Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers in May - Opera in the Land of St. Honore'

Spring had come to the Land of St. Honore’ and the duchess was expecting a special guest for coffee the next day. Arrayed on her kitchen counter were eggs and butter and sugar and flour…and a few secret ingredients…all the things that a Daring Baker like the duchess loved to work with.

She smiled at her niece Mm. Mandy who was a kindred spirit in the kitchen and had come to bake with her. First they read the long and complicated recipe, then divided up the tasks. Broken down that way, it didn’t seem too difficult.

As they worked together, eggs were separated and whipped,
nuts ground, butter melted, sugar and flour sifted, and white chocolate melted. A syrup that included coconut milk and rum was made and cooled.

Mandy took a turn with the whisk for the buttercream and later the mixer worked it’s magic, too.

The thick buttercream was silken and spreadable.

The kitchen ruler came into play to make perfect thirds of the baked and cooled jaconde for this was to be an elegant, formal sort of dessert.

As the women wove their way around the kitchen, laughing and chatting, the creation took shape. Mm. Mandy showed her skill with the piping bag making the light yellow decorations for the top.

Layers were brushed with the syrup,

then spread with the buttercream.

After buttercream was smoothed on the top layer,

the rectangle spent some time in the fridge. The white chocolate glaze, flavored with rum was finally spread on the top and the dessert set to chill overnight.

The next afternoon, to the strains of Mozart, lovely slices of Opera Cake were served on fine china plates to Prince Albert, along with some strong coffee in bone china cups.

This was not your usual Opera Cake which is often chocolate or coffee flavored, but a light version, with layers of macadamia nut sponge cake which had soaked up rum and coconut flavored syrup. Between the layers there was rich rum buttercream. The top was glazed with white chocolate that had been flavored with more rum and the sweet, pale yellow treble clef note design, piped from tinted white chocolate, with one placed on each slice, enhanced the musical theme perfectly.

The afternoon passed with light opera and delightful conversation. Since this Light Opera Cake, buttery and just sweet enough, with the coconut, macadamia nut and rum flavors giving it a feel of the tropics, was very rich, only small slices were needed.

When her niece left the next day to visit relatives to the east, she took the rest with her, to the delight of her Capitol aunt and uncle. They had no trouble finishing off the remaining slices.

The Daring Bakers are dedicating this month's challenge to Barbara of ( is the force behind the food blog event called A Taste of Yellow that supports the LiveSTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong. This year's LiveStrong Day is in May so we decided that we could show our support by dedicating our respective challenge posts to Barbara. Mandy’s yellow decorations are in support of A Taste of Yellow.

Do take a spin around the blogosphere and see what the other Daring Bakers have done with this delightful challenge by going to the blogroll ( . A big thank you to our hostesses this month - Shea of the blog Whiskful ( and Fran of the blog Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie ( , plus our honored founders Ivonne of CreamPuffs in Venice ( and Lis of La Mia Cucina ( . Loved the Opera Cake!

If you would like to create an Opera Cake for yourself, here is the recipe the duchess used:

A Taste of Light: Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

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.

Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. While not hard to make, this makes the recipe quite involved.

Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.

Elle’s NOTE: I made half the recipe and baked the jaconde in one jelly roll pan, then cut it into thirds. I substituted ground macadamia nuts for the ground almonds in the cake, used ¼ cup coconut milk and ¼ cup water for the syrup, then used rum for the flavoring. For the buttercream, I used the recipe from the Yule Log from the December Daring Bakers challenge, flavoring it with rum. This yielded a buttery cake, with a tropical flavor of rum and coconut, which went very well with the white chocolate and macadamia nut flavors.

For the joconde (sponge cake)
(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 better to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)

(Elle’s NOTE: We ground the macadamia nuts in a hand nut grinder for a fine, even nut flour)

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 (or ¼ cup coconut milk and ¼ cup 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.) (RUM!)

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 Rum Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons rum

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Beat the rum into the buttercream. Chill, if needed, to a consistency that will be firm enough for two layers of cake to be placed.

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.
Decorate if desired.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings. (The half recipe was decorated so that there were 10 slices.)


  1. good job--and I love the picture of the hand wisking.

  2. Shoot yours is gorgeous! Now I'm wanting to do it with all almonds. The hazelnuts in mine changed the looks.
    Beautiful cake my friend so glad we're still in the Land of St Honore!

  3. Yours turned out beautiful!

  4. I love the treble clef! I tried to do music notes but it wasn't quite thick enough and ran before I could get a picture! Oh, well.

  5. A torte fit for royals!

  6. Beautiful and so poetic, as usual. I love the idea of coconut milk and rum in the syrup. Sounds very tropical!

  7. Anonymous9:10 AM

    brilliant - well done! i wish i'd been as successful!

  8. Elle, I always wait for your missives from the Land of St. Honore! This one did not disappoint and it sounds like you had quite a good help in the kitchen as well.

  9. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Wow! The tropical flavors in this cake sound wonderful, and I love your pictures!

  10. What a beautiful cake! Rum sounds yummy too.

  11. a tropical opera is music to my ears!

  12. This looks amazing. I'm so inspired by your beautiful baking!

  13. Elle,
    I always enjoy your St Honore stories! Yur cake turned out superb - I especially like the Treble Clef! When you say coconut milk, do you mean the clear coconut water (thats what we call it) or do you scrape the coconut meat and squeeze that to get milk? (again, thats what we do over here....) Superb flavours for a superb cake!!

  14. Mm this looks yummy! Great work.

  15. I love the idea to use macadamia nuts in place of almonds. Your flavor combination makes me want to go some place warm and tropical. Nice job!

  16. Anonymous4:17 AM

    Beautiful cake. I am sure the flavor combinations were delicious. I love all the pictures and will have to remember to take more of my own next month.

  17. Aah, another elegant slice! When I look at this, it makes me want to start allover again!

  18. That Duchess sure is generous with her baking skills, sharing time with Mm. Mandy!
    Nice flavor combination, btw.

  19. Your cake is gorgeous! I love the flavor pairing you did with the macadamia nuts and rum.

  20. Anonymous5:21 AM

    Looks great! Thanks for the encouragement :)

  21. Yum! Yours is so neat - and I love your story, too. :-)

  22. Reading your post made me feel like I was sitting at an elegant tea party with a slight breeze blowing in, to cool off the warm summer day! Beautiful cake!

  23. Elle, what an amazing job you did. I love the step by step photos, and the finished cake is to die for!
    Fill me in for anything with coconut. :)

  24. I love the way this posts reads! And they way your Opera looks...beautiful! :)

  25. You've done a great job here Elle, and the yellow treble clef is just perfect!

  26. Gorgeous cake! It looks so perfect!

  27. How beautiful- I love your treble clef decorations.

  28. This is one gorgeous looking cake. Simply perfect!

  29. Kudos on a superb post, Elle! I've eaten opera cake but never attempted one at home. So I really appreciate your how-to photos. It's just beautiful!

  30. Love the colour. It looks fabulous.

  31. Macadamia, rum and coconut... those are fairy tale flavors. Great job!

  32. Anonymous8:41 PM

    Wow, the duchess and Mm. M. made a spectacular cake!

  33. You did a wonderful job on your cake. It's very beautiful.

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

  34. Beautiful cake! Your presentation is tops!

  35. The pictures turned out fantastic! You once again caught the best morning light! Mm. Mandy is planning on trying to make a similar thing for Father's Day (let's see if M. Chef Extrodinaire will like it!)

  36. Anonymous10:02 PM

    Yours turned out beautifully! The treble clef was a great touch. My nerves were too shot to even attempt something so delicate.

  37. Your pictures and write-up are wonderful. Very entertaining. Excellent-looking cake too!
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  38. Fantastic photos. Your cake looks gorgeous - Bravo!

  39. Anonymous4:16 PM

    I love the way you wrote this. It sounds like you both had a lot of fun. The macadamia nuts were such a great choice with the tropical theme you had going. Absolutely beautiful cake!

  40. Your cake looks great. I used macadamias too but your sponge looks lighter than mine! Good job.

  41. Your cake looks gorgeous and I love the musical notes you piped on top.

  42. Your cake looks gorgeous and ever so perfect! Very pretty!



  43. Wow! I'm so impressed! Your cake looks beautiful. Great pictures, too!

  44. heheheh I love reading your posts, my love! :)

    Your cake looks amazing and those coconutty-rummy flavors have me drooling!!


    Love you!

  45. Love what you did with the challenge! So classic and pretty!

  46. Anonymous3:43 AM

    I missed you some how and am glad I found you! What a wonderful job you did. The Opera Cake is absolutely lovely. Enjoyed your post as well.

  47. Anonymous8:44 PM


    I love the photos and your story! macadamia nuts, I never think of using them but what a brilliant idea and especially with rum, I love it!!