Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Daring Bakers: Let's Hear it for the Opera Cake
Amidst all the moving and school-finishing hubbub, I did indeed manage to complete this month's Daring Bakers Challenge: the famous Opera Cake. Don't know what an opera cake is? Well, neither did I until about a month ago. The opera cake is a traditional French pastry composed of several layers of an almond meal-based cake sandwiched between layers of rich buttercream and ganache/mousse, and topped off with a thin, sugary glaze.
Needless to say, this isn't the project to take on if you want a quick dessert. It involves several hours of cooling, chilling, and setting, not to mention actually making the components of the cake. This is why I like the Daring Bakers though; it gives me an excuse to make fancy-schmancy desserts that require hours in the kitchen. Without the Daring Bakers, I'd probably just make banana-barley snack cakes all the time. Not that there's anything wrong with banana-barley snack cakes.
This won't be the most detailed post, owing mostly to the fact that Jonathan and I have just moved (!!!) and we are both busy unpacking and readjusting to life with an electric stove. Also, given that most of my cooking things are packed in boxes and smooshed between layers of sweaters, the regular posts might be a little slow, too. But stay with me here; once I've organized our new kitchen, I plan on breaking into my newly-arrived order of Penzey's spices. That should be exciting.
But back to the cake. The rules for this challenge were that we could flavor our cake, buttercream, ganache/mousse, etc. with any flavor of our choosing, except for any dark flavors (namely coffee and chocolate). So that pretty much eliminated any flavor I was interested in making...or so I thought. We also were allowed to replace the buttercream given in the recipe with another buttercream. I've mentioned my aversion to buttercream before, so it's no surprise that I chose just to make a mousse and a glaze, using the mousse to separate the cake layers and the glaze to top it all off.
When it came to choosing the flavor for the cake, I wanted to bring out the almondy-ness of the original recipe, because I love anything almond-flavored. The recipe also calls for a syrup to soak the cake layers, and amaretto seemed like a good addition to that particular element. Instead of doing straight amaretto cake, though, I took the theme and ran with it, inspired by my favorite "girly" drink: amaretto sour. I didn't change the actual cake at all, but made my mousse lime-flavored, starting with homemade lime curd (my fingers are still sore from juicing), and adding whipped cream to make it nice and firm. The thin glaze over the top of the cake also contained a healthy dose of amaretto.
Instead of making a large cake, I cut the (set, chilled, layered, firm) cake into small squares and served it as petit fours. They were perfectly bite-sized and, if I do say so myself, quite adorable. A simple sprinkling of grated lime zest over the tops of the cakes was all the garnish they needed. So what can I say? Another yummy and fun Daring Bakers Challenge down, and I'm looking forward to the next one (and hoping my kitchen will be in order by then). To see the complete recipe for the opera cake, and to see pictures of the incredible versions created by other Daring Bakers, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll.
A note about lime/lemon/citrus curds: they are awesome, and incredibly easy to make. I used a really easy recipe that contained only eggs, sugar, and lime juice. Seriously, that's it! Just cook until thickened, and you have a delicious pudding-like dessert or topping for all sorts of other things (cakes, cookies, pancakes, toast). It isn't exactly "light," but it is lovely and refreshing - perfect for summer.