Little Fairy Opera Cakes...

>> Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I must admit, I had never heard of an Opéra Cake before this months Daring Bakers challenge.

A cake comprised of a Joconde ( a thin sponge cake that is typically made with ground almonds), a syrup to flavor the joconde, a butter cream frosting, a ganache/mousse, and a glaze certainly seemed outside of my baking comfort zone. I typically stick to simpler cakes topped just with butter cream frosting or sometimes a layer of berries in between the two layers. But a butter cream, a syrup, a mousse, and a glaze? Look out- this is a serious cake!

The rules of the challenge were to keep the flavors light in color and in flavor. No chocolates or coffees (which is what a traditional Opéra Cake is made with) or anything dark in color. I must admit, thinking up the flavors turned out to be the biggest challenge for me. With so many different components of the cake I wanted to think of a combination of flavors that would compliment each other and not be over powering.

So I took the recipe one step at a time. First I made the jonocade and I followed the recipe exactly using the ground almonds. You could substitute hazelnuts, pistachios or any other kind of nut here if you want to. I then made the syrup flavoring it with almond extract and a bit of lemon juice. I also used lemon juice to flavor the butter cream . I used a white chocolate ganache/mousse and flavored it with a small amount of rose water. And the final layer, the glaze, I stuck to the recipe and used white chocolate.
A typical Opera cake is a 10" square cake. Trying to be a bit creative I chose to make mine into little individual cakes. I used a drinking glass to cut the jonocade into 4" circles and then layered according to the recipe. For the garnish I went into my garden and chose edible flowers (that have not been sprayed with pesticides) to crystallize with sugar. For the leaves I sugared mint leaves the same way as the flowers.

I think overall the cakes came out delightful. I like to think of them as little fairy opera cakes!

Thank you to Lis, Fran, Shea, and Ivonne for hosting this months challenge and helping me think outside the (cake) box!

Here is the recipe as given to us from the Daring Bakers. The changes that I made are stated above.

Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)

•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)

•parchment paper•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer

•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar

2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)

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 into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and 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 over mix here!!!).

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. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the 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 unmold.

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.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


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.

For the butter cream

(Note: The butter cream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the butter cream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the butter cream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan

•a candy or instant-read thermometer

•a stand mixer or handheld mixer

•a bowl and a whisk attachment

•rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ cup (60 grams) water seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your butter cream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured butter cream, then by all means leave it out!)

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 butter cream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the butter cream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate ganache/mousse

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan

•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate

1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)

1 tbsp. liqueur 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.

For the glaze

(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


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.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

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.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.Spread about three-quarters of the butter cream over this layer.Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.Spread the remaining butter cream 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).Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the 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.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.

check out some of the other Daring Bakers delicious Opera cakes. See if one inspires you to think outside the (cake) box!


The Magic Bean!

>> Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Black. Bean. Brownies. Need I say more? Intrigued yet? Skeptical? Well so was I when I first heard about them. They are from the new cookbook Baking with Agave Nectar by Ania Catalano. For those of you who don't know what agave nectar is, it is an all natural sweetener that has a low glycemic index. I have been using it lately in place of my usual artificial sweetener because it is all natural and will not raise my blood sugar (something I am trying to become more aware of these days).
So my skepticism got the best of me and I knew I had to try them... and they were good! They were real good. In fact, everyone who tried them could not believe they were made with black beans. So set aside your preconceived judgements and go pick up some agave nectar and black beans (and a few other odds and ends) and see just how tasty wholesome eating can be. And yes, that's right, Jack And The Beanstalk is not the only place for magical beans!

The Amazing Black Bean Brownies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter or non hydrated butter substitute
2 cups soft-cooked black beans, well drained (canned works fine too)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup natural coffee substitute (found in health food store) or instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups agave nectar

preheat oven to 325 degrees. line an 11 by 18 inch (or closes you have to it) baking pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray.
Melt chocolate and butter in microwave for 2 minutes on high. Stir to melt chocolate completely. Place beans, 1/2 cup walnuts, vanilla extract, and a couple spoonfuls of chocolate mixture into the bowl of a food processor (a blender will not work for this). Blend for 2 minutes, or until smooth. The batter should be thick and the beans smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, coffee substitute, and salt. set aside.
In a separate bowl, with an electric mixture beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar and beat well. set aside.
Add the bean-chocolate mixture to the coffee-chocolate mixture. stir until completely blended. Add the egg mixture, reserving 1/2 cup. Mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 cup egg mixture until light and fluffy. Drizzle over the brownie batter. Use a wooden toothpick or skewer to pull the egg mixture through the batter, creating a swirled effect. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the brownies are set. Let cool in pan completely and then refrigerate for several hours or overnight before slicing.

And yes, this recipe does create a lot of dirty dishes, but I assure you they are worth it! And besides, arent no guilt brownies worth a few dirty dishes?


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