I've always wanted to join in the fun of the Daring Bakers. It took me several months to muster up enough courage to send an email to the organizers and start the excitement of waiting for the next challenge's announcement. And guess what my first challenge was - opera cake! My most dreaded and nervousness-inducing pastry creation. I always tried to avoid making this, thinking it was too tedious, too difficult, or just too time and resource demanding. As it turned out, if you do parts of it ahead of time it won't be too daunting a task.
How did I fare? Not bad, though I would not qualify this as a resounding success. Despite my results I learned a lot from doing this and if ever I am brave (or nagged) enough to do this again I have every confidence I can do it well. Thanks very much to the organisers of this month's theme for their detailed instructions and their patience in answering our countless questions and shoring up our flagging confidence. Our organisers decided that the theme should not be the usual chocolate opera cake but with white chocolate and whatever light flavouring and spring-themed decoration you desire.
I didn't find much problems in the making of the joconde (cake) and syrup. They were straightforward and were easy peasy to make. I made them at least 2 days before with the syrup flavoured by lemon juice since I've decided to do a citrus flavoured opera cake.
The buttercream was another matter altogether. Me and my 7-year-old daughter were happily beating the eggs with the hot syrup very slowly dripped into it. It came out light, very fluffy and wonderfully marshmallow-like flavoured. Problem came when we beat in the softened butter. I thought it was softened enough but as I put in the first lot I actually saw it go deflate - pfffft! So the first lesson was make sure the butter is not just soft but room temperature - as in almost at melting point. The buttercream still came together but it was not as fluffy as I expected. And if I were to do this again I would make 1 1/2 of the buttercream to make sure there's enough for it to spread around.
Next was the disappointing white chocolate. I had two lots to do, one for the mousse another for the glaze. Needless to say the Mernier white choc I bought refused to completely melt! And all along I thought a more expensive one would give me an easier to handle ingredient. How wrong I was. I should have stuck to the cheap supermarket-brand baking white choc. Anyways, after my futile attempt to melt it in the double boiler I transferred it in a saucepan where it almost burned. Finally, it melted, removed from the heat and cooled it a bit. But by the time I have beaten the double cream to soft peaks the melted white choc was becoming grainy! So off it went back on the cooker with me stirring like a woman possessed. I cooled it again though this time watching it like a hawk and stirring it from time to time. When it was about room temperature I was finally able to successfully fold it into the whipped cream. The original recipe said to use 7 oz or 200 gm of white choc. I thought it was a bit much too sweet so I only used half required.
The original glaze for me is too sweet as well plus it did not spread too well. Therefore the recipe below is adjusted to double the cream and reduce the white choc a little.
The assembly was the easiest part for me. Although I could have put more syrup in the joconde to make the lemon flavour more prominent.
As I said before, I learned a lot from this exercise and have marked here all my learning points to avoid any future disasters.
White Opera Cake
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
- Put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Simmer until all the sugar is dissolved.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
6 large egg whites
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 cups ground blanched almonds
1-1/2 cups icing sugar
6 large eggs
1/2 cup plain flour
3 Tbsp unsalted butter – melted
- Preheat oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/425°F.
- Butter and line 2 swiss roll pan (about 15-inch x 10-inch) with parchment paper.
- Beat egg whites until soft peaks. Add sugar gradually and beat until stiff and glossy.
- In another bowl, beat eggs and icing sugar and ground almond until light and voluminous (about 3 minutes).
- Add flour and mix just enough to combine. Do not overmix.
- Gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture. Fold in the melted butter.
- Divide the batter between the two pans, spread evenly and bake for 6 to 9 minutes or until lightly brown and springy to the touch.
- Remove from oven. Run a knife along the edges to loosen the cake. Cover each with parchment paper, turn it over, unmold the cake and carefully remove the parchment paper lining. Let it cool to room temperature.
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
200 g [3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp] unsalted butter – softened to room temperature
1 Tbsp orange extract
- Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and cook over low-medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
- Continue to cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 225°F on a jam or deep-fry thermometer.
- While the syrup is heating, beat the egg and egg yolk at high speed until pale and foamy.
- Once the syrup reaches the required temperature, remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low and begin to very slowly pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup onto the path of the whisk.
Some of the syrup might spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to mix it in the mixture as it will harden.
- Raise the speed to medium and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes).
- 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.
- With the mixer on medium speed, add the softened butter in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been added, mix in the 1 Tbsp orange extract and raise the mixer speed to high and beat until buttercream is thick and shiny.
- Chill the buttercream in the fridge, stirring often until it’s set enough to spread on the cake.
White Chocolate Mousse
100 g white baking chocolate - chopped
1-1/4 cup double cream
1 tbsp liquer of your choice such as Amaretto, Limoncello, etc. [optional]
- Put 1/4 cup double cream in a saucepan and cook on gentle heat.
- Once bubbles start to appear on the edges, add in the white chocolate.
- Stir to ensure it's smooth and that the chocolate has melted.
- Add the 1 Tbsp liquer and stir. Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
- In a bowl, whip the remaining 1 cup double cream until soft peaks form.
- Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse. If it’s too thin, refrigerate it until it’s spreadable.
250 g white baking chocolate
1/2 cup double cream
- Put the double cream in a saucepan and heat gently.
- Once bubbles start to appear on the edges add the white chocolate.
- Stir until melted and smooth. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
- Cut and trim each sheet of joconde (cake) so that you have 2 pieces: one 10-inch square and one 10 x 5-inch rectangle.
- Place one square of joconde on a cake stand or parchment lined baking sheet.
- Brush gently with lots of the flavoured syrup. Spread about 2/3 of the buttercream evenly over this layer.
- Top with the two rectangular pieces of joconde, placing them side-by-side to form a square.
- Again, brush these pieces with lots of the flavoured syrup. Spread the remaining buttercream on top. Then place the remaining square of joconde on top of this.
- Use the remaining syrup to moisten it and spread all of the white chocolate mousse on top.
- Refrigerate for at least two hours to let the mousse to firm up.
- Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour and spread it on top of the chilled cake.
- Refrigerate again to set the glaze. Serve the cake slightly chilled.