Thursday, October 23, 2008

Opera Cake

When I was in Milwaukee, Kelly and I planned to do so many things. We were going to bake, bake, bake beautiful things for her to photograph and me to blog about. We did bake a lot, but not nearly as much as we planned to. One big thing we did make was an opera cake. Almost. If you don't know what an opera cake is, it's an almond sponge cake (called a joconde, which is what the Mona Lisa is called in French), which is wet with a syrup, then layered with a buttercream, then on top of the last layer is a mousse, topped with a glaze or ganache. It is a production, but it one of the best cakes I've ever had once it was finished. The joconde uses a dozen eggs, so it's pretty serious. 

Photo by Kelly
Kelly and I started the cake, and when it was time to peel the paper off the cake, it was stuck. Forever. We had substituted wax paper instead of parchment paper, and had greased it, but the cake was stuck. The paper was coming off in shreds. So we scraped pieces off and ate them, but scrapped the project for that night. We tried again a few days later, and instead of the extravagant dozen eggs, we decided to make a simple sponge cake for a jellyroll. I actually thought it tasted a lot better than the other recipe. The recipe we used did make a smaller cake than you are supposed to make with an opera cake, which was fine for us. I bet the cake recipe could be doubled, though, if you want to make a bigger one. 

We decided to flavor our cake with lemon, which Kelly had a bag full of in the fridge, and white chocolate, which I really like. It was heavenly. During the course of this recipe, Kelly learned that egg whites are not something to be scared of. 

Almond Sponge Cake 
4 eggs, separated
3/4 c sugar
1 T vanilla
3/4 c almond flour
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large jelly roll pan (or your biggest cookie sheet) with parchment paper, or if you don't have any, use aluminum foil. Lightly grease. Beat egg yolks until light, add sugar and vanilla, then the almond flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, beat the egg whites to fairly stiff peaks. Fold into the yolk/flour mixture, spread into your prepared pan, and bake 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned and spongey feeling. Let cool. Cut into quarters (you may notice we only cut ours into thirds and only had 3 layers of cake. We should have done quarters). 

1/2 c water
1/3 c sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 t vanilla

Mix everything together in a small pan, heat until sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat. 

This is very complicated and we didn't do ours right. Google buttercream and use your favorite. Add in some lemon juice at the end. 

Lemon White Chocolate Mousse
1 c plus 2 T heavy cream 
1/4 c white chocolate chips
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 T sugar

Melt 2 T cream and white chocolate (I microwave), and stir in lemon juice and zest. Whip cream with sugar until stiff (we accidentally overmixed by a little, so it was very thick, but we thought it was perfect) and then fold in chocolate lemon cream. Keep in the fridge until it's time to use. 

White Chocolate Glaze
1/2 c white chocolate
2 T heavy cream

Don't do this until you are ready to use it!!!! Melt together the chocolate and cream. Stir until smooth. 

To Assemble:
Place one layer of cake on your cake plate. Spoon (or brush if you have that kind of thing) 1/4 of the syrup over, then spread with 1/3 of the buttercream. Repeat for the next two layers. After finishing the buttercream on top of the third layer, add the last layer of cake. Spread mousse over the top, then smooth as much as you can with a spatula or tool of your choice. Pour the warm chocolate glaze over the top, spreading with a knife or spatula so it's even and fairly smooth. Let the glaze harden in the fridge, then devour. 


  1. this is so delicious! i'm really glad we made it and i'm glad i'm less frightened of egg whites. (you didn't need to say i took the photo, silly! )

  2. I have never heard of opera cake, but this looks oh so good.

    I have to admit, the 12 eggs doesn't bode well with my fears of hardened arteries, so I reeeally like your almond sponge cake recipe and may have to make it some time soon. Hope it was a delicious as it looks!

  3. I have always been intrigued by opera cake. This looks delicious! It caught my eye on Tastespotting :)

  4. Wow! This is an over the top project with stunning result. I am going to give it a whirl in the very near future! The photos are great. Looks like a great treat you would find in the window of a Paris bakery, or maybe even in Budapest (not gluten free of course)?

  5. Kelly- I'm so mad we didn't make it earlier, I wish I had gotten to eat more of it! Ugh so delicious. Maybe I'll make another one.

    Dana - It was a Daring Baker's challenge a few months ago, so I keep stumbling upon pictures and posts from then and it looks like something delicious and beautiful. It was even more delicious than it looks!

    Katie - Thanks for stopping by!

    Sweetpea- Try it! It's so worth it, and I think it sounds a lot more complicated than it is. I want to make another one asap because of how incredible it tasted, like something from, like you said, a Paris bakery!