Opera cake

This was my debut in the Daring Bakers Challenge. The baking task was the white chocolate l’Opéra, which in this interpretation was not the French classic, to be exact. The shape of the cake and the flavorings were left up to the challengers. While thinking about the flavor to choose I stumbled upon some breathtakingly beautiful pink grapefruits. That’s when I made my choice. I flavored the soaking syrup, buttercream, and the mousse with the grapefruit zest and Pink Grapefruit Liqueur (made in France, by the way) with, surprisingly, very nice, definite grapefruity flavor. It gave the mousse a pleasant light bitterness and very interesting taste. Since the whole white chocolate idea was already quite a deviation from the original, I had let myself to go even further and used Swiss buttercream instead of French one. I baked the joconde in two half-sheet pans, and then cut out three 8-inch rounds. Then I assembled the cake in a ring, mainly because I wanted to pour the mousse on the top before it sets and then let it set undisturbed. This way the mousse preserves its wonderfully light airy texture. As a decoration I placed a white chocolate rose on the top of the cake.

I really don’t recommend to attempt making this cake in one day. The rush will affect the quality of the end product and you will certainly be exhausted. It took me 3 evenings to put the cake together. Was it difficult? I’d say, no. But my husband will definitely disagree since it was him who had to put our dear son Tim to bed three nights in a row. And this, of course, included the full program: bath, tooth-brushing, night-story reading, etc.

This is my cake preparation plan spread over few days:

  • Evening 1: make the joconde; make the soaking syrup
  • Evening 2: make the buttercream; fit the joconde into the ring mold and spread with the buttercream; refrigerate for 1 hour; make the mousse (chop the chocolate while the cake is chilling); pour the mousse over the joconde; put the cake in the fridge until the next day
  • Evening 3: make the white chocolate glaze; make the chocolate plastic decorations
  • Next day: unmold the cake; put the rose on the top of the cake.

Chocolate Rose

Makes one-8-inch round cake, about 10-12 servings

For joconde layers:

  • 3 + 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 230 g (2 cups) + 230 g (2 cups) almond-and-sugar powder (see below)
  • 35g (1/4 cup) + 35g (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 3 + 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp + 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 35 g (1/4 cup + 1 tbsp) + 35g (1/4 cup + 1 tbsp) superfine sugar
  • 20 g (1 ½ tbsp) + 20 g (1 ½ tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Almond-and sugar powder:

  • 9 oz (255 g) blanched almonds
  • 9 oz (255 g); 2 cups + 2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Combine the nuts with half the confectioners’ sugar in the food processor. Process the nuts and sugar, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl and break up any caking as needed, until the nuts are finely ground, but not so long that the mixture becomes oily.

Sift through a medium sieve (1.5-2 mm mesh). Return the nuts that didn’t pass through the sieve to the food processor with the remaining confectioners’ sugar and process until the nuts been reduced to a fine powder.

Transfer the nut-and-sugar powder to a bowl, break up any caking with your fingertips, and mix thoroughly.

Covered airtight, the mixture can be stored up to a month at room temperature.

For the soaking syrup:

  • 1/3 cup heavy syrup (see below)
  • 2 tbsp grapefruit liqueur

Heavy syrup:

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Zest of ½ pink grapefruit

Combine the sugar, water, and the zest in the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve all the sugar. Cover and allow the syrup to cool.

Covered airtight, the syrup can be stored for up to several months at room temperature.

For the Swiss grapefruit flavored buttercream:

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 cup extra fine sugar
  • 10 oz (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Scant ¼ tsp grapefruit oil (orange oil can be substituted)
  • 2 tbsp grapefruit liqueur (or white rum)
  • Zest of 1 medium grapefruit

For the white chocolate mousse:

  • 6 oz white chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup (4 tbsp) grapefruit liqueur (white rum or citrus-flavored vodka can be substituted)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Zest of ½ pink grapefruit

For the white chocolate glaze:

  • 7 oz good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup heavy cream

For the decoration:

Pink Grapefruit Liquor

Make the joconde:

Make the joconde layers in two batches. It involves some extra dishes to wash, but also produces the best joconde ever.

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 425F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper: butter the pan first, and then butter the parchment. Put the prepared pan into another pan of the same size. It will prevent the bottom from overbrowning.

Combine the whole eggs with the almond-and-sugar powder in a mixer bowl, and beat at medium speed with the wire whisk, until cream-colored and light, about 3 minutes.

Sift the flour over the beaten eggs. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour.

Using a clean wire whip and bowl, whip the egg whites in the mixer at medium speed until they start to froth. Add the cream of tartar. Gradually increase the whipping speed to medium-high, and whip until the whites just start to form stiff peaks. Add the superfine sugar gradually, and continue whipping at high speed for a few seconds to incorporate the sugar and tighten the meringue.

Scoop about one third of the meringue into the bowl with the beaten eggs and flour, and stir quickly to mix. Add the remaining meringue and gently fold it into the batter, using a rubber spatula. When completely incorporated, take about ¼ cup of the batter and stir it into the melted butter. Return the mixture to the bowl with the beaten eggs and flour, and fold gently until the butter is uniformly mixed with the batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking sheet, spread and smooth the batter with a large spatula to completely cover the baking sheets in an even layer about 1 cm thick.

Bake until the cake is lightly golden browned and firm to the touch but not dry, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Put the pan on a rack and cool for 10-15 minutes. Loosen the edges of the joconde using a thin knife or an offset spatula. Cover the cake with a sheet of parchment paper, place a rack over the parchment and turn the cake upside down. Remove the baking pan. Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use to cover the cake. Place another rack on the cake and turn the cake again, remove the parchment from the top, and cool completely.

Covered airtight, the joconde can be kept for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Or freeze for as long as 3 months. If frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using.

You will have the half of the one joconde layer left over. Wrap it tightly and freeze. Next time you want to bake a similar cake, you will have to bake only one batch of joconde.

Prepare the soaking syrup:

Strain the heavy syrup, discard the grapefruit zest. Combine 1/3 cup of the heavy syrup with 2 tbsp of the liqueur (or light rum). Cover, set aside until ready to use.

Prepare the grapefruit flavored buttercream:

Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a wide skillet. Turn the burner off . In a bowl of a stand mixer, lightly whisk the egg whites and sugar together, then set the bowl in the hot water. Whisk until the egg-white mixture is hot to the touch and an instant read thermometer reads 140F. You might need to return the skillet to the lowest heat to reach the desired temperature of the egg whites. It will take about 8 to 10 minutes.

Place the bowl with the egg whites to the stand mixer base and whip with a wire attachment on medium-high speed until double in volume and cool; the meringue should not move around in the bowl when you are finished. It takes another 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up the butter into two-tablespoon portions.

Replace the wire whisk onto the paddle. Gradually, 2 tbsp at a time, beat in the softened butter at medium-medium/high speed. Add the next portion of the butter after the previous portion has been incorporated. When all of the butter has been added, slowly increase the mixer’s speed to medium-high and continue beating the buttercream until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy. It might take up to 10 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. Reduce the speed to low. Add the flavorings including the zest, and continue to beat on low speed for a minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat again for an additional minute.

The buttercream can be frozen for up to 3 months, in an air-tight container.

Start assembling the cake; prepare the white chocolate mousse:

Before you decide to proceed with the mousse preparation, you have to fill the cake with the buttercream first. Cut out 3 8-inch rounds from the joconde (two from one sheet, and third – from another joconde layer). Place one cake layer onto a cardboard circle, and then into a cake ring or a springform pan. Brush with 1/3 of the soaking syrup, spread half of the buttercream (about heaped 1 cup); repeat with another cake round, syrup, and buttercream finishing with a last joconde round moistened with the syrup. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to one day.

When ready to start, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a wide skillet. Turn the burner off (if your stove is electric, remove the skillet from the burner) and wait for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, place the chocolate and liqueur (or rum) in a medium heatproof bowl. Set the bowl of chocolate in the hot water. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl of chocolate from the hot water. Let the chocolate cool to about 85 – 90F (a small dab on your lip should feel slightly cool, not cold). If the chocolate mixture is too cold, the mousse may turn out grainy; if necessary, set the bowl in the pan of warm water for a few seconds before the next step.

Whip 1 cup of the cream in a medium bowl only until it is thickened and barely beginning to hold a shape – when you tilt the bowl, it should flow to one side, fluffy but still pourable and not at all stiff. Scrape the cream into the bowl of chocolate and fold carefully but quickly just until the two are incorporated. The mousse should seem too soft; it will firm up later. Immediately, while the mousse is still soft, pour it over the cake (still in the ring). Cover loosely with plastic without touching the surface of the mousse, and chill until set, at least a couple of hours, or overnight – even better.

Prepare the glaze; finish the assembling:

Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream following the instruction for making white chocolate mousse. Stir gently, don’t whisk, until smooth. Let cool until the glaze temperature reaches 85-90 F, for about 6-8 minutes. Pour over the chilled cake. Tilt the cake (still in the ring), holding it securely, to cover the top surface completely with the chocolate glaze. Use a small offset spatula to facilitate the spreading of the ganache if needed, but work quickly. Place the cake into the refrigerator overnight to set the glaze.

Finish and decorate the cake:

To unmold the cake, run a thin knife around the sides of the cake, then remove the ring. Transfer the cake onto a serving platter.

When ready to serve the cake, carefully transfer the rose on the top of the cake (wearing the gloves is a very good idea here). A few tiny drops of the light corn syrup resembling the dew, will complete the picture.

The cake can be made a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

Cut the cake with a hot dry knife. Dip the blade in the hot water and wipe it dry every time you make a cut.

The cake holds its shape very well. Nothing oozes even during the slicing. But make sure your knife is hot.

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106 Responses to “L’Opéra”

  1. Excellent creation…

    The rose looks so realistic..good one

  2. Oh wow I can’t believe this is your first challange the cake is absolutely stunning! I love how you flavoured it with grapefruit – really unusal.

  3. Gorgeous! I love the rose on top.

  4. Absolutely gorgeous cake! Congratulations on your first challenge.

  5. What a stunning cake! Wow. You should be very proud! I loved this challenge.

  6. Welcome to the Daring Bakers! What a debut Vera! This is stunning! Well done!

  7. i must admit that your opera is really lovely!! so elegantly done!! welcome to db!! such a great debut entry for this month’s challenge!!

  8. What a beauty! Your decoration is absolutely amazing! I bet it also tastes great!



  9. Wow. A gorgeous cake and I love the idea of grapefruit. The rose is stunning. Congratulations on your first challenge!

  10. Wow! How elegant!
    It looks so good, infact everything here on your site looks amasing, glad I found it!

  11. Oh wow, that’s one of the prettiest cakes I’ve ever seen! Great job!

  12. wow!stunning! beautiful job! I love the grapefruit flavoring!

  13. What a gorgeous, gorgeous cake… wow… lovely

  14. Bravo! Absolutely stunning, and an A+++ for smooth cake edges and layers, it is perfect. Welcome to the Daring Bakers. Lovely photos as well.

  15. WOW! that’s awesome!!

  16. That is amazing! Your rose is stunning! Great job!

  17. Oh man, it is so perfect looking!!!!
    I want to make something that looks that good… I must work harder!
    And the grapefruit sounds yummmy. =)

  18. Wow!!! Absolutely perfect! That is one amazing looking Opera cake! Bravo!!

  19. Yours was the first opera cake I came to see this morning – striking! I wish we had that grapefruit liquer here, so many possibilities for summer….
    Congrats on your first challenge.

  20. Beautiful Opera Cake!! It was my debut as a Daring Baker also. Just lovely. Great post!

  21. Such a fantastic cake. I’m speechless, truly.

  22. Your cake looks beautiful! Mine is underway, but I’m doubtful it will look as fabulous as yours. The chocolate rose is a wonderful idea.

  23. Perfection. This is my favorite cake so far! I love the height of the mousse. It really gives it extra umph! It is truly stunning. Did you make the rose? The edges are so smooth. Congratulations! I am submitting you to tastespotting.com!

  24. That is one fabulous debut! What a beautiful job!

  25. Wow! your ópera cake was amazing!!

    The chocolate rose it’s so beatiful!!!

    Great work!

  26. What a beautiful cake. Our cakes are similar but is yours polished! I just used a fresh rose. Was tempted to make a chocolate rose but I just didn’t have the time. Bravo!!!

  27. You cake is spectacular! Very nice photography.

  28. Wow this looks so professional, youve definately made a good start on your debut haha!

  29. wow! Fantastic job! It is truly beautiful.

  30. Oh my, your cake is really beautiful. It was also my debut on the Daring Bakers. Congratulations to us! (:

  31. Ditto to what everyone else said. I think the grapefruit flavor sounds wonderful. I’m just sorry the Internet stands between me and eating your opera cake!

  32. Good lord that cake is gorgeous. I seriously need to learn how to decorate like that. :)

  33. Bravo Your cake is beautiful! Welcome to DB!

  34. Wow amazingly beautiful cake. So pretty to look at.

  35. my husband took a look at the screen as he walked by and couldn’t believe his eyes. i couldn’t either, which is why i was just sitting there staring at the screen. of course the rose is absolutely amazing, but the cake itself is a work of art. so beautiful. thank you for sharing your success.

  36. Oh, I simply love this one! Your neat round opera cake is just perfect.

  37. Gorgeous! I love that it’s round and the rose on top is incredible.

  38. This looks absolutely gorgeous! I’m amazed. I love the rose and I’ve been looking at your previous post to learn how to make them. Awesome job!

  39. your cake looks perfect! WOW!

  40. What a beautiful, clean cake. That rose is simply stunning.

  41. Gorgeous!!

  42. you have a wonderful gift, a creative mind and an artistic hand indeed! from the flavors to the professional look, this cake is a beauty!

    great job on your first challenge!:)

  43. Bravo. This is incredible. Welcome!

  44. Almost too beautiful to consider eating!

  45. Absolutely stunning!

    Welcome to Daring Bakers

  46. Excellent choice of flavors and absolutely beautiful cake. I thought about grapefruit, and well…it just didn’t happen. I’m glad you tried it because it sounds divine! Truly lovely outcome. When I’m rested (because I did make it pretty much in a day…) I’d love to try your version. I love grapefruit. Where’d you find the French grapefruit liquor?

  47. This is so awesome beautiful out of the ordinary!

  48. Stunning! Just beautiful.

  49. That cake looks so professional! Are you sure you’re not a professional baker? :)

    Simply breathtaking and I so wish I could taste a teeny weeny bit of it because I’m so fascinated by this grapefruit flavor you’re talking about!

  50. Welcome to the Daring Bakers! and congrtulations on your first challenge your cake is favulous

  51. Welcome to the DBs! and congrtulations on your first challenge your cake is favulous

  52. Wow. Your cake is so….perfectly….round, the roses are amazing. I really need sharper knives I guess.

  53. Whew! and one evening to type up the recipe!
    Beautiful job. Shows talent and dedication to the craft.

  54. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL! Awesome job!

  55. What a wonderful cake! You’re a PRO! I like that you explained how you did it, your process makes so much sense!

  56. Hi there,what a beautiful cake. So very professional looking. Can I have a piece?? What can we say about this lovely opera cake but Encore!

  57. Gorgeous! I would have loved to taste a grapefruit version.

  58. WOW! Makes my Opera Cake look like it was made by a 6 year old.

  59. Yowza! This is your first challenge? You’re already a pro. Mine is put to shame.

  60. Dreamy. Absolutely dreamy! Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

  61. That rose is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And it’s edible! This is definitely on the top of my to-do list. :) Welcome to the DBs, your blog and creations are just gorgeous. For the looks of this opera cake, you were born to be a DB! :)

  62. simply stunning. welcome to the DB’s. You’ve just raised the bar.

  63. I’m speechless! What a gorgeous cake. Love you flavoring choice as well.

  64. Thank you, everybody! I’m overwhelmed and deeply touched by all your comments! Thanks for your kind words. The response has blown away all my expectations. I’m thrilled. I’m really happy to be a part of such a great, friendly, and supportive community as Daring Bakers.
    Thank you, again, everyone!

    @Sarah: yes, I made this rose. I posted the detailed instruction how to make it in the previous post of the blog. It’s really not difficult at all, rather fun.

    @Kelly: I bought the grapefruit liqueur in the nearest Liquor Store, in Vancouver, BC. I’m pretty sure it can be found in the US.

    @Maria: I’m positive I’m not a professional baker. But your doubts are very flattering :)

    @Lou: yes, this is my first challenge. And I enjoyed it tremendously!

  65. Definitely one of my favorite submissions for this challenge! Simply stunning!

  66. The rose is so spectacular!

  67. vera vera vera!!! WOW, I am totally blown away…you are a star!!! This is the best cake I have seen so far!

  68. Absolutley beautiful cake – you are obviously a very talented lady!

  69. Vera,
    your cake is simply stunning! i think i would be perfect as an unconventional wedding cake. And it would taste better too, no doubt!

  70. That is gorgeous – great job!

  71. OMG, that cake is gorgeous! Perhaps the prettiest I’ve seen so far.


  72. Stunning!

  73. Fantastic! Great first challenge!

  74. my god, it’s beautiful.

    i will never bake again.

  75. Simply breathtaking! This is the opera cake of my dreams!

  76. WOW~~~~~~~~~~
    Your cake is such a piece of art! Simply stunning!

  77. Your cake is stunning and looks like you’ve been around the pastry kitchen a time or two! Still: Welcome to the Daring Bakers!! So glad you’ve joined. Wonderful Rose.

  78. OMG That’s one beautiful cake. *Stands up and give a standing ovation*

  79. WOW!!!
    What a great looking cake! It was my first challenge and I have to say you rocked it girl!!!

  80. You did a great job!!! Are you sure this is your first time? :)

  81. Fabulous cake and I love your rose. Good job and welcome to the DB’s. I am new also and love this group!!

  82. Your opera cake looks amazing!

  83. Wow, wow, WOW! That is what I call one perfect cake!!! The flavors sound awesome, too. And I’m really surprised that you’re not a pro. Can’t believe the rose is not real!! What a great job!

  84. Your cake is so beautiful and elegant – inspiring!!

  85. Stunning cake! Beautiful flower on top. Amazing.
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  86. I would like to thank everyone for the expressed interest and for your warm and kind comments! I’m very much obliged to all of you.

  87. Your cake is fantastic. You must be a professional. Where did you study? And you must have assembled the cake in a ring, thus the perfect roundness. All together very impressive.

  88. What a beauty! Your Opera cake is gorgeous. Welcom do DB. Via this I was able to discover a wonderful blog with great pictures and recipes!

  89. Molly, Celine, thank you!

    Molly, I’ve never attended any baking classes. But I’ve got a lot of right books, and an understanding family :)

  90. This is GORGEOUS!!!!! I’m in awe of how elegant and wonderful your cake is. Great job!

  91. WOW! Vera-Elegant I’d say ;)
    That is a white tie and tails night at the opera-so beautiful!!!
    That debut deserves many encores- can’t wait to see them!

  92. This is simply elegant and perfect! I am going to learn a lot from you!! :)
    Congratulations on your first challenge and welcome to the DBr’s!!

  93. Claire, Gabi, Laurie, thank you!

  94. And what an incredible debut! That cake is stunning and the rose is the perfect touch!

  95. Wow! That opera cake looks to-die-for. I love the way you presented it. Congrats on your first DB challenge and I look forward to seeing what next month has in store!

  96. Ivonne, Joanna, thank you very much! And thank you, Ivonne, for hosting such a great challenge!

  97. You did a fabulous job on your cake. I love your flavor choices and the beautiful chocolate rose you made. Simply divine.

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

  98. Wow – your cake is. stunningly beautiful. I just followed the link from DMBLG… absolutely stunning. You made my morning!

  99. wonderfull wow I like your opera I will try it as soon as possible

  100. Exquisite! Adorable:)

  101. Beautiful!!!

  102. What a gorgeous cake! The flavor of grapefruit sounds so good. I do have a question, when you make the joconde layers is that a dozen of eggs altogether? I have made genoise before and i’m assuming it is similar to the joconde?

  103. There are 6 whole eggs and 6 egg whites. So you will have 6 egg yolks as leftovers. These egg yolks can be incorporated into buttercream if you go with a different recipe – crème anglaise-based one. Or make an ice cream :)
    They are not the same; they are both French, though :) But the joconde layers are not more difficult to make.

  104. During the month of September, I was able to get the original badges from Matt from MattBites. I can email you the one for June, if you want!

  105. wow Vera!this was soooooo amazing!are you a professional baker?:):) haha i envy your talent!LOL:) how did you ever learn to become such a great baker?!:)

  106. ohhhhhh….so pretty!

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