A twist on using sprinkles…
The Opera, Bastien’s classic birthday cake. Layers of espresso-soaked joconde, creamy coffee buttercream, rich melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate ganache… all in one bite. Operas are serious and dramatic as in the theatre. The classic finishing touch is a very elegantly chocolate-scribed word: “Opéra.” The idea is chic, dark, with maybe just a hint of gold foil. But the opera comique is of another genre. Nothing like sprinkles to celebrate a birthday!
The delicious blog Du Sacré au Sucré credits the creation of this cake to the Pâtisserie Dalloyau of Paris. In 1955 pastry chef Cyrille Gavillon wanted to see the layers of the cake and be able to taste the whole cake in one bite. His wife found the name, “Opéra” in honor of the little “rats de l’opéra” or young ballerina pupils who had just entered into the opera and who would come into the shop doing “entrechats,” or ballet jumps where they crossed their legs many times.
You will have plenty of time for entrechats in the kitchen while preparing this cake. An Opera is made in 4 main parts plus an optional glaçage to make the cake nice and shiny. So basically you will prepare 5 different recipes, all basics of pastry cooking, assemble them, and decorate.
1. the joconde: the cake part or “biscuit” (easy)
2. the chocolate ganache: for one of the layers, and for topping (easy)
3. the coffee buttercream: for one of the layers (a little more difficult, but well worth the effort)
4. the espresso syrup: for imbibing the joconde (simple)
5. the glaçage: the chocolate glaze to make the cake shiny and even darker (easy,optional)
A little note: For every recipe except for the joconde, you will most likely have extra! You have been warned. Don’t try to slosh all of the ganache and buttercream onto your cake. Just plan another use for them.
1. The “Biscuit” Joconde, or almond cake
This is a recipe from my pastry school in Chalons-en-Champagne.
- 125 g sugar
- 175 g egg whites (about 6 egg whites)
- 175 g eggs (3-4 eggs)
- 205 g almond powder (use a coffee grinder or food processor to finely grind raw almonds if you can’t find almond powder)
- 60 g flour
- 112 g powdered sugar
- 60 g melted butter
Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Prepare a cookie sheet with slightly mounted edges. Cover the bottom of the sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl or KitchenAid, whisk together the whole eggs, almond powder, flour, and powdered sugar until light and airy.
Melt the butter.
In another large bowl, whisk the egg whites with the sugar until hard peaks form. It’s easiest to whip the egg whites until very soft peaks, then add the sugar in a stream while finishing the whisking.
Using a spatula, incorporate the egg white mixture into the almond powder mixture without mixing for too long. Add the melted butter in the same manner.
Spread evenly onto the cookie sheet and bake for about 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned and springy to the touch.
Turn the cake onto a cooling rack to cool and carefully peel off the parchment paper.
2. The Buttercream
Using a double boiler to cook the egg whites before whipping them up. Notice a wooden chopstick placed between the pot and the bowl, allowing water vapor to escape.
This is so far my favorite recipe for buttercream. It is based on a recipe from Martha Stewart’s “Wedding Cakes” book. You will probably have extra buttercream.
- 1 lb (4 sticks) butter (room temperature)
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- coffee extract and/or a shot or two of espresso.
Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy and pale. Set aside.
Combine sugar and egg whites in a clean, heat-proof bowl. Place over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the whites are warm to touch.
Remove from heat and continue whisking on medium high until fluffy and cool, and stiff peaks form, about 10 minutes.
Reduce the speed to medium low and add the beaten butter, a few tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.
Once your basic recipe is ready, it’s time to add the coffee flavor. This can only be done by taste. I attacked on two fronts, starting with coffee extract. Add little spoonfuls and whip well after each addition. Taste. Repeat. Taste. Etc… The flavor was nice, but it just didn’t have that coffee goodness that I love or the color, and I didn’t want to use the whole dainty bottle.
So I prepared a shot of espresso in my Bialetti Italian coffee maker. You can make a good strong cup of coffee, or use an espresso machine. Allow to cool to room temperature. Then do the same as with the extract. Add a spoonful or two. Whip. Taste. I’m not sure how much liquid buttercream can handle, so just pay attention.
3. The Ganache
Making ganache is easy, just follow these simple instructions.
- 250 g heavy whipping cream
- 200 g dark chocolate
Bring the cream to a boil. Take off the heat and add the chocolate broken into small chunks. Wait for a short minute while the chocolate melts. Stir with a spatula until the chocolate is all melted and well mixed with the cream.
The ganache will slowly stiffen as it cools. You can place it in the fridge. When it’s time to assemble the cake, it needs to be at room temperature, so it will have the consistency of frosting.
4. Espresso Syrup
Simply boil some sugar with some water until the sugar dissolves. Generally 130 grams of sugar for 100 g of water. When cooled, you can flavor with anything you would like. In this case, add some espresso or coffee extract to your taste. I like to skip the syrup and use a little straight coffee in an effort to keep my cakes from becoming too sweet. But sugar syrup is the tradition.
5. Glaçage Noir or Dark Chocolate Glaze
This is the chocolate glaze that we used in the pastry shop where I worked during pastry school. Use it for looks, not for taste. A very thin layer makes for a sleek and shiny modern finish. It should be just slightly warm (and never hot) when you are ready to use.
- 300 g water
- 250 g heavy whipping cream
- 360 g sugar
- 120 g cacao powder
- about 20 g of gelatin sheets
Bring the water, heavy cream, and half of the sugar to a boil and turn off the heat. Place the gelatin sheets in a large recipient of cold water. Mix together the rest of the sugar and a cacao powder. Add the cacao mixture to the hot heavy cream mixture, stirring well with a whisk. Remove the gelatin sheets from the water and squeeze them out. Whisk them into the still warm, (but not hot!) cacao mixture. Allow to cool.
In the fridge this will harden to form shiny chocolate gelatin. When using to top a cake, it must be slightly warm, so it is melted but still thick in texture. You can refrigerate and then re-melt on the stove or in the microwave to top your cake. Never boil it, as hot gelatin won’t solidify again.
The assembled cake is almost ready. The last layer of joconde is placed and imbibed with coffee syrup. A big spoonful of ganache sits proudly atop.
1. Slice the joconde cake into 3 equal rectangles and place 1st layer onto a work surface.
2. Use a pastry brush (or spoon if you haven’t got a brush) to imbibe the 1st layer of joconde with coffee syrup.
3. Take your coffee buttercream at room temperature. Use a paper-thin layer to cover the 1st layer of joconde. Then use a pastry bag fitted with a large round point to make lots of big dots of buttercream. Be careful not to make the layer of buttercream too thick! If you don’t want to use a pastry bag, you can always use your cake-decorating spatula to spread the buttercream in a thin even layer, about 1 cm thick.
4. Top the buttercream layer with the 2nd layer of joconde. Imbibe like the 1st layer.
5. Take your ganache at room temperature. Spread a paper-thin layer on the 2nd layer of joconde. Use a pastry bag fitted with a large round point to make lots of big dots of chocolate ganache, just like you did for the buttercream.
6. Top the ganache with the 3rd and final layer of joconde. Imbibe again.
7. Again use the ganache to spread a paper-thin layer on the top of the cake. Refrigerate the whole cake for at least 30 minutes before touching the glaze for the next step. *Note: If you will not be using chocolate glaze to make things shine, you can spread a slightly thicker layer and do your last splash of decoration.
8. Make the glaze, or re-heat your glaze to just warm enough to liquify. Remove the cake from the fridge. It’s best to do this in one shot. Pour just enough glaze on the top of the cake and quickly spread to the edges using a cake-decorating spatula. Try not to let it go over the edges, as it will stain the pretty sides of the cake. Refrigerate for the time necessary for the glaze to set. It won’t take too long as it’s a very thin layer, 10-30 minutes in the fridge.