Posted by: Stephlechef | December 26, 2012

Christmas cooking – opéra cake

gateau opera

For our Christmas dinner dessert, I decided, as ever, to stress myself out by making something complicated. And which required a big long list of ingredients to send my Dad out to get (and I made half as much as the recipe was for). It takes quite a while (reserve a few hours), and quite a lot of effort, but it is definitely worth it. It is pretty rich – make small portions! It looks complicated, but it’s just lots of little elements – just make them all and assemble it carefully, and it works out 🙂

Opera cake

(makes 10-12 servings)

Taken from this recipe, quite adapted!

I made this in a big square tin which is 7.5 x 7.5 inches. Adapt accordingly if yours is different. I recommend a loose bottom (haha, you might have one if you eat it all :)) or I don’t know how easy it might be to serve.

Ingredients (take a deep breath)

For the Almond Cake:

  • 3 egg whites (4 if they are small)
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 overfilled cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 eggs (4 if they are small)
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
  • For the Espresso syrup:
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/6 cup sugar (sorry, call it half a third)
  • 1/2 tbsp instant espresso
  • Coffee buttercream:
  • 1 tbsp instant espresso
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 egg (yeah, I know, whisk it and it makes it easier to split)
  • 1/2 egg yolk (shoot me)
  • 7 tbsp butter, at room temperature if you remember to get it out
  • Dark chocolate ganache:
  • 4 oz dark or plain chocolate, broken up
  • 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • Chocolate glaze:
  • 2 1/2 oz plain or dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup ghee (if you have it, or see original for how to clarify butter)

Now for the many elements! Just do them in order and it all works out.

Almond sponge (Joconde)

Preheat the oven to 220c.

Beat the egg whites until they become foamy and start to expand. Sprinkle in the sugar, one teaspoon at a time, until all of it is incorporated into the egg whites. Continue beating the meringue until it is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

In a separate bowl, beat the ground almonds, icing sugar, and whole eggs on medium just until the mixture becomes light and foamy. Gently stir the flour into the almond batter.

Gently stir 1/4 of the almond batter into the whipped egg whites. Fold the remainder of the almond mix and the melted, cooled butter into the egg whites. If you are being slightly anal about it, measure 1/3 of the mixture (mine was 200g per layer) into the tin (which you have greased and lined) and bake for 5-7 minutes. Remove, re-line the tin and make the second layer. Repeat and cook the final layer. Leave all the cakes to cool.


Espresso syrup

In a small saucepan, set over medium heat, bring water, sugar, and coffee to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes, and allow to cool. (This will be brushed onto the cake later)

Coffee buttercream

Stir together the espresso powder and boiling water and set the mixture aside for a moment. In a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, bring the sugar, water, and vanilla extract to a boil. Boil gently and cook until it starts to look thicker and syrupy. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg and egg yolk until they begin to get fluffy. Continue to beat the mixture and add the hot sugar syrup to the bowl in a smooth, steady, slow stream (sometimes this makes a fun little sugary spider web on the edge of the bowl). Once the syrup is incorporated, mix in the reserved coffee mixture. Continuing to beat on medium-high, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until it is fully incorporated into the buttercream. Keep on beating, beating and beating. This feels so wrong and like it will never, ever work. But it does. It suddenly starts thickening and you’re left with a lovely thick, creamy smooth buttercream. Yum. Try not to eat it all, as this will be layered onto the cake later.


Bring the milk and cream to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Continue stirring the chocolate for 2 minutes until smooth. Stir in the butter (v. important to do this afterwards – I didn’t [because I bought the wrong cream] and I ended up with a greasy ganache) and continue stirring the ganache for 90 seconds. Leave to cool and thicken.

Assembly of cake

Place one layer of cake in the bottom of the tin. Brush it with espresso syrup. Spread 3/4 of the coffee buttercream over the surface of the cake.

Place the second square of cake over the buttercream, and then brush them with espresso syrup. Spread the ganache over the cake in a smooth layer. Place the last layer of cake over the ganache, brush with espresso syrup, and then spread it with a thin layer of the coffee buttercream. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 1 hour before glazing it.

To glaze the cake:

Melt the ghee, melt the chocolate and then whisk both together until smooth. Leave in the fridge to thicken a little (not too much or it won’t spread). Pour the chocolate glaze over the cake and allow it to set in the refrigerator before serving.

gateau opera 2


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