When I saw this months challenge I was thrilled as it’s a cake I have heard lots about but never attempted to make myself. As I read through the recipe and its many stages and components – sponge, syrup, buttercream, ganache, glaze – I began thinking “Ekk this looks complicated.” However, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. If you can make a whisked sponge and a buttercream then you can make this cake. You do need a free afternoon to create it, but it’s a very pleasant way to spend a few hours, especially when it’s blowing a gale outside and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful cake that will get ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ from your friends and family.
Traditionally an Opera Cake is dark and flavoured with rich chocolate and coffee but in honour of the approach of summer and with a nod to the LiveSTRONG day in America (fighting Cancer) our Opera Cakes were to be light in colour and flavour. I was initially a little disappointed at not making a traditional Opera cake, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I became – there are SO MANY flavour variations you can make when not tied down to coffee or chocolate. In the end I decided to make an almond joconde sponge, a zingy lemon syrup and a floral lavender buttercream.
I halved the recipe and made a rectangle cake rather than a square, but I still had the three layers. I also bypassed the optional ganache stage and replaced this with a layer of marzipan to tie in with the almond joconde. I also tinted the buttercream a pale lilac colour to resemble the lavender. I kept the white chocolate glaze and wrote ‘Opera’ on top with a little glaze that I tinted purple. That thistle looking thing at the end was meant to be a stalk of lavender, just squint a bit.
I was delighted with how the cake turned out. The sponge was so soft and floatingly light, very reminiscing of an angle cake, look at all those little air bubbles! It had a wonderful almond flavour, that really worked well with the zesty lemon syrup. I have just realised that I forgot to add the melted butter to the batter, but it doesn’t miss it. The lavender buttercream was really good and added a wonderful subtle floral bloom in the mouth. I have never used lavender in baking before, but I’ll definitely be using it again.
Thanks girls (Lis, Ivonne, Shea & Fran) for choosing such a wonderful cake – I would never have attempted it without the push. Be sure to check out the other Daring Bakers creations.
Lemon Lavender & Almond Opera Cake
For the joconde
6 egg whites
30g caster sugar
225g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
6 whole eggs
70g plain flour
1½tsp almond extract (my addition)
Preheat the oven to 220C and position the oven racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven. Line two 12½ x 15½ inch Swiss roll tins and grease with the butter.
In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until they are doubles in size and foamy. Add the caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, while whisking until the egg whites have become thick and glossy. Set to one side.
In another bowl, beat the eggs, icing sugar and ground almonds until thick and creamy, about 3 minutes. (I also added almond extract at this point)
Sift over the flour and mix in gently. Do not overwork.
Take a third of the egg white mix and fold into the almond mix to slacken it. Then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites, being careful not to knock out too much of the air.
Melt the butter and fold into the batter.
Divide the mix evenly between the two tins and spread out into an even layer.
Bake for 5-9 minutes until lightly golden brown and springy to the touch.
After removing from the oven, run a knife around the edge of the pans, cover the tops with a sheet of greaseproof paper and turn out onto a wire wrack.
Peel away the base of greaseproof paper, but then leave it covering the cake and allow to cool.
For the syrup
65g caster sugar
2 tbsp of your choice (I used zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ lemon)
Add all the ingredients together in a pan, stir and bring to the boil.
Allow to bubble for 1 minute until the sugar is all dissolved and then remove form the heat and set aside to cool
For the buttercream
100g caster sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
200g butter, softened
1 vanilla bean or flavouring of your choice (I used 3 dried lavender stalks)
Combine the sugar, water and flavouring of choice in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Allow to cook, without stirring, until the syrup has thickened and reached around 105-110C.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg and egg yolk in a clean bowl until they become thick, pale and doubled in volume.
Slowly drizzle the hot syrup down the side of the bowl, containing the eggs, beating continuously. Do not pour the syrup over the beaters, or you’ll end up with spun sugar.
Continue to beat the mix until it become glossy, thick and cool to the touch, around 5 minutes.
Gradually beat in the softened butter in small chunks until all combined.
Add any other flavouring e.g. vanilla extract, and beat again. (I tinted mine a lavender purple colour)
Place the buttercream in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up to a spread-able consistency, stirring every 5 minutes so as to set evenly.
For the white chocolate ganache top (Optional)
(I replaced this layer with a layer of marzipan)
200g white chocolate
240ml double cream
1 tbsp flavouring of your choice
Melt the chocolate and 3tbsp of the cream in a small saucepan until smooth. Stir in your flavouring of choice.
Beat the rest of the cream until softly whipped. Fold into the melted chocolate and allow to sit and firm up before using.
For the glaze – only make this when you are ready to use it immediately
110g white chocolate
120ml double cream
Melt the chocolate cream together until smooth.
Whisk gently and allow to cool for 10 minutes until started to thicken and use immediately while still warm and shiny.
To assemble the cake
Trim the sides away from the joconde sponges. Cut each sponge into one square and one rectangle (one 10inch square and one 10x5 inch rectangle). You will end up with two large squares and two rectangles that when joined together will make a third 10inch square.
Place one of the cake square on a serving plate and drizzle over a third of the syrup.
Spread on a third of the buttercream and top with the two rectangles, to form another square.
Add another third of the syrup and butter cream and top with the final cake square.
Spoon on the rest of the syrup and spread over the rest of the buttercream.
Chill in the fridge until firm.
Then spread the top layer with the ganache (I used a thin layer of marzipan instead)
Make your glaze and pour over the top of the cake, smoothing it to the edges of the cake and leaving to set in a shiny layer.
Do not touch the glaze once it starts to set or else it will loose its shine.
Store in the fridge until required.