Pen and Squid Ink—Real Food for Living People

This is not my cake, but it is exemplary of what I think an Opera should look like.

BLOG — An opera cake to sing about

For slow cooks, timely meals generally demand simple food. But as a perennial over-reacher, I recently found myself in need of an elegant, finished cake in two hours and impishly dove into one I’ve never made with five different parts. It was L’Opera. And for a classic French cake apparently created by Louis Clichy in the early 1900s and later rebilled at patisserie Dalloyau in the name of the Paris Grand Opera, it was as shockingly simple as my two hours would allow. Don’t be alarmed by the length of the recipe. The number of words belie the ease with which this luscious dessert comes together.

I made one from a 2003 Bon Appetit recipe, but the cake was not fluffy enough for my taste, and the coffee overwhelmed the other parts. This version is my adaptation.

This is not my cake either, but it is closer to the mess I made of mine. Its visual state, however, did not impugn its deliciousness.

Opera Cream Cake

Serves 8

OPTION: If you prefer a non-coffee flavor, try rose water instead of coffee, or just vanilla or almond extract.

Ingredients:

For almond sponge cake

6 T cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
4 large eggs at room temp 30 mins
2 C almond flour (can be made by grinding 1 1/3 C almonds)
3/4 C confectioners sugar, sifted
4 large egg whites at room temp 30 mins
1/4 t cream of tartar
1/8 t salt
2 T granulated sugar
4 T uns butter, melted, foam discarded, cooled

For coffee syrup

1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup Cognac or other brandy

For coffee buttercream

1 t instant-espresso powder
¼ C water
6 T granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

For chocolate ganache:

8 oz 65% chocolate, chopped
½ C milk
¼ C heavy cream
4 T uns butter, room temp!

For chocolate glaze

1/2 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
5 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Make sponge cake: Preheat oven to 425°F. Butter parchment lined 15- by 10-inch shallow baking pan. Dust pan with cake flour, knocking out excess.

Beat whole eggs in a large bowl with electric mixer at high speed until tripled in volume and form a ribbon when beaters are lifted, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add almond flour and confectioners sugar and mix until just combined. Resift cake flour over batter and gently fold in.

Beat egg whites in a bowl with cleaned beaters at medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt and beat until whites just hold soft peaks. Add granulated sugar, then increase speed to high and beat until whites hold stiff peaks.

Fold one third of whites into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Fold in butter, then pour batter evenly into baking pan, spreading gently and evenly with an offset spatula.

Bake until very pale golden, 12—14 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes.

Transfer cake (on paper) to a cutting boardand cut into two same-size squares and two half-size rectangles (to be put together to form a three layered square). Trim outside edges slightly, then carefully peel paper from cakes.

Make coffee syrup: Dissolve espresso in 1 T water. Boil sugar and 1/3 C water until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer syrup, without stirring, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cognac and coffee mixture.

Make coffee buttercream: Dissolve espresso in 1 T water. Dissolve sugar and remaining 1/4 cup water in small heavy saucepan, stirring on medium heat. Boil, without stirring, washing down any sugar crystals on side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until syrup registers 238°F on thermometer (soft-ball stage). While syrup boils, beat yolks in a large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium speed 1 minute.

Add hot syrup to yolks in a slow stream, beating. This is a delicate process because the hot syrup crystallizes as soon as it hits the cool egg yolks. Make sure the egg yolks are quite fluffy before adding syrup, and make certain to use a candy thermometer for the correct syrup temp.

Add coffee mixture to egg mix and beat until completely cool, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat until thickened and smooth.

Make ganache: Bring milk and cream to a full boil and pour it over the chocolate. Wait 1 minute, then stir gently until the ganache is smooth and glossy. Beat in the very soft butter until ganache is smooth and creamy. Refrigerate ganache, stirring every 5 mins, until it thickens and is spreadable, about 20 minutes.

Make glaze: Melt butter and all but 2 T chocolate in heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Stir in remaining 2 T chocolate until smooth, then cool glaze until room temp but still liquid.

Assemble cake: Put 1 cake square on a plate, then brush generously with one third of coffee syrup. Spread half of buttercream evenly over top with cleaned offset spatula, spreading to edges.

Arrange both cake strips side by side on top of first layer (any seam will be hidden by next layer), then brush with half of remaining coffee syrup. Spread ganache evenly over top, spreading just to edges.

Top with remaining cake square and brush with remaining coffee syrup. Spread remaining buttercream evenly over top, spreading just to edges. Chill cake until buttercream is firm, about 30 minutes.

Reheat glaze until shiny and spreadable but not warm to the touch, about 1 minute. Pour all but 2 T over top layer of cake and spread just to edges. Scrape remaining glaze into one corner of a plastic baggie and snip a tiny hole to decorate cake (leave a 1/2-inch border around edges).

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