When I read the name of the recipe for the May Daring Bakers' challenge, my reaction was a big question mark: what's an Opéra cake? What I learned was that it is a cake made up of five elements: a joconde to make the layers, a syrup to wet the joconde, a buttercream for filling (ripieno), a ganache or mousse for the top layer, and a glaze (glassa) over it. I read that and I started to enumerate all the possible ways in which things could go wrong for me. The result was TMTC (i.e., too many to count). Don't worry, however, I won't recount them all.
As a matter of fact, things went pretty smoothly until I tried to glaze my cake with cioccolato bianco (white chocolate). The warmed up chocolate did not behave well and the addition of cream (panna) made things even worse, so that when I poured the melted mixture over the top of my cake, it slid to the bottom, forming a pool of gooey stuff that fortunately the underlying tray was able to contain. I would have none of that and therefore, armed with a spatula, I scraped off as much as I could and saved my poor cake.
But I guess I should start from the beginning and it helps if I reference the recipe, compliments of Daring Bakers' glorious founders Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina. I halved the recipe for the joconde, which was easy, so I had a cake of reasonable size. This part turned out well. I then made crema instead of buttercream so that I could eat the cake (read: dietary requirement). The ganache was optional and I opted out of it.
As overall flavor I used mandorla (almond), adding Amaretto to the syrup and almond extract to the crema. Ground almonds are an ingredient of the nicely textured joconde. The joconde is really good sponge cake that was easy to work with, both before and after baking. I am familiar with crema, so that was not a problem, apart from the fact that I underestimated the amount I would need, so I had to make two batches.
After recovering from the white chocolate debacle, I sprinkled the cake with sliced almonds and the visual effect was not altogether bad. The photo, which is the only shot I could salvage (even the camera rebelled against me that day), shows half the cake already sprinkled with sliced almonds and half the cake still scarred after the disastrous glazing attempt and subsequent painful scraping. If you would like to see what an Opéra cake looks like, peruse the gorgeous creations of my talented fellow Daring Bakers.
I try to look at this as a learning experience. I must admit that it is more fun to look back at it a little while afterwards, since, while it happens, I cannot say I am always enjoying myself. I would like to be better at making pretty cakes. But for now I must content myself with the flavor. As long as guests around my table eat what I make with a smile on their face, I am happy, very happy. I am planning to make this cake again soon and, when that happens, I hope I will have a nice photo to share.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the torta Opéra audio file [mp3].
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