This opera cake is every coffee and chocolate-lover’s dream. I like to think of it as a more sophisticated version of tiramisu, more complicated and impressive in its layers.
The origin of opera cake has many theories, much like its appearance and exact layering. I’ve seen hundreds of different recipes for gâteau opéra.
While the basic components of chocolate, coffee buttercream, and coffee-soaked sponge cake exist in all of them, the way these components are made and layered varies.
Opera Cake Made Easy
Most opera cake recipes will have you not only scratching your head, but feeling absolutely exhausted upon completing. Worse, they may take you an entire day to make.
While I can’t change the fact that opera cake is one of the more complex French recipes, I’ve created a recipe here that is completely feasible and won’t take an entire day to make.
Building an Opera Cake
I made this opera cake with a classic sponge cake recipe, also known as joconde in French. The joconde layer is the most involved aspect of this recipe, and is made very much like a swiss-roll cake or bûche de noël cake.
Once the cake is out of the way, it’s just about creating a few simple components.
The way I’ve layered this opera cake is the following: melted chocolate, coffee-soaked sponge cake, coffee buttercream, sponge cake again, chocolate ganache, sponge cake, buttercream, and chocolate ganache.
Shortcuts to Making this Cake
The goal with this opera cake recipe was to be as simple as possible, and really use shortcuts where they could be done. For example, the French might use more of a swiss meringue buttercream, where there’d be eggs in the coffee buttercream layer.
Instead, I kept it simple with a traditional butter and powdered sugar (with coffee) type of buttercream. In addition, instead of making a separate chocolate glaze for the top, I used the remaining chocolate ganache.
The Finished Cake
This opera cake is a favorite French pastry for a reason. It’s light, and yet it’s decadent with its rich flavors. When I say this opera cake is a coffee and chocolate-lover’s dream, I truly mean it. If you’re looking for an elegant dessert to impress a group of family or friends, this is it!
Delicate almond cake layers layered with coffee syrup, chocolate, and coffee buttercream.
Joconde (Sponge Cake) Layer (see note at end)
- 77 grams almond flour 12 tbsp, or almond meal, sifted
- 52 grams powdered sugar 6 tbsp
- 17 grams cake flour 3 tbsp
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 10 grams white sugar 3/4 tbsp
- 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips melted
- 1/2 cup brewed coffee
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/8 cup brewed coffee
- 3 oz . quality dark chocolate
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 pirouette cookie for the top
To create the joconde (sponge cake) layer
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a quarter sheet baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Lay the parchment paper flat against the bottom of the pan and against the sides, using binder clips to keep the parchment paper taut against the edges.
In a large bowl, whisk the whole eggs together. Add the powdered sugar, whisk again. Then add the almond flour and cake flour into the eggs, and whisk until smooth and combined.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites and whisk on high speed until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue to whisk on high speed until stiff peaks forms. The edges off the egg whites will no longer look foamy, and when you hold the whisk upside down, the egg whites shouldn't slip off.
Add 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter, using a rubber spatula to fold the whites into the batter. You don't need to be too gentle at this point as you are just lightening up the batter. Now add the rest of the egg whites and be very gentle as you fold them into the batter.
Very gently pour the batter into your prepared pan. With a light hand, smooth out the batter so it's evenly dispersed in the pan. Bake the cake for approximately 12 minutes, until it just begins to golden on top, and when you gently press down with your finger, the cake springs back. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the binder clips and gently grab hold of the parchment paper to lift the cake out of the pan. Let the cake rest on the parchment paper on a wire rack until its completely cool.
Once the cake is cool, evenly split the cake into 3 rectangles. To do this, position the cake so that the long sides are facing you (one directly in front of you, the other directly opposite of you). Then make a cut every 3.75". Flip one cake layer over and use an offset spatula to spread the melted chocolate chips on it.
Place the cake layer with the melted chocolate onto a serving plate or cake board lined with a sheet of parchment paper. Stick this in the freezer for 10 minutes for the chocolate to harden.
To create the coffee syrup
In the meanwhile, warm the coffee and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Then remove the syrup from the heat and set aside.
To create the coffee buttercream
Beat the butter and powdered sugar together on medium speed until smooth. Stream in the coffee and mix until combined. Temporarily set aside.
To create the chocolate ganache
Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, just until the cream begins to simmer along the edges. Stir in the dark chocolate until melted and smooth; set aside.
Place the cake layer with the hardened chocolate on it onto your parchment paper-lined serving plate/board, with the chocolate facing down. Take a pastry brush and brush the coffee syrup on top of the cake, brushing over the cake twice.
Spread half of the coffee buttercream onto the cake, then top with another cake layer. Brush coffee syrup on top of this layer, again brushing twice.
Spread a thick layer of chocolate ganache over the cake. Try to be as neat as you can, but if it drips over the sides, it's OK as you'll be trimming the cake later anyways. Refrigerate the cake as it is right now for 5 minutes, just to give the ganache a chance to set. Then, spread another layer of ganache to make this ganache layer even thicker. Again, refrigerate for another 5 minutes.
For the last cake layer, DON'T place it on the cake yet. Instead, flip the cake layer over so its flat side is facing up, brush the top of it with coffee syrup 2 times, and finally spread the remaining coffee buttercream on it. Smooth the buttercream out as nicely as you can using an offset spatula. Now you can lift the cake layer up and place it on top of the whole cake.
Spread the remaining chocolate ganache all over the top of the cake (on top of that final buttercream layer). Cut the pirouette in half, then gently garnish the top of the cake with it. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours, or until you're ready to serve.
Once you're going to serve the cake, use a long sharp knife to trim off the sides of the cake so that you get a perfectly neat and clean rectangular cake.
Even though I've listed the approximate American measurements (tbsp) for the sponge cake, it's best to weigh your ingredients according to the gram measurements listed for best results.
You can refrigerate the cake uncovered since the coffee syrup will keep the cake layers from drying out. However, do not leave the cake uncovered in the fridge for longer than a day.
Joconde recipe adapted from The Baked Road
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