Thanksgiving is a worthy event to attempt an epic project. So I thought I should make an Opera cake to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner our friends hosted.
This was my first ever Opera cake, and I was nervous. The recipe I found at the Splendid Table looked intimidating. Four pages of directions! Adapted from Dorrie Greenspan's book, this recipe dominates the culinary blogdom: numerous google returns on "opera cake recipe" refers back to this master recipe. Wanting to bake enough for a crowd, I resort to it (other recipes cater for 8 people). I had to read it thoroughly several times before the direction sinked in.
Essentially, classic Opera cake consists of layers of almond sponge cake (joconde/gioconda) drizzled with coffee syrup and slathered alternatively with french-style coffee butter cream and chocolate ganache. Although seemingly complicated, there are only two elements of the cake that one has to pay close attention to: the sponge cake and the french style butter cream. The other are simply chocolate ganache and sugared espresso (chocolate ganache is simply chocolate chips and cream melted in your humble microwave, and espresso... well... how can one simplify espresso?). Aside of coffee-chocolate classic, I've found many other variations online, such as the enticing Green Tea Opeara cake!
My patience in scouring the internet for better direction was rewarded with joepastry.com, a no-fuss, non-pretentious blog that guides me with step-by-step photograph on opera cake assembling (there are other baking techniques, too). Joe also gives me direction on how to make the french style butter cream, cake syrup, and joconde cake (and believe me you, he ALSO uses the Splendid Table recipe!). I followed his 4 layer instead of Greenspan's 3 layer cake. Thanks to Joe (whoever you are!), for a novice, I managed to pull a respectable Opera cake.
Some lesson learned:
1. For the cake, I cut down the sugar from 2 to 1.5 cups, because there would be coffee syrup to moist the cake.
2. At 425F, my oven was to hot and almost burned the bottom of my cake. I still need to calibrate the temperature and baking time to make the cake.
3. I should try to make thinner sponge cake to create more dramatic layers.
4. I would use more espresso and less sugar for the coffee syrup, and drench the cake more in the espresso next time.
5. After putting the butter cream on the cake, I put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes to let the butter cream harden, enough to withstand the weight of the next layer. But...
6. I should not do so for the ganache layer, because it hardened and the next cake layer did not stick to the ganache. I only found out when I sliced the cake.
7. I put the chocolate glaze topping after I let the cake chill overnight in the fridge. This help the cake to stabilize.
8. My glace was not liquid enough to be poured, I ended up spreading it with a knife. So my topping was not smooth. It requires equal weight of chocolate chip and cream to make liquid glaze.
9. I let the glaze solidified before slicing the cake, and I used knife heated with hot tap water to make a clean slice.
10. I need to buy a decent kitchen scale.
The cake was a hit. I am encouraged to make it again, now that the steps have been demystified. (Thanks, Joe!)