It was another sweet month for the Daring Bakers, with the elegant French dessert L'Opera Cake on the menu. Believed to have been created around the beginning of the 1900s, L'Opera Cake is usually made of five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer).
When I read initially read the recipe, it seemed long and daunting. However, once I broke it down into the separate steps, it was quite simple and didn't take too long to put together. While I would not recommend trying to whip this cake up in a hurry, you could certainly put it together during the day for an elegant dinner party dessert. As the joconde and syrup keep well, you could make those the day before (which is what I did) to make it even easier to put together.
Traditionally, a joconde is flavoured with darker flavours such as chocolate or coffee. But this month's hosts, Lis and Ivonne (DB founders) and Fran and Shea, decided to celebrate their start of spring with L'Opera Cakes that are light in both colour and flavour (ie no chocolate or coffee but vanilla, coconut, lemon or almond).
The joconde was simple to make, being a mixture of egg whites (whipped to a meringue), ground almonds, icing sugar, eggs and butter. It made a lovely light sponge cake that cooked in under 10 minutes and had a moreish nutty flavour. The joconde was made in two lamington tins, so it wasn't a very high cake, but it was sliced up and layered into thirds, so the thickness was just right.
The joconde was moistened with a light sugar syrup that I flavoured with brandy (not having any cognac on hand). Although it was only a small serving, it made far too much for this cake, so I need to find some good use for excess sugar syrup as I didn't know what to do with the leftovers.
The buttercream was not hard to make but was quite fiddly. It involved making a hot sugar syrup (heated to 124 C on a candy thermometer) that was poured into beaten eggs and whipped, before a great mass (200g) of softened butter was beaten in until the buttercream was thick and shiny. I found a lot of my sugar syrup hardened into the bottom of my KitchenAid mixing bowl, so I'm not sure how much of the syrup was incorporated into the buttercream. The final product was thick and tasty but I think next time I might use my basic buttercream (butter and icing sugar) from the trusty old Women's Weekly cookbooks. I don't think it will have the same lightness of texture but it will certainly be quicker and faster to make.
I decided to omit the white chocolate mousse from this cake, as I felt that the cake was already loaded with calories and expense (a dozen eggs, loads of butter and sugar, plus several blocks of white chocolate if I made the mousse and glaze). The mousse was an optional extra for this challenge anyway.
The final step was to assemble the cake and drizzle over the glaze. The joconde was sliced into squares and rectangles, so that it made three layers. I moistened each joconde layer with the syrup, then spread over one-third of the buttercream, finishing with the buttercream on top. I refrigerated the cake for about an hour, until it was quite firm and made the glaze, which was a mixture of melted white chocolate and cream. Owing to a miscalculation on my part (the glaze recipe called for 14oz of white chocolate, which is nearly 500g), I only had 200g of white chocolate but this was enough to cover the cake, albeit thinly. The glaze was cooled and poured over the cake, which was then put into the fridge to chill and set.
The final result was an absolute winner with my tasting panel. It is a rich, special occasion cake, best served in small slices. We felt the cake was quite rich enough with just the buttercream and glaze and I think adding the mousse may have made this cake too sweet for our tastes. It is an expensive cake to make and does take time and effort but it is certainly worth it if you want a show-stopper of a cake for afternoon tea or dessert. You can also pretend you're in Paris when nibbling on a slice because it does have an unmistakeable French air to it - the seeming simplicity of the cake belies the attention that has gone into it behind the scenes.
Congratulations to Lis and Ivonne for choosing such a spectacular cake. Unfortunately my digital camera is broken at the moment, so I can't share photos of my finished product but it turned out wonderfully and I would definitely make this again.