Thursday, May 29, 2008

Strawberry Opera Cake

L’Opera was a grand success. I decided to go with strawberry as my principal flavor, with lemon in the background. I began by making the syrup, using lemon juice as the flavoring. I found that even with ¼ cup of lemon juice it wasn’t strong enough flavored for me, so I added some strips of lemon peel to the hot syrup and let it steep, which gave it a great flavor. Next up, strawberry buttercream. I used the 1 cup sugar, ¼ cup water, 1 ¾ sticks of butter version of the recipe. I was kind of nervous about the syrup, especially since I don’t have a candy thermometer. My instant-read meat thermometer only goes up to 200 degrees, so once it got up that high I just let it cook another 2-3 minutes and crossed my fingers it was hot enough. Beating it into the eggs was tricky; the syrup seemed to only want to go either onto the side of the bowl, or onto the whisk and splatter everywhere. Eventually I got it all in, and then all the butter. At this point, I had some of the best tasting frosting ever, which got even better after adding in about a cup of strawberry puree. It did become sort of curdly looking after adding the strawberries. I probably put in too much of the puree, but it had an intense strawberry flavor, and was very creamy. Into the fridge it went.


On to the white chocolate mousse. I followed the recipe exactly other than omitting the liqueur, and had no problem other than wanting to eat it all immediately. I used Ghirardelli baking chips for my white chocolate, and they melted just fine, although I did have to whisk quite a bit to get the last little bits to melt. For my cake, the almonds were out due to a nut allergy. I used oat flour instead, which was recommended on the alternative bakers forum. The batter came together easily, and the cake baked up golden and smelling really good.

Assembly time – as a slight variation I layered my mousse in the middle instead of on top, for symmetry, along with a layer of sliced strawberries. I wasn’t sure exactly how much of the syrup to use, and after tasting the cake it could have used a bit more. The glaze was easy to make, but I had a hard time spreading it onto the cake, maybe because I had buttercream on top instead of mousse. I had a hard time slicing the cake neatly, even though it sat overnight. I ended up using floss to get a clean cut.


In the end, all I can say is, yum! Creamy, strong strawberry flavor, great texture all around, and really nice to look at. Unfortunately, the lemon flavor just didn’t come through, and it would have been nice to have another flavor present. The cake made with the oat flour was tasty, and made a great base for showcasing the fillings. I would definitely make this again in other flavor combinations, and the buttercream is a definite keeper. While I was initially disappointed with the chocolate prohibition, it turned out to be a great challenge, and a delicious dessert!

- Brooke

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oh! Gasp! Le Opera!!

Well, Le Opera. It's me against you. You win. But in reality, I win, HA! I ate you!!!

 After not making the last challenge, more being late, I'm back! Alas, without pictures. 

 I must say, this was a bit of a challenge for me. More time than anything else. The opera is a beautiful cake, all those layers of yummyness. It's just to darn time consuming!! It was gorgeous, and made the perfect ending to a dinner party with hubbs' bosses. His leiutenants  wife was thoroughly impressed. I almost said to her Ha! It's not me, it's the Daring Bakers!! but no, I kept my mouth shut..I enjoyed the compliments =)

I know, it's a short one..I've been up for SOO many hours and need some sleep. 

Thank you daring bakers! And I can't wait to have the time to look at all of your Opera's!!!


1st Time

So...this was my first time and I thought I was a baker! I should have looked at some other cakes! "Shrek" green glaze was no help. I thought I grabbed the neon yellow...oops. And I didn't spread the mousse smooth, it was like clouds. My husband told me that he LOVED it AFTER I took it all to his brother's house! Oh well. So here is my "disaster". Better luck next time.

Operation Opera Cake!

Back again for my second Daring Baker challenge...
Eagerly awaiting the post for the challenge earlier this month while vacation in Miami - I was a certainly impressed when the Opera Cake was revealed.   Though I don't typically bake anything that is not chocolate (what's the point?), I still was excited about the challenge. I didn't have an event in mind for the cake, so I just planned on making it the last weekend so I'd have time. I wish I would've made some of the parts earlier in the week, but I spent most of a lazy Saturday putting everything together except for the glaze and buttercream.

I had to run out and get a candy thermometer for the buttercream.   I need to do a little research and find something better, because the one I bought from Target didn't really submerse into the small amount of liquid I was heating for the buttercream.  Even so, my buttercream turned out really well.  I was nervous after reading some of the posts from others who had problems.  One thing I learned from making this recipe was the importance of beating things the correct amount of time.  I still love beating egg whites and watching them turn into stiff peaks!

One of my layers of jaconde didn't bake as well as the other - so next time I might do them separately.  Construction of the cake went well.  I finished the glaze just in time to serve to some friends on Memorial Day.  The cake wasn't my favorite, because of the lack of chocolate, but it was still quite tasty.  

Dating Up; or, Take On Me

I’m not going to lie. Some people of my acquaintance consider me to be an accomplished baker. They make appreciative and occasionally awed noises when I present my latest baked creation. But, most of the time, I find it easy to shrug off their compliments. “It’s just a matter of following a recipe,” I mumble, still taking gratification when I see another forkful of cake disappear into waiting gullets. The majority of what I bake consists of what I’d term to be “American style” baked goods. Your garden variety butter layer cakes, cookies, brownies, blondies. All very American in their simplicity and reliance on typical home baking methodology. I really don’t aspire to making the kind of architectural European masterpieces one might find at their local schmancy bakery. Maybe it’s because I’m a mouth-breathing cretin, but I’d just rather have a big ol’ honking cupcake or bar cookie than the ethereal genoise, mousse and gold leaf tortes that look out from their bakery case with sly, knowing eyes.

Still—I couldn’t help but wonder, do I not attempt to bake these cakes because I don’t like them, or because they intimidate me? Like the six-foot-two hottie with golden hair and shimmering allure, toting his surfboard towards the Malibu breakers. Is he not my type, or do I know I don’t have a chance? (I’m happily married, but you get the analogy.)

Maybe the fault lies not in the stars, but myself. If it was just intimidation, then I’d have to face my fears and bake one of these ornate, multi-step cakes. Then, at least, I can know that the hottie called me, we went out, and there was no chemistry, so I went home and watched makeover shows for the rest of the night. So, “Euro-cake” went onto my personal challenge list. I didn’t know when I’d get to it, but I would…someday.

Well, thanks to the Daring Bakers, I was kicked out of my complacency. The May challenge was announced: Opera Cake. A traditional layer cake comprised of no fewer than five separate components. Joconde (an almond-based sponge cake), soaking syrup, buttercream, mousse and a ganache glaze. Our esteemed hostesses for the month (Ivonne, Lis, Fran and Shea) selected a variation of the traditional chocolate and espresso buttercream version, substituting vanilla buttercream for the chocolate and espresso buttercreams, and white chocolate for the bittersweet in the ganache. When I saw the challenge, I knew that I was finally going to have to pick up the phone and call the blonde hottie. Whether or not he hung up on me remained to be seen.

There was a considerable amount of flexibility in choosing our components for the cake. I went with almond flour in my joconde, as Z. had purchased some for me. The buttercream would be a raspberry meringue buttercream. I’d flavor the syrup with lemon juice. Instead of the white chocolate mousse for the top, I opted to try a yogurt mousse recipe I’d take from Tish Boyle’s Cakes. And the glaze was white chocolate with a dash of Grand Marnier.

(Keep Feeling) Fascination

It was a two-day process. On the first day, I baked the joconde, made the syrup and also the buttercream. The hottie and I had pleasant conversation—nothing soul-searing, but pleasant. He and I actually laughed at the same jokes, which is to say, I assembled the layers of the cake easily and popped it all into the fridge to firm up overnight. So, maybe we’d get a second date.

Day two: the mousse. Very easy and pretty damned tasty, too. There was extra mousse, so I chilled it separately, and Z. and I ate it with some sliced strawberries. I’d definitely make it again to have with other summer fruits, and it came together without any problem. Maybe the hottie and I had more chemistry than I’d originally thought. Now, onto the glaze. I mixed up the ganache, following a slightly different recipe than the one provided by the challenge’s hostesses. Here was the finishing touch. But on the third date with the hottie, he showed up at my door and I answered, wearing a hideous ensemble. We went out for dinner, but I could tell I’d lost him. He kept looking around the room, and didn’t pay much attention. When his friends waved at him from the bar, he pretended not to know me. And he dropped me off later without even a handshake. I’d blown it.

A Flock of Seagulls

Intending to tint the ganache a lovely shade of pink, to compliment the raspberry buttercream, I used a heavy hand in the food coloring and wound up with a Pepto-pink glaze. Not the delicate blush I’d been hoping for. Trying to salvage the situation, I added a tiny bit of yellow food gel, and came up with the most vivid shade of Miami melon this side of South Beach. Unwilling to make a new batch of glaze, I went ahead and spread the cooled glaze onto the cake. But it still looked plain, so I drizzled plain white chocolate over the top in what I hoped was a Jackson Pollock homage.

Instead, I wound up with a cake that looked straight from the ’80s, all neon bright and splatter paint. I’m pretty sure I had a sweatshirt in the 5th grade that looked just like the top of my Opera Cake. All I had to do was break out my Dolphin shorts, L.A. Gear shoes and legwarmers. It was not rad. It was bogus.

Rick Astley

When I sliced the cake, it looked great, except for that hideous glaze. The white chocolate drizzle splintered. But It tasted pretty terrific. Not amateurish. Almost, dare I say, sophisticated. I had actually made a Euro Cake, but lost my chance at happily ever after with the Hollywood hottie by poor fashion choices. Ah, well. Screw that guy. He was too superficial anyway.

Meanwhile, Z. and I ate our cake together.

I remain,
Yours, &c.

P.S. Please observe a moment of silence for the metaphor that was beaten to death over the course of this posting.


and I am a perfectionist. (hello Amber) Yes…I admit it and it gives me comfort. Throw in some Daring Baker challenges and I think that I will definitely have a stroke. But alas, it is all for the better good eh? This month's challenge was one I was psyched about….I love opera and I love cake. How could I not love Opera Cake? The recipe was fantastic in that you could make the recipe in stages or all in one day. I freaked out a little bit as I read the part for the Joconde. I live in Korea and my oven-is not so large. Luck was on my side though and I found a smaller jelly roll pan that happened to fit perfectly.

AmberO-Opera Cake 1

I waited for the perfect day to begin. I waited and waited…..waited some more and then I had ONE sunny perfect day. I don't know about you, but I can never whip egg whites unless the weather is perfect. However, I did not blanch the almonds since I only had slivered almonds on hand….I'm curious though to know what the difference is. Anyway, the Joconde was perfect and so tasty that my son loved just eating that. (I did find out that I am an idiot as it took me a while to figure out how to do the parchment part of that whole thing….seriously….I'm a rock) I took the easy route and decided that I would have a Pina Colada flavored Opera cake. Killer flavor which was gonna make my cake the best cake ever. I'm talking EVER. With the recipe being so many different parts I had a flavor for each step. I was a little nervous about the buttercream after reading all the issues people had been having, but it worked out. I will say I never knew buttercream could taste so good..

  • Joconde
  • Coconut Syrup
  • Pineapple buttercream
  • Rum white chocolate mousse
  • Maraschino Cherry flavored glaze

AmberO-Opera cake 2

After I layered everything…oh it was beautiful. And then I tasted it. Something was lost in the translation….not sure what went wrong, but I could not taste the individual flavors separately or together. Therefore my perfect cake is not so perfect. ARGH!!!!!!! I vow to one day make this again so that I do it the way it was meant to be….full of flavor and oh so perfect. June is gonna be fantastic as I will be in the states using a normal kitchen….I'm talking a normal size oven with normal size pans…even a counter that is at a normal height. Oh the fun…

p.s. I have no experience with alcohol….cooking or otherwise…but rum made that mousse BANGIN!!!!

- Amber

Strawberries AND Chocolate Coffee Operas!


My modifications were to use hazelnut meal as I already had those in the pantry.
I used a Rosy Levy (Cake Bible) buttercream with strawberry puree as decoration to top it off. I did use the round version (other modification) as an excuse to make my niece’s communion cake. Unfortunately I could only send her the photo as she lives in Melbourne but she did appreciate the thought.


I also decided to make a chocolate version as you’ll see from the pics. Only because hubby preferred it.


There were no problems in assembling the whole thing as I did it in stages and taste wise, though hubby liked the chocolate coffee version, my daughter, mother-in-law and collegues at work enjoyed the paler version.

- Antonietta

Not Your Usual Birthday Song and Cake

Thanks to this month’s DB challenge, brought to us by our fearless founders Lis and Ivonne and newbies Fran and Shea, I was able to make my in-laws a special birthday cake for their double birthday. In the spirit of the Opera cake challenge, we brought the cake to the table while singing “Happy Birthday” in our best operatic voices. The singing was hilarious due to our almost tone-deaf rendition, but the cake was a huge hit!

Like what I imagine a well choreographed opera would be to bring to the stage, there was much preparation in advance of the birthday dinner. I was grateful for a recipe that could be prepped and assembled mostly all in advance and I took advantage of that by spreading out the steps over 2 days.

I decided to keep the flavours clean by sticking to an almond and vanilla palette. The simple syrup was flavoured with almond extract and the buttercream had hints of almond as well. The jaconde was a pleasure to make. I mistakenly bought whole almonds rather than blanched so the texture was a little “grittier” than I would have liked but it still turned out light and moist.

The buttercream was fabulous although I did have my first curdling experience. My mixture cooled down too much before I added all of the butter resulting in a disappointing mess in my mixer. Thanks to past DB challenges, I figured out the problem and solution quickly. I reheated 25% of the mixture and whipped it back in to bring it all together. It was silky, smooth and I would double the amount next time to make sure everyone got a generous helping.

The white chocolate ganache/mousse was a wonderful addition to the cake. The delicate flavour was enhanced by the addition of Baileys. I think this was my favourite layer of the cake. My only disappointment was the white chocolate glaze which I found a little too sweet and overpowering – especially covering the delicate flavour of the underlying mousse. I would either make a thinner layer in the future or try to find a substitute. Thanks again to my talented neighbourhood photographer Jason who took stunning pictures again this month. The DB experience wouldn’t be so much fun if I had to muddle my way through the photography and food styling process with my little point and shoot camera!


A Standing Ovation

This month’s challenge was somewhat odd for me. You see… for the past 7 challenges, I have stayed really close to the recipes, often making them exactly as stated. I would then gaze in awe at the other DBers who had chosen to do wonderfully creative variations that could not be described as anything other than daring. I would then feel somewhat disappointed, feeling like my own productions were kind of plain and boring.

Not this month! I was really excited and inspired by this very elaborate production, but thoroughly uninspired by all the white chocolate components (I have been known to describe white chocolate as sweetened Chap-Stick). I was also pretty disappointed that we couldn’t use dark colors or flavors (chocolate would have been my preference), so I decided to branch out and be creative. I considered keeping my joconde almond (buying packaged almond meal would have been much easier) but decided to go with hazelnut, my favorite kind of nut, and immediately thought of raspberry as a good pairing.

Here came the odd part of the challenge. Since I wasn’t going to keep to the recipes provided, I had to do a fair amount of research to find alternate recipes. This really felt like cheating, although I double-checked and all my modifications were allowed (except maybe for the raspberry mousse recipe… that part was kind of ambiguous, though other DBers also seemed to use their own). In the end, I only used the joconde and syrup recipes provided by the challenge, and used other recipes for the buttercream, mousse, and glaze.

For the joconde, I decided to make my own hazelnut meal. I wasn’t sure how many cups of hazelnuts I would need for 2 cups of meal. As it turns out, I bought maybe twice to three times as much as I needed, which wouldn’t have been a big deal since I love hazelnuts, except that peeling them took FOREVER! It pretty much took a whole afternoon, even with blanching (my peels were really stubborn). And yes, I peeled all of them (at least I didn’t grind them all). Here is the finished product:

The rest of the joconde, flavored with a bit of Frangelico, was pretty uneventful. I baked it in a 17.25x11.5inch baking sheet (it was all I had and was pretty similar in area to the one the recipe called for). I baked the layers one at a time, about 8 minutes each, and they came out fine. I realized while baking the first one that I had forgotten to fold in the butter. I added half the butter to the leftover batter but, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t really tell the difference. The syrup, flavored with Frangelico, was also uneventful, although I didn’t use even half of it. Here is a picture of the joconde cooling:

As for the buttercream, I decided to make it hazelnut flavored too. My past experiences with buttercream have been mixed. For the Perfect Party Cake challenge, my mixer went crazy and the texture never quite got there. For the yule log, the texture was fine but I flavored it with hazelnut syrup (like the one for coffee or Italian soda) and thought the result was too sweet and artificial-tasting. This time around, I decided to use a can of hazelnut praline paste to flavor the buttercream and used the recipe I found on the label, which was just like the Perfect Party Cake one. It came out delicious! My husband said it tasted like real hazelnuts, only better. Here’s a picture:

For the mousse, I used this recipe for raspberry mousse. It was super easy and quite possibly the best part of the cake. I’m usually not a fan of mousses with gelatin but thought that, since it was going to be layered, it really needed the extra structure. This recipe is definitely a keeper. The raspberry glaze came from this recipe, which was also super-easy and tasty. My only variation was that I used all the frozen raspberries from the beginning and strained out all the seeds (the recipe calls for half strained and half whole berries). Here’s a picture of the glazing in progress:

Audience Response:

I served this cake at dinner with some our best friends, gave them some leftovers, and then took the rest to work. After my husband cut the edges, I thought the cake looked very professional. Everyone LOVED it. I got a ton of compliments and several requests for recipes, although when I described the work that went into it, most people withdrew their requests. I got a ton of questions about why it was called an Opera cake, and I did my best to make up a good answer (created for the premiere of an Opera in Paris, the word opera means “work” in Italian, the many layers are like the acts of an Opera, etc.). Overall, it was a show-stopper!

What I learned:

1) Peeling hazelnuts is very time-consuming and a pain in the back (literally, as I could barely stand up after hours of sitting and peeling).

2) Making buttercream is a very stressful endeavor. There is always that point in which the mixture looks curdled and awful and you want to cry. Here is a picture of the “moment of heartbreak”:

Now that I have made it a couple of times, I know I have to suspend disbelief and continue to beat the mixture, and eventually it comes together. Still, very anxiety-provoking!

3) The moment to take pictures of your work is not when your guests are sitting around waiting to eat it! Instead of taking our time and cleaning up the edges and posing everything just right, we just took the pictures quickly. I think they came out a bit sloppy.

The Verdict:

I LOVED the cake and will definitely make it again. It has a definite WOW factor, is very tasty, and if you break up the recipe along a couple of days, not too difficult or overwhelming. Perhaps the next one I make will be a chocolate one. YUM!