Wednesday, May 28, 2008
A Night at the Opera
Booze, sweets, and tunes. Looks like the beginnings of a good night.
I recently joined an online group called The Daring Bakers. A monthly challenge is issued and we bakers have a month to complete the project. All participants then post a blog about their experience with the recipes.
My first challenge: Opera Torte. The classic version originated in France. In its purest form, this fancy pastry consists of thin layers of almond based cake filled with mocha buttercream and chocolate ganache, covered with shiny chocolate glaze.
The Daring Bakers challenge added a springtime twist by subbing white chocolate for dark and forbidding strong flavors, like coffee. I chose to compliment my torte with fresh raspberries and Chambord Liqueur.
Like an idiot, I decided to begin my torte at 8:30 pm for a dinner party the following day. There are four distinct recipes that comprise one Opera Torte, and the assembly of all four components takes some time. I was ambitious at 8:30, and dead tired at 11:15, when I put the nearly completed project to rest for the night. Here's the shake down:
The first step of building an Opera Torte is to bake jaconde, a cake that is flavored with ground almonds and lightened with whipped egg whites. Because it is spread very thin, it rises minimally and bakes fast. Yay for fast! At least one part of this recipe is fast!
After the layers are baked and cooled, they are lifted out of their pans and cut into strips to be filled. The first filling was Italian buttercream flavored with fresh raspberry puree and of Chambord, a tasty raspberry liqueur. Filling number two was a white chocolate mousse that was easy to make but took forever to set up.
I ended up with an odd number of jaconde strips, so I had two layers of each filling. Once the cake was assembled, I stuck it in the fridge to chill and stumbled into bed. I woke early the next day to a solid, cold cake that was ready to glaze. I stuck with the white chocolate recipe provided, and since I had extra puree from the buttercream recipe, chose to garnish the finished product with it. The effect was not unlike blood dripping down the sides of the cake. Thankfully, it tasted much better.
White chocolate isn't really my thing. I consider it to be the bastard child of the chocolate family, or at least the adopted one. The fact that it isn't really chocolate at all, due to its lack of cocoa mass, aggravates me. It needs a new name. I would like to nominate "solid sugar milk." I was a little disappointed that my first challenge had me using white chocolate as a main ingredient because I rarely enjoy it's overt sweetness. Although this version of the Opera Torte came together pretty easily, and looked pretty enough to serve at a Southern bridal shower, I found it to be sweet to the point of inducing cavities.
There were parts of the recipe that I enjoyed. The jaconde cake is a winner. It came together easily, baked flawlessly, and tasted delicious. I'd definitely make it again. The Italian buttercream was a standard, and a method that I frequently use. And, it's pretty difficult to mess up simple syrup, with equal parts of sugar and water, and flavoring to taste. I'll pass on the white chocolate mousse and white chocolate glaze, and most likely, next time I make Opera Torte, it will be the traditional way.
Opera Torte (based on recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion)
(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds2
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
Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.
Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).
Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
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.
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.
Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).
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.
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.
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.
Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.
(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)
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.)
Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.
Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)
1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar (Used to say 2 cups but should be 1 cup)
¼ cup (60 grams) water (Used to say ½ cup but should say ¼ cup)
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract5
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature (Used to say 1¾ cups of butter but it should be 1¾ sticks).
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)
Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C)6 on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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 buttercream is thick and shiny.
At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.
Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).
White Chocolate Mousse
(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)
7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)
Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
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.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
White Chocolate Glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)
14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped7
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)
Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
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 buttercream 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 buttercream 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.