Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake

It's that time again! Every month, a group of us Daring Bakers are secretly assigned a baking recipe by our host(s), and on the same day at the end of the month, we all post our results!

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This month's challenge was hosted by DB Moms Ivonne and Lis, and two newer DBers Fran, and Shea. The recipe they assigned for May was an Opera cake in light colors and flavors in honor of spring, as opposed to the traditional Opera cake's chocolate and coffee flavors. We were allowed to pick whatever light flavors and colors we wanted.

I chose: Arizona honey buttercream over the standard jaconde (because I love almond pastries--from frangipane to almond cookies, it's all yum), and a side of white peach mousse. It was on the side because I didn't want to make the cake too sweet with it, since it was already topped with white chocolate; the whole setup was sweet enough on its own. While I find white peaches sweeter than regular peaches, it has enough natural fruity tartness to cut through the white chocolate's sweetness.

Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake
I served it at my monthly Savories and Sweets party on May 18.



I've made Opera cakes before. I learned how to make them in my Classical Desserts class. This was mostly traditional with the jaconde, coffee syrup and buttercream, and chocolate glaze, but my chef-instructor loved marzipan, so we added that, too:

It became one of my favorite desserts.

Over the winter, I improvised an Opera cake with some orange chiffon and cardamom Swiss buttercream:


For this project, I tried to use some cocoa butter transfers, but the transfer sheet was sorta old, so the stars and swirls didn't stick:
Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake

And aside from a little browning on one sheet of jaconde, I was happy with my layers--nice, airy cake, not too much buttercream (one of my pet peeves is too much frosting on cakes), and fairly straight layers:
Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake

Note: We were instructed to bake our cakes in two sheet pans (half-sheet size). I fussed over them and switched their places on the racks and rotated them halfway through baking. I read that several of my fellow DBers had problems with consistency while trying to bake two sheets at once, so I'm glad I took the time to flip and spin. I could've baked the sheets separately, but I didn't want to lose a moment of volume by letting one sheet sit around, even though the bake time was only 7 minutes. I need that airy jaconde! Also, I was excited about this buttercream--a sort of French buttercream; French buttercream uses egg yolks instead of just egg whites like Italian and Swiss buttercreams.

I didn't have enough time to make the mousse to serve with the cake at this month's SAS party, but I was left to play with what was left. I trimmed the leftover cake to fit a long platter:
Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake

I plated a slice of cake with a somewhat sloppy quenelle of the white peach mousse:
Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake

The plate looked unfinished, so I sprinkled a line of leftover ground almond down the middle:
Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake

Some extra color would've been nice, but I didn't want to do food coloring, and I didn't have any ingredients in my pantry that would've added much color. So this was it, and I loved the way it tasted:
Daring Bakers, May: A Taste of Light--Opéra Cake

Peach Mousse
I winged it. Mousse is usually either made with whipped cream, whipped egg whites, or both. Whipped cream is a must for the yummy fat (mmm, fat), and the egg whites give it some added structure. Sometimes, it has gelatin added for stability. I peeled and pitted three peaches. You can blanch them to make them easier to peel, or just run the flat of your knife over them, bruising them just enough to loosen the skin so that it slips right off. You don't have to apply too much pressure with white peaches, though--they're fairly delicate and bruise easily. They're so delicate, traditional peelers don't always work on them. I strongly suggest bruising/blanching first, halving and pitting them, then peeling them. Puree the peaches in a blender or food processor. If you want to use the gelatin, bloom one envelope or four sheets in half a cup of water, then heat the water until it dissolves. Blend this into your puree. Add sugar if you want to sweeten the deal, but I found the peaches sweet enough. Then, whip up a cup of whipping cream and fold it into your peach puree. Let it set up in the fridge. If you want to add egg whites, cut the amount of whipping cream in half, beat up two egg whites, and fold that into your peach puree, too.

A Taste of Light: Opéra Cake
Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.


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)

Ingredients:

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.)
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

Ingredients:

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.)

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

Ingredients:

2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
½ cup (60 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 (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ cups (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)


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 (124◦C) 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 – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake below)

(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

Ingredients:

7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

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.



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.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Step 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.


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

Ingredients:

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.
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.

14 comments:

Katie said...

Ohhh it all sounds and looks wonderful. Honey, peaches and almonds - delicious.

sher said...

I'm trying to recover from looking at the honey buttercream. Marvelous idea.

Gabi said...

Lovely combination of flavours and beauty of a cake!
xoxo

Baking Soda said...

Wonderful choice with the white peaches, they give a nice tang to cut through the sweetness. Great cakes!

Anne said...

Yum, peach mousse! It sounds really delicious!

Fran Z said...

Oh that sounds divine. I'm heading straight to my kitchen for peach mousse! Lovely!

Christine said...

Love the choices honey,peaches and almonds...yum! Cake looks great!

enza said...

the quenelle is for a genious mind!
for the peach mousse I do suggest to add a boiling syrup to the egg white whipped and whipped as all become firm, extremely firm.
this is called italian meringue and will give a strong stability to the mousse.
so beautiful blog and people too

Julie said...

Thanks, all! I was very happy with my combination, and the peach mousse came out exactly as I'd hoped!

Enza, thank you for commenting on using meringue in the mousse. I do appreciate the stability the technique delivers, but as you noted, you end up with a pretty firm project. I wanted to still maintain a soft and airy mousse. I like meringue-based mousse for piping, though!

Amy J. said...

Yummmmm! Beautiful - I'm jealous! ;>

madcapcupcake said...

Peach is a great idea - your cakes look lovely!

Dolores said...

I'm with Katie, your honey, peach and almond combination sounds wonderful. And I love your "deconstructed" approach to plating it.

Shari said...

The white peach mousse sounds amazing. I love how you sprinkled ground almonds on top for decoration!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

Rebecca said...

Arizona honey buttercream and white peach mousse–sounds absolutely delicious.