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May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers May 2008 Challenge: Opéra Cake

Daring Bakers May 2008 Challenge: Opéra Cake

This month's challenge was the Opéra Cake and was selected by Lis from La Mia Cucina, Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice, Fran from Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea from Whiskful and this challenge was also dedicated to Barbara from winosandfoodies.com. Whew! Now that we've covered all of that information let's see how things went, shall we?

Opéra Cake...Oh where to start? When the challenge was first announced and I saw the pictures given of various examples, I was a bit sad that chocolate was ruled out because the chocolate examples looked heavenly! After I got over my initial bumming about the chocolate my mind immediately started envisioning layers of coconut and key lime, because well we know how I am about key lime. The rules said we had to keep it light colored in honor of spring and what's lighter than coconut and key lime? My cake however turned out to be a disaster. We'll talk more about that in a minute.

Normally when I have a kitchen disaster I don't post about it, because well we all have them, but who wants to talk about them? I didn't blog about the time I made soup with simple syrup instead of broth because I got the two containers confused or the time I baked bread and when I cut into it was still doughy? Or the numerous times something gets a little burned or singed or even when things just turn out a little off. Kitchen misadventures are part of the process, but I'd rather talk about what went right instead, because in the grand scheme of things more things go right than wrong an who wants to dwell on the wrong? In this case though we'll have to discuss the wrong, even though I thought about just calling it a wash and skipping the recount this month. In the end, even though I didn't like the results I did attempt the challenge so it's only right to talk about what happened, even if the results were far from impressive.

My first problem was the pans. I didn't have the pan sized recommended and I didn't want to buy new ones since jelly rolls pan aren't a big thing that I use often. In fact my pans that I already have are larger than the ones suggested, though it was mentioned that you could use smaller pans, but I didn't have those either. I ended up getting three whole sections from each pan, instead of two from each sheet. This made the layers thinner, but that was ok. They cooked up nicely and the texture was nice, so that was a plus.

Daring Bakers May 2008 Challenge: Opéra Cake: From the Side

Now let's talk flavors. I chose to add 2 tablespoons of key lime juice to the simple syrup and there simply just was not enough of it to let you really taste key lime. The coconut just over powered it, though my sister said she did get a slight taste of key lime in one bite, but I never tasted it in my slice. I added coconut flavoring to the white chocolate mousse and then obviously added some shredded coconut to the top. So basically instead of a key lime coconut combo, I ended up with coconut on coconut. That was the first disappointment.

On the buttercream front I just couldn't get it to work and I finally abandoned it all together. It's the whole egg thing in the buttercream that a) freaks me out and b) I just couldn't get it to come together. I'm not a fan of buttercream either, which may have been part of the problem. Perhaps it's the whole perception of reality thing. I had a negative view of it, so I couldn't get it to work. I will say that I don't think the butercream would have salvaged this overall, but it would have been nice to see if it had.

Daring Bakers May 2008 Challenge: Opéra Cake: A Slice

So basically my cake ended up with layers with the coconut white chocolate mousse in between each layer which had the key lime simple syrup soaked in. Then it was topped with the white chocolate glaze and sprinkled with coconut. In the end it was ok. I have to be honest here and say it was something I could take or leave. My sister, Ben and Nelson liked it though so I sent it home with them to enjoy, since I wasn't too keen on the whole thing. The glaze also ran a lot because it just wasn't stiff enough, but it tasted ok, so that's good in the grand scheme of things.

Well you can't win them all, but it's all about learning as we go so in the end it's all good. I can't wait to see what next month's challenge brings. Hopefully I'll do better on that one! ;o)

Be sure and stop by the Daring Baker's blogroll and see some of the other cakes. There are some stunning results out there in Daring Baker's Land!

Daring Bakers May 2008 Challenge: Opéra Cake: My Messy Cake

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)

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

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.)

(Update Note: The recipe for the buttercream that is listed below was originally based on the original but we had some typos. It's all very confusing (we're good at confusing ourselves) but here is the short of it: When testing the buttercream, we tested a modified version (we're crazy like that!!!) that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. Yes. That's right. 1¾ cups of butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. VERY. CREAMY. But we don’t want anyone to be afraid of our modified version so you have the option of using the original version listed below or the quantities we’ve listed here in this note. If you are still confused and want to cry, then please e-mail us and we will comfort you!!! We promise!!!)

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


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ 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 sticks (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 (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Daring Bakers May 2008 Challenge: Opéra Cake

Posted by Dianne at May 28, 2008 7:14 AM

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Great job facing a daring challenge! Key lime and coconut...sounds like a Florida Opera! ;)

Posted by: Gretchen Noelle at May 28, 2008 7:47 AM

Shredded coconut hides all sins, right? I love the flavor combo, too bad it didn't work out the way you wanted it to.

Posted by: Caitlin at May 28, 2008 8:27 AM

Well done and I love the coconut which is my favorite cake btw. The drools of buttercream aren't too shabby also. Splendid job.

Posted by: Kim at May 28, 2008 9:04 AM

I love you flavors! They sound delish!

Posted by: heather at May 28, 2008 9:19 AM

That's too bad you didn't really love it, but it looks really great and no doubt you'll be more successful in your next challenge!

Posted by: Bumblebutton at May 28, 2008 9:27 AM

Thanks! And coconut can cover a lot! ;o)

Posted by: Dianne at May 28, 2008 9:35 AM

I'm sorry that things didn't turn out the way you wanted them to. I admit, I was kind of hesitant to attempt the buttercream in this recipe, especially with the confusion over the quantities of the ingredients. So I chickened out and made Dorie's from the Perfect Party Cake (they did say we could use a different one).

Posted by: Di at May 28, 2008 9:37 AM

I thought about making a batch of Wilton's buttercream icing, but I ran out of time. I think I would have like it better if I had.

Posted by: Dianne at May 28, 2008 9:45 AM

eew. The icing had eggs in it?? :)
The key lime flavor was much more noticeable last night when we ate it -- maybe it just needed time to cure? :) I'm still in love with the texture of the cake itself, though. Very yummy!

Posted by: katherine at May 28, 2008 9:59 AM

Maybe that's it...It just needed to sit.

Posted by: Dianne at May 28, 2008 10:13 AM

wow, I just want to snag a piece of coconut off the screen! It looks lovely.

Posted by: Cheryl Harris at May 28, 2008 10:20 AM

Coconut and lime was a great idea -- sorry it didn't work out to your satisfaction but you're right, in the end it's all about the learning so it's all good!

Posted by: Susan/Wild Yeast at May 28, 2008 10:36 AM

And learning is always a good thing. :o)

Posted by: Dianne at May 28, 2008 11:59 AM

I'm sorry, I actually laughed out loud - I thought I was going to be the only one that had a disaster on my hands. You make it sound so much better than mine!! FYI - coconut and lime, great ideas - makes me think of the beach!!

Posted by: Megan at May 28, 2008 12:00 PM

I'm glad you posted about your kitchen disaster... I too struggled with the buttercream... it was fussy, to say the least.

Posted by: Lynn at May 28, 2008 12:03 PM

I'm all about the beach. I'd love to be there right now in fact! ;o)

The buttercream was a bit difficult. I'm not a huge fan anyway, so it wasn't a total loss I guess. :o)

Posted by: Dianne at May 28, 2008 12:42 PM

The flavors of coconut and lime sound delicious!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

Posted by: Shari at May 28, 2008 1:48 PM

Even if it didn't come out exactly as you had imagined, it all sounds really tasty!

Posted by: Hannah at May 28, 2008 2:39 PM

Great job getting through the challenge! I think you dealt with your challenges really well and the flavors you used are to die for! I love the coconut!

Posted by: Anita at May 28, 2008 4:33 PM

I think part of the challenge (especially when it isn't going quite how you wanted) is just getting through to the end. I can say I gave it may all and know that that is the truth. :o)

Posted by: Dianne at May 28, 2008 4:58 PM

I still think it looks delicious, even if it didn't turn out as well as you hoped for!

Posted by: Deborah at May 28, 2008 5:56 PM

Sorry to hear you had problems with this one, but I'm glad you blogged it. I love the sound of the key lime and coconut!

Posted by: Ruth E at May 28, 2008 7:19 PM

You had quite the aventure with this one didn't you? I'm thinking if you decide to give it another go, alternating lime and coconut mousse instead of the buttercream??


Posted by: jasmine at May 28, 2008 8:18 PM

I like the mixture of coconut and key lime. I think they mess well together, even after this challenge! ;o)

I think it would be interesting to try making this with a mousse that was a bit stiffer too.

Posted by: Dianne at May 28, 2008 8:38 PM

Good job! I like the use of coconut (not a big lime fan), the coconut shredded on top is yummy!

Posted by: Christine at May 28, 2008 9:17 PM

You did a fabulous job on your cake.

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Posted by: Sheltie Girl at May 28, 2008 10:40 PM

While things didn't quite work out, it can't have been bad. The others liked it.
Mine looked quite like this, till I stuck it in the fridge! But the buttercream would start oozing the minute it came out. I had visions of eating it out of the fridge!:D

Posted by: Aparna at May 28, 2008 11:12 PM

Well said!

Posted by: Karen at May 28, 2008 11:46 PM

I was going to do coconut and lime flavorings as well, but thought it too ambitious. I'm glad you tried it though, although you may not have thought it a smash it seems it still was with the others.
I found this similar to my own reaction. I guess baking and assembling the thing made us loose our appetite for it. Great job!

Posted by: Jen at May 29, 2008 1:43 AM

Sorry to hear it don't go as well as you wanted, I'm glad you did post though as I think the biggest part of Daring Bakers is trying the recipe out all the way through even if it doesn't work I think we learn from it.

Posted by: Esther at May 29, 2008 6:46 AM

I think we can all be honest here and say that this recipe was a real challenge. I'm so glad you posted though, in spite of being unhappy with your results. Well done!

Posted by: mari at May 29, 2008 9:33 AM

Sometime in the future, though I don't know when, I want to try to make the cake and use chocolate instead of leaving it light in color. I think I might like that better, though the texture of the cake, while pretty to look at, was a bit off to me. I might have to experiment a little as I go. :o)

Posted by: Dianne at May 29, 2008 10:51 AM

Coconut and lime is a great combination, the flake gives the cake a nice look

Ulrike from Küchenlatein

Posted by: Ulrike at May 29, 2008 1:55 PM

I'm so sorry that the key lime and coconut combination didn't work out as you'd anticipated (though the coconut on coconut sure LOOKS good from where I'm sitting). I am glad you decided to share your experience even though it *wasn't* a complete success. Knowing that everyone has an occasional off-experience helps the newer bakers among us put our own challenges in perspective. :)

Posted by: Dolores at May 29, 2008 4:40 PM

Sorry the cake didn't work out the way you wanted, but your final photo looks very appetizing to me, I love coconut! :)

Posted by: Marika @ madcapcupcake at May 29, 2008 5:38 PM

I love coconut. I didn't realize until recently that there is a vocal group out there who don't.

Posted by: Dianne at May 29, 2008 6:31 PM

Yum, coconut and lime. What more needs be said other than that?

Posted by: Jenny at May 29, 2008 10:01 PM

Coconut and lime are always good in my book. :o)

Posted by: Dianne at May 30, 2008 9:18 AM

It still sounds like a delicious cake! More like a layer cake, but still one you can be proud of. :)

Posted by: JacqueOH at May 30, 2008 9:16 PM

Sorry the cake gave you such a hard time. I know the challenge that gave me fits was the Julia Child French bread. Now that was a disaster. Hope next months challenge is kinder to you.

Posted by: Barbara at May 31, 2008 11:37 AM

Well you can't win them all, but I tried. :o)

Posted by: Dianne at June 1, 2008 8:35 AM

Thanks for sharing your cake, challenges with buttercream and all.
I did coconut and pineapple in one of my cakes. The coconut really does try and take over doesn't it!

Posted by: Andrea at June 3, 2008 8:20 AM

I think it needed a bit more key lime juice. Even though I used the double strength juice I think it needed a lot more than just 2 tablespoons. Maybe if I cut out the water and simply used key lime juice to make the simple syrup it would have worked better.

Posted by: Dianne at June 3, 2008 3:46 PM

Sounds like we had similar issues: not liking buttercream and a runny glaze! I thought that using the mousse ended up being fine. Your cake looks like it was great! Glad your sister was able to enjoy it even longer!

Posted by: Claire at June 3, 2008 11:03 PM

She did enjoy it and she said that the key lime flavor started to develop and really come through after a day or so.

Posted by: Dianne at June 4, 2008 11:56 AM

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