Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My First Daring Bakers Challenge

Today is D-DAY for posting my very first Daring Bakers Challenge! And boy was it a challenge! This month's challenge is hosted by Lisa and Ivonne (the co-founders of Daring Bakers). Also there was a slight twist to this month's hosting.

Fran of Apple Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful were also invited to co-host this month's challenge.

When I first received the email early this month from Lisa with the details of the challenge I was apprehensive ... can I do it or not! The challenge called for Daring Bakers to bake an Opéra Cake.

Whatever is an Opéra Cake ..... I really had no clue. Thus the pictures which Lisa included in her email certainly helped me with the visualization. I've never done anything like this in my short baking career - the ingredients and instructions already blew me away! In fact I've never baked a layer cake as well! Now what have I signed myself up for ....... I had to read the entire email at least 5 times before it sank in.

So what exactly is an Opéra Cake? Well it's a cake that is made up (usually) of five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer of cake or of ganache/mousse). My head's already in a swirl!

I decided to do a scaled down version which required me to bake a normal joconde and then cut it into smaller shapes - I went with a hexagon cutter as round and oval shapes were quite common.

Traditionally, a joconde is flavoured with darker flavours such as chocolate or coffee. But this month's DB challenge called for a light coloured Opéra Cake. Luckily the recipe could be broken up into portions so it was much easier. I did the buttercream ealier in the week and fnished the rest of the cake on a Saturday night. My husband watched the telly whilst I busied myself away in the kitchen. He did help at one stage when I had problem trying to take the joconde out from the tray. I decided to omit doing the mousse, so it was 1 step less for me. For variation, I added to some of my cakes a layer of raspberry puree on top of the buttercream.

We had the cake on Sunday morning and the remaining I took it to office. It was immediately whoffled away by everyone ... YUMMY was all I heard in between mouthfuls of cake.

Ingredients for the joconde:
(can be made 1 day ahead)

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
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 by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and another in 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).

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.

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 un-mould.

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.

Ingredients for the syrup:
(can be made 1 week ahead)

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.

Ingredients for the buttercream:

1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
Scrap the seeds of one vanilla bean (or alternatively use 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract)
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).

Ingredients for the ganache/mouse:

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.Ingredients for the glaze (best to make this when you are ready to assemble cake)

Ingredients for the glaze:

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.

To assembling the Opéra Cake

1) Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2) 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.

3) Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

4) Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

5) Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

6) 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).

7) For the final layer, spread the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) on 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.

8) In the meantime 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.


Renee said...

Congratulations on your first challenge!! Your cakes look so pretty. I love the octagon shapes! Awesome job!

Angela said...

I am amazed that you got such clean sides to your hexagonal cakes! I tried doing some heart-shaped cakes with left-overs and they looked positively dreadful.

Congratulations on your first challenge! Your cakes look wonderful :)

Angela@ A Spoonful of Sugar

Maddy said...

that is simply stunning! You're a true artist- looks delicious too :)

pixie said...

what a pretty cakes, especially with the little pink flowers!

Gabi said...

Congratulations on your first DB challenge and may I say great job?!
I love the shape and the decorations particularly the blossoms!

Gina MarySol Ruiz said...

Congratulations on your first challenge. It's sooo pretty! Looks delish too.

Lori said...

Very beautiful. I love the octagon shape and the little flowers.

Bumblebutton said...

Congralations on a wonderful job! I really loved the flowers, too!

maybelles parents said...

I love the octagon shapes and the mini. Good job.

PBJulie said...

Fantastic job on your first DB challenge. I love that you went with the unique shape. That would be a great individual plated dessert idea!


Mary said...

Your cakes are beautiful! I especially love the one with the flowers on top. Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

marion-il en faut peu pour ... said...

it's lovely :) you've done marvellous little things, i'm very impressed !

jennifer said...

beautiful!! great job!


Christine said...

Congratulations on your first DB challenge! Cake is beautiful!

Shari said...

I love the shape - very unique!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

Rebecca of "Ezra Pound Cake" said...

Congratulations on your first DB challenge. Can't believe you did two flavors! So pretty.


silverrock said...

Congrats on completing your first DB challenge, the cake looks amazing. I especially like the way you cut it into octagons :) very creative

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.

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