DB Challenge: It’s Not Over Until The Fat Lady Bakes

. . . or something like that. Anyone with internet access and an interest in food blogs knows by now that the Daring Baker Challenge for the month of May, and posted by all the prompt bakers last week, was the Opera Cake in a whiter shade of pale. While opera cake is typically dark with coffee and chocolate, our hostesses and DB administrators extraordinaire, Lis and Ivonne, along with co-hosts Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful, chose lighter colors in honor of Barbara and the LiveSTRONG campaign (she’s also the genius behind Hay, Hay, It’s Donna Day!). In that vein, I chose mango for the flavor of my mousse and used almond in the cake and again with white chocolate in the buttercream.

Part of the reason you could hit the high notes with this cake is the cost of the ingredients. I bought a bag of almond meal for this project and it was nearly $15 and I don’t think there’s enough in it for a second full batch! That makes it even more expensive than my Turtle Cheesecake. Yikes! Of course, for me, it also involved some tragedy. This was a new way of making buttercream and I have to say I wasn’t all that thrilled. When I added the hot sugar syrup to the eggs, I ended up with some long strands of candy coated scrambled eggs in the frosting and it is very delicate (very soft at summer room temp), so if I wanted the creamy smoothness of buttercream with egg, I’d go the meringue route again. For the mousse, I combined elements of the recipe given by our hosts with the mango mousse I made last spring. I melted some white chocolate and stirred it into a mixture of mango, sugar, and gelatine that had been pureed and heated (and then cooled). This mixture I added to the whipped cream. It was still rather soft mousse but held up to the white chocolate glaze because I left it in the fridge for a few hours and the glaze was cool when I spread it over the mousse. The final result is very sweet, strongly flavored with white chocolate, but overall good. Definitely keep it chilled until just before serving it. Would I do it again? Probably not just like this.

Actually, I chose to only make half the recipe this way . . . stay tuned for what I did with the other jelly roll pan of joconde! Until then, go visit other Daring Bakers to see what flavor combos they used.

Challenge Recipe, without my modifications noted (sorry!), after the jump.

The Daring Bakers’ Opéra Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle’s and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde:

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
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.

For the soaking syrup:

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.

For the buttercream (The recipe for the buttercream that is listed here is based on the original. When testing the buttercream, we tested a slightly modified version that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. But we don’t want anyone to be afraid of our modified version so you have the option of using the original above or the quantities we’ve listed here in this note):

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 extract
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) (Note: The original recipe instructs to heat the syrup to 255◦F (124◦C). We heated it to 225◦F and it worked just fine. However, if you are concerned, then by all means heat your syrup to 255◦F.) 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).

For the ganache/mousse:

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.

For the glaze:

14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
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.

9 Responses

  1. Your cake looks absolutely fabulous! Wonderful job and great photos!

  2. This is a beautiful cake! I love the mango slices. Can’t ait to see what you did with the rest of the jaconde.

  3. It came out perfect!

  4. The fruit would complement this cake so well. Your cake looks lovely!
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  5. Both the cake pictured above and the next post hinted were delicious!! I REALLY liked the almond flavor. Also, even though the buttercream did not behave it tasted really good. I liked the texture and consistency of it.

  6. I love how white your cake turned out… your presentation is almost heaven-sent, and the mangoes pop colorfully off the plate. In that regard, perhaps the expensive almond meal was worth it…

  7. Hehe.. candy coated scrambled eggs?!?

    I like the idea of mango very much though, and look forward to seeing what you do with the rest.

    I made my own almond meal, and that alone cost $8!

  8. The layers look terrific on this. Too bad it turned out really expensive.

  9. Your cake looks great! I love mangos! Your chocolate cake looks scrumptious too.

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