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Gateau l’Opera: Sweet Music from the Daring Bakers

When I first learned that this month’s Daring Baker challenge was to make an Opera Cake, my heart did a little happy dance. Un Gateau l’Opera! What could be more perfect? Regular readers of this blog might remember that I’m a classically trained lyric soprano. And that, my friends, means opera. I sing it, listen to it, study it and go to see it as much as I can. From the time I first heard Beverly Sills [1]sing the Merry Widow Waltz on the Ed Sullivan Show [2]when I was about five, opera has been an important part of my life. I’m also proud to say that Mini-SGCC is quite a budding little coloratura, herself. By the time she was nine, she had already appeared in a Mainstage production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers [3]with the Sarasota Opera [4].

There are conflicting stories about the origin of of the Opera Cake, which is also known as the Clichy Cake. One theory is that the cake was created by Louis Clichy because he premiered it at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. It was Clichy’s signature cake at his shop in the Boulevard Beaumarchais. A few years later an identical cake showed up at the legendary Parisian pattiserie, Dalloyau [5], allegedly created to honour the new Paris Opera house, and was dubbed Gateau d’Opera, or Opera Cake. Regardless of its beginnings or moniker, I think most would agree that the Opera Cake is an elegant, delicious and quintessentially Parisian confection.


An Opera Cake is made up of five different components: a joconde, which is a light almond sponge cake, a syrup to moisten the joconde, a rich buttercream, a ganache to top the final cake layer, and a glaze to top it all off. The traditional flavors used in this cake are coffee and chocolate. However, for this challenge we were asked to use only light colors and flavors in our cakes.

I chose to use vanilla, almond and orange as the main flavors in my gateaux. The joconde already contains a significant amount of almond meal and I added a touch of vanilla extract and orange flower water to the batter. My syrup was also flavored with almond extract. I flavored the buttercream with vanilla extract, orange flower water and a few drops of orange oil and added some Amaretto to the white chocolate ganache.

This is a very labor intensive recipe, not because it is so difficult, but because there are so many steps involved. I had decided to make several small round cakes, so that I could give some away. I spread out the creation of my cakes over three days. On the first day, I prepared the sugar syrup and the ganache. The next day, I baked the jocande, made the buttercream, cut out my cake pieces and assembled my cakes using cake rings. Then I left them to chill overnight. On the third day, I made the white chocolate glaze, constructed my decorations and chilled the cakes for several more hours until the glaze was firm enough to paint on.

Amazingly, I had absolutely no problems at all with any of the components of this recipe. Each one, including the buttercream, turned out exactly as it was supposed to the FIRST time. If I hadn’t been frantically trying to get my cakes finished before the deadline, I would have been in awe!
When I think of the Paris Opera House or the Opera Garnier [6], as it is also called, I think of gilded, glittery things. I’ve only been there once, but what I remember is masses of beautiful frescoes bathed in light from a multitude of gleaming chandeliers and encased in golden walls. I wanted my Opera Cakes to look like that. Trying to achieve a gilded effect, I painted some of my cakes with a bronze-colored pearl dust. I had used pearl dust to decorate my Cheesecake Pops [7]and really like the effect. I dusted the rest of my cakes with an edible gold dust. With the help of my gracious sister-in-law, I piped out several treble clefs and assorted musical notes out of pink and white candy melts. Actually, she did most of the piping because I have a shaky hand and no patience, and she used to work in a bakery. Hey, I know when to turn to the experts!

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was with the way my little gateaux turned out. The layers got a little muddled when I slid them out of the cake rings, but they were still very pretty. I really loved the look of the bronze pearl dust. It looks a bit darker in the photographs than it actually was, but it truly gave my cakes that “gilded” feel. The gold dust was more yellow than I would have liked, but it went well with the pale pink decorations. I love the combination of pink and gold, so I was very pleased with it too.

Of course, the most beautiful cake in the world isn’t worth much if it can’t pass the test of taste. I am happy to report that my gateaux tasted like little golden nuggets of heaven! The buttercream was divine and the ganache….well, the ganache was sublime! I could swear I heard strains of Nessun Dorma as I took my first bite! I was glad that I made double the amount of both so that I can now use them to make another delicious dessert. Or, I could just grab a spoon and have at it!

My thanks go out to this month’s hosts Ivonne [8], Lis [9], Fran [10] and Shea [11] for a giving us such a great challenge. I would also like to dedicate this post to former DBer, Barbara from Winos and Foodies [12], for her tireless work to promote Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong Foundation [13].

Please take some time visit the Daring Baker Blogroll [14]to see what my fellow Daring Bakers have “composed” for this challenge. There are many, many talented and creative bakers in the group and I know that you will be “wowed”.
The recipe for this Opera Cake is quite long and I have opted not to type it out in this post. If you are interested in having the recipe, I have provided a printable version of it here [15].

This recipe is based on Opera Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets [16]and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion [17].