The Opera Cake Goes Lemon and Lavender

Lemonoperacake3 

When the hosts of the month for Daring Bakers are none other than the intrepid founders themselves, Ivonne and Lis, you know it will be something special indeed. These two lovely ladies who have created the web's most wonderful baking community, along with Fran of Apple Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful chose a beautiful and very apropos challenge for all who dare to bake: the Opera cake.

The very first time I made opera cake in pastry school, I felt like I'd scaled a baker's Everest, one made of cake and chocolate and cream and sugar. Like all the hard-core classics of French pâtisserie, opera cake offers a full-scale obstacle course to surmount: whipping egg whites, making joconde, mixing up buttercream, assembling multiple centimeter-thin layers of cake…anyone who finishes an opera cake should certainly feel the happy glow of accomplishment!

There's so much to learn from the opera cake: for example, the joconde is an almond genoise. Genoise is the French form of sponge or chiffon cake; these cakes are distinguished by the lack of leaveners in their batter. The only leavening in these cakes comes from the air whipped into the egg whites or eggs, which gives an added dimension to what's going on when you turn on your mixer. Unlike classic butter cakes, where you simply combine all the ingredients with a bit of baking powder or soda and let the chemicals do their thing in the oven, when making a genoise awareness of your actions becomes paramount. If you don't whip the eggs enough, there won't be enough air in the batter to let it rise. If you fold the ingredients together too roughly or let the batter sit out too long, you risk letting the air bubbles deflate, again losing that critical component of a genoise.

Some may prefer the robust, gloriously thick butter cake of American layer cake fame to the finicky, delicate sheets of genoise, but I find they both have their unique charms. Genoises are essential to the refined elegance of petit fours and other tea-time pastries; with the French penchant for individual-sized cakelets, you need thin, light layers for an effective presentation. The classic opera cake, which is composed of seven layers of cake, buttercream, and ganache, should be less that 1.5 inches total in height, meaning you've got to be pretty precise with all your pieces.

Then there's the buttercream: Ivonne and Lis chose a rich French buttercream for the opera cake filling. French buttercream is always a favorite because of its creamy, buttery flavor, but it can also melt faster because of its high fat content – I think I saw several DBs commenting on the softness of the buttercream. You need to work quickly with this buttercream, and don't be afraid to chill it if it's getting too soft. Myself, I tend to be more partial to the Italian meringue buttercream, because it's more stable and workable, and because it forces me to get over my fears about sugar cookery. Whichever form of buttercream you use, be sure to keep the layers of buttercream about the same thickness as the genoise layers – the genius of opera cake is the balance of textures and flavors between all the various components.
Lemonoperacake

Finally, the top: classic opera cake is indelibly distinguished by its glossy smooth chocolate topping and swooping "l'Opera" writ in chocolate across the surface. But these days, all the classics are being interpreted and re-invented, and it's not surprising to find opera cake in all guises. I have to say one of my favorite versions is still Sadaharu Aoki's matcha version, which I tried to recreate. Ivonne and Lis specified a light-colored theme for the Daring Bakers challenge, and generously let us play around with flavors of our choosing. My mind immediately drifted to a lemon-lavender theme, and that's where I ended up: an opera cake brushed with lemon simple syrup, layered with lemon buttercream, and topped with lavender white chocolate mousse. Sweet, springy, and still lusciously decadent: I'd like to think French would approve of the modifications!

*By the way, for those that had trouble with making the white chocolate ganache mousse, I think the reason is that making a ganache with white chocolate and cream is quite different from making a ganache with dark chocolate. White chocolate is almost all fat, as is cream. Combining so much fat together can be almost impossible; overagitating the mixture will result in a clumpy curdled mess. The best strategy is to keep the cream and chocolate as cool as possible. Whip the cream to soft peaks, and then fold the melted chocolate in by hand. You can chill the mixture in the refrigerator to firm it up; this method is safer than trying to whip the ingredients together.

I always enjoy an opportunity to remake this pastry classic, and I especially enjoyed doing with all my fellow Daring Bakers! Thanks to Ivonne and Lis for creating the DB version of the opera cake – and for  inspiring hundreds of beautiful and scrumptious variants of this fabulous dessert!

This lemon and lavender opera cake is also dedicated to Barbara of winosandfoodies. Barbara is the founder of A Taste of Yellow, and I'm glad to have an appropriately-hued dessert to celebrate LiveStrong Day!

Lemonoperacake2

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Comments

  1. 3

    says

    Your cake looks perfect and absolutely delicious! A great combination of flavors!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 6

    says

    Wow! I’m in awe, what a gorgeous professional cake!
    Thanks for the info on all the components, it gave me so much more insight. The only thing I need to find out is why my cakes always fall… as in: always. Sigh.

  3. 12

    says

    Even though I’m not a member of the Daring Bakers, and probably wouldn’t try making this cake, I really appreciated your description and explanation of all of the methods used and their background. In particular, your explanation about white chocolate ganache was so useful to me as I always seem to end up with a mess! Thanks for the tips!

  4. 15

    Maria says

    Sounds like a lot of work went into this one. It is gorgeous and looks perfect. Great work!

  5. 19

    says

    It’s simply stunning, Anita.. I knew it would be. Yours was one that I’d been waiting all month for. :)

    I love the tips in your post as well.. thank you so much!

    Hugs sweetie!
    xoxoxoxo

  6. 20

    says

    Anita,

    We’re so glad that you have the opportunity to make this over and over again because you’re so good at it. Really. It’s stunning!

  7. 22

    says

    GORGEOUS! I’m dying to know how you got the top so even and FLAT! Your cake is so pretty. Love the lavender/lemon combo too…

  8. 25

    says

    Anita your challenges are always so lovely to look at and I’ll bet the taste even better! Not to mention the lemon and lavender combo sounds particularly light and refreshing.

  9. 34

    says

    I love the elegant simplicity of your Opera Cake.Stunning, thanks for the lesson info. Great flavors.

  10. 35

    says

    Wow! I also made a lemon opera cake (gluten free) but had trouble with the buttercream. I did not get the symmetry like you did. Thanks for all the great tips. I am sure to get it right next time.

  11. 39

    Verena says

    your petite lemon lavender opera cakes are just too cute to eat, thumbs up for you! 😀

    making opera cake just involves so many steps that i felt so accomplished too when we made it in pastry school, even though the cake looked ugly.

  12. 42

    says

    Thanks for the little tidbit on genoise, I didn’t know that :). Your cake looks elegant and crisp, very nicely done!

  13. 44

    says

    Your cake is so beautiful! This was my first Daring Bakers challenge — posts like yours are what inspired me to join. I loved all of your descriptions too. Congrats!

  14. 53

    says

    This looks beautiful! I love, love, love lemon and lavender together, so I’m sure this was quite tasty :)

    I’ve never participated in a Daring Bakers challenge but wish I had seen this one, I’ve wanted to try my hand at an Opera cake.

  15. 54

    says

    You know I know you’ve made the opera before and i was thinking you cannot outdo yourself on this again – but you did. I love the flavors. Perfect!

  16. 61

    Liz says

    absolutely lovely!!! Will you be sharing/posting the recipe for this one?

  17. 63

    says

    I hope my comment goes through this time….We are true Taureans aren’t we…lavender twins rather! I love that you arranged the buds to make flowers :)
    Fabulous job!

  18. 64

    says

    Your Opera is so elegant and lovely! The lemon/lavender combination sounds as ethereal as your cake looks-mmmmm

  19. 69

    says

    That’s a gorgeous cake. I love the little flowers on top. I’m a big fan of Sadaharu Aoki’s maccha cake as well – had it when I was in Japan last year and haven’t forgotten about it since.

  20. 70

    says

    Anita these have got to be the neatest and most gorgeous looking opera cakes. Well done babe, no one has done them better !

  21. 72

    says

    Your cake is stunning! Beautiful! I just love the way it looks. Your flavor combination sounds delicious. I had though about using lavender, but I couldn’t think of anything to go with it. You did a great job!

  22. 74

    says

    Hi Anita,
    I haven’t been here in a long time. This is a gorgeous, breathtaking post. Congratulations on all your hard work. Did I read correctly — you’re writing a book?

  23. 75

    says

    great job! I love the flowers. BTW, that is how I made my mousse and it worked great…after I let it chill for a little bit.

  24. 84

    says

    Personnally, I give you all my french congrats! :)
    Whoa! Such a pretty cake…
    Just a question: is it possible to have the recipe??
    I’d like to try it at home! :)
    Thanks
    Bye

  25. 85

    April says

    Hi! I love this! I’ve always wanted to make an opera cake, but I can’t eat coffee. I’ve been meaning to experiment with rosewater, chocolate and raspberries, but this looks like a dream come true! Thanks!

  26. 86

    Jaime says

    Looks epic. Maybe I’m missing something, but is there a link to a recipe for this?

    • 87

      Anita says

      Hi Jaime,

      Thanks! You know what, I’ve been asked for this recipe and unfortunately I lost it! I’ve been meaning to re-create it and if I do I’ll definitely post it up. Thanks so much!

    • 89

      says

      Hi Marianne,
      Thanks so much! You know, I still have to find this recipe! If I do I will put it up on the site! Thank you!

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