on this time and weep that it was all so fleeting.  I know this, and so I’m going to enjoy every minute. Unless my plane goes down.  I won’t enjoy that.  Let’s make Opera Cake!

Opera Cake is a famous French cake made up of layers of coffee syrup-soaked almond sponge cake (jaconde), coffee buttercream,  chocolate ganache, and topped with a chocolate glaze.  It’s lovely and sophisticated, and goes great with a cup of joe.  I got this recipe from Edd Kimber’s beautiful pastry book Patisserie Made Simple

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Once you’ve made every component of this special cake you can build it up into a beautiful, delicious, mocha skyscraper.  The joconde sponge cake is baked in two baking pans, so first,  you’ll need to trim the edges of the cakes, and then cut each cake in half.  Place one of the halves on a plate and brush with the coffee flavored simple syrup.

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Smooth half of the coffee buttercream over top.

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Place the second sponge cake on top of the buttercream, and then brush liberally with the simple syrup.

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Next, smooth out all of the chocolate ganache making sure it is nice and even.

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Place the third sponge cake on top, brush with simple syrup, and then add almost all of the remaining coffee buttercream (leave about 3 to 4 tablespoons worth in the bowl). Top this buttercream layer with  the last sponge cake. Brush with the simple syrup and then smooth on a thin layer of  the remaining buttercream. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours to set.

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When the cake has properly chilled, make the chocolate glaze.  Let cool slightly, and then pour the glaze over the top of the cake.  The glaze may run down the sides, but the sides do not have to be completely covered.  

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Refrigerate the cake once more to set the glaze (about 2 hours, or overnight).  The cake will look rough, especially on the sides, but don’t worry about that.  It should, however, have a smooth top coating.Opera Cake 045 (2)

Using a very hot knife, trim the edges and then cut into mini triangles.  I ran my knife under hot water, and then dried it with a towel between every cut.  This helps keep the layers distinctive looking.

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Opera Cake
Yields 8
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For the joconde sponge cake
  1. 1 heaping cup (115 g) Almond Flour
  2. ¾ cup (115 g) Powdered Sugar
  3. 3 Large Eggs
  4. 3 and 2/3 TBS (30 g) All-Purpose Flour, sifted
  5. ¼ stick (1 oz. or 25 g) Unsalted Butter, melted
  6. 3 Large Egg Whites
  7. 2 and ½ TBS Granulated Sugar
For the coffee buttercream
  1. 3 Large Egg Yolks
  2. 5 TBS (60 g) Granulated Sugar
  3. 1 and ¼ sticks (150 g) Unsalted Butter, diced and at room temperature
  4. 1 TBS Instant Espresso Powder
  5. 2 to 3 tsp. Boiling Water
For the Coffee Simple Syrup
  1. ¾ cup (150 g) Granulated Sugar
  2. 2/3 cup Water
  3. 1 TBS Instant Espresso Powder
For the chocolate ganache
  1. Half of a 3 and ½ oz. bar (50 g) Milk Chocolate, chopped
  2. Half of a 3 and ½ oz. bar (50 g) Semi-Sweet Chocolate, chopped
  3. ¼ cup Heavy Cream
  4. 1 TBS (14 g) Unsalted Butter
For the chocolate glaze
  1. ¼ cup Heavy Cream
  2. 2 TBS Light Corn Syrup or Honey
  3. 2 and ½ oz. (65 g) Semi-Sweet Chocolate, chopped
  4. ½ stick (50 g) Unsalted Butter
To make the joconde sponge cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 13”x 9” cake pans, line both with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl connected to a standing mixer, whisk the powdered sugar and almond flour until thoroughly combined. Add the 3 eggs and then whisk until pale and thick (about 5 minutes). Gently fold in the sifted flour, and then fold in the melted butter. Pour this batter into another bowl.
  3. Clean and dry the standing mixer bowl. Whisk the three egg whites until foamy. While the mixer is running, slowly pour in the sugar. Mix until the meringue forms soft peaks.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold the meringue into the batter in thirds. After the meringue has been properly folded in, divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. It’s not much batter, but don’t worry about that. Just make sure that the batter is leveled out in each pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cakes appear golden, and spring back when lightly touched.
  5. Remove from the cakes from the oven. Immediately, and carefully remove the cakes from the cake pans onto a wire rack. Trim the edges just a smidge, and then set aside to cool.
To make the coffee buttercream
  1. Whisk the instant espresso powder with 2 to 3 teaspoons of boiling water. Once it resembles a paste then set aside.
  2. In a bowl attached to a standing mixer, whisk the egg yolks until pale and thickened. While the egg yolks are whisking, heat the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Using a candy thermometer, monitor the temperature of the sugar/water. When it reaches 250 degrees F. remove the saucepan from the heat. Slowly pour the syrup into the egg yolks while the mixer is whisking away. Once all of the syrup is in the bowl, keep whisking until the mixture has cooled to room temperature.
  3. Drop one piece of butter at a time into the egg yolk mixture. Whisk each piece until thoroughly combined. Once all of the butter has been incorporated keep whisking until smooth. Finally, mix in the espresso powder paste. Set buttercream aside.
To make the coffee simple syrup
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the water and the sugar to a boil. Lower the temperature, and then simmer for five minutes, or until slightly reduced. Pour the hot sugar water in a bowl, and whisk in the espresso powder until fully incorporated. Set aside.
To make the chocolate ganache
  1. Place the milk chocolate pieces and the bitter-sweet chocolate pieces in a medium sized bowl. In a saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream and butter to a boil. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate making sure that every piece is covered. Allow to sit for 1 minute, and then slowly stir for 3 minutes. It should appear glossy and smooth. Set aside.
To make the chocolate glaze
  1. Place the chocolate, heavy cream, butter, and corn syrup in a heat proof bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stir the mixture until completely smooth, and then immediately remove from the heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
To assemble
  1. Cut each cake in half. Use a ruler to do this. Place one of the halves on a large plate. Brush the top with the coffee simple syrup, and then smooth on about half of the coffee buttercream. Make sure the buttercream is nicely leveled.
  2. Add the second joconde sponge on top. Brush the top with the coffee simple syrup, and then smooth all of the chocolate ganache. Make sure the ganache is also nicely leveled.
  3. Place the third joconde sponge on top. Brush the top with the coffee simple syrup, and then smooth on almost all of the remaining coffee buttercream, however, leave about 3 tablespoons of buttercream in the bowl. You’ll need this for the top layer.
  4. Place the fourth and final joconde sponge on top. Brush with coffee simple syrup, and smooth on the 3 tablespoons worth of buttercream so that it is a nice, thin layer. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours or overnight to help set the buttercream.
  5. When the cake has properly chilled, make the chocolate glaze. Let it cool slightly (about 5 to 8 minutes). Pour the glaze over the entire cake. It may drizzle off of the sides, but that’s okay. The important thing is that to top is completely coated. Refrigerate the cake for another 2 hours or overnight.
  6. Using a hot knife (run the knife under hot water, and then dry with a towel) trim off the edges. Keep the knife hot and clean between every cut. Finally, cut the cake into 8 mini rectangles or 16 mini squares. Enjoy! Oh, and save all of the trimmings to eat while you assemble this glorious cake.
Special equipment needed
  1. Two 13” x 9” cake pans
  2. Parchment paper
  3. Standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment
  4. Off set spatula
  5. Saucepan
  6. Candy thermometer
  7. Medium-sized heat proof bowl
  8. Pastry brush
  9. Sharp knife
  10. Kitchen towel
To store
  1. This cake will keep for up to one week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  2. The baked joconde cakes can be frozen for up to 6 months if both are individually wrapped well. Defrost while still wrapped for 2 to 3 hours.
  3. The mocha buttercream will keep up to one week if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Allow it to come to room temperature before spreading on cake.
  4. The coffee syrup will keep in the refrigerator for two months stored in a sterilized container.
  5. The ganache and the chocolate glaze can be kept for 2 days at room temperature if stored in an airtight container. If refrigerator, it should keep for about 3 weeks.
Adapted from Patisserie Made Simple
Adapted from Patisserie Made Simple
Project Pastry Love http://www.projectpastrylove.com/
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  • Lindy

    This cake was a masterpiece: exquisite to look at, subtle to taste, a light and airy combination of coffee, chocolate and sophistication. I was a lucky taste tester!

    • Liz

      Hey! Thanks Lindy 🙂

  • jane

    Such a beautiful dessert! All your layers were so defined. A perfectly delicious and
    sophisticated treat! You still amaze me, Liz! I baked cookies yesterday. ; – )

    • Liz

      Thanks mom! I learned from watching you bake all of these years. Did you make another batch? Can I have some? Right now?