How to Make Opera Cake

So at long last we get around to the opera cake tutorial I’ve been meaning to put up for a week. What can I say, I’m easily distracted by food science. And chocolate, well, it’s terribly interesting stuff. You’ll thank me for all those posts later, I promise you.

Well…maybe not.

So anyway, opera cake. If at all possible, I suggest that you make up all your various components (the joconde, coffee buttercream, ganache, coffe-flavored cake syrup and tempered chocolate glaze) ahead of time and set an afternoon aside solely for the building of the cake. Because let’s face it, it’s easy to get worn out over the course of a lengthy baking or cooking project. Enthusiasm wanes with time and impatience sets in, and that opens the door to potentially catastrophic mistakes. Separating the stirring and baking phase from the building phase not only gives you a breather, it makes the assembly a whole lot more pleasurable. All the components including the joconde will keep just fine at room temperature overnight.

Begin by trimming the edges off your two joconde sheets. Once that’s done, measure them and cut them in half. The exact dimensions are less important than making sure they’re all the same size. You want four layers, which is traditional for an opera cake. You want the “up” side of the joconde layers (when they were finished baking) to remain their “up” side, as they’re more porous and will more easily absorb the syrup.

Job one is to apply a thin scraping of melted chocolate to the underside of the bottom layer. Remove it to a separate sheet of parchment, flip it over and spread the good stuff on. Let it firm for a few minutes, then place it in the refrigerator for a few more. What will this do? Besides adding still more deliciousness, it will ensure that the cake doesn’t stick to the cake board when it’s time to slice and serve. (This is an excellent, consequence-free opportunity to practice your tempering, should you be so inclined).

Flip it over onto your cake plate or cake board, chocolate side down (here again I’m going traditional and using a decorated board).

Gently peel the parchment back, center it on the board and you’re ready to go.

First thing, apply coffee syrup to your layer, and don’t be shy about it. I know what I’ve said about cake syrup in the past: it’s overused. However in this context you really want to go hog wild. Thoroughly soaking the layer will give the cake the melt-in-the-mouth texture that opera cakes in Paris are known for. Pastry chef Camille, who works in a Paris pâtisserie and makes these cakes regularly, tells me the layers should be soaked until they’re brown all the way through. So no genteel paintings of syrup. Go Jackson Pollock on the sucker.

And now for your first layer of buttercream. Take your time, and pay special attention to the edges. As with all icing and/or topping jobs, the tendency will be to pile all the good stuff up in the middle. Spread the buttercream slowly and deliberately, eyeballing it from all sides to get it as even as you can. You want it about a quarter inch thick.

Apply your next layer of cake.

Soak it.

Now it’s time for your middle layer of ganache. Oh yeah. Spread it thinner than the buttercream. Just a covering will do.

Apply the next layer of joconde.

Do I need to tell you what to do?

Another quarter-inch layer of coffee buttercream. Again, check for evenness all the way around as you apply it.

Then the top layer of cake. Edges getting a little sloppy? Don’t worry, you’ll trim those off later. Check again for evenness. If you have any obviously high spots, it’s OK to press them down a little with your palm at this point.

Soak, soak, soak.

And now for the top. Here you want just a thin scraping of buttercream, mostly to fill in any pits so the tempered chocolate top will lay on smoothy. Now’s a good time for a beer break, if you were wondering.

Prepare your tempered chocolate according to the tutorial. Or, if you just want to melt some bittersweet chocolate and put it on, that’s fine too (if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve already done one heck of a job). Spread it on promptly and thinly

Let the chocolate firm at room temperature for about ten minutes. Then, using a knife you’ve heated under hot tap water (then dried) slice off the edges to reveal the layers. (Keep and hide those trimmings, kids. The pastry chef deserves a secret, greedy coffee break sometime in the next day or two).

Looks pretty good. Maybe not an Opera cake for the ages, but pretty darn decent.

Once that’s done it’s time to score the top so it doesn’t shatter later when you want to cut it. Again, heat a long knife under hot tap water, dry it, and do your business.

Pieces can be any size you like. Here I’m dividing the cake into eight. As rich as this cake is, these pieces are huge. Ten would have been better, but oh well.

Now’s the time to put your opera cake in the refrigerator while you nip on down to the corner store for a little edible 23-karat gold.

What.

Edible gold. You get it at the Quick Mart. Second shelf on the right next to the oatmeal. What sort of neighborhood do you live in? I’ll admit it’s tricky stuff to handle. You don’t want to touch it with your fingers, since it’ll stick and disintegrate when you try to peel it off. I use two x-acto knives as implements to cut and steady it, then just transfer pieces — of whatever shape — over to the cake. Not very elegant, but gold makes a statement whatever shape it’s in.

Your opera cake can now be refrigerated for a day or two if need be. Opera cake is best slightly chilled. Ideally not refrigerator-cold, maybe an hour or so out of the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, separate the pieces (again with a warm knife) and transfer to plates. Ah yes, the chocolate-on-the-bottom trick worked splendidly, did it not?

Thanks to Camille Malmquist for all the great advice, and to a very generous benefactor for the precious metal — and a terrific suggestion!

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47 Responses to How to Make Opera Cake

  1. Bronwyn says:

    Good Lord. I made this thing today in the quantities you used. You expect one person to eat an eighth of it? A twenty-seventh was too much for me, and I only put half a such butter in the buttercream. It worked really well but I won’t be making it again. Just too rich for me.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Bronwyn! As I wrote on the post, the pieces I cut were huge. So no, I definitely don’t think someone should eat that much of an opera cake. It is as you say an extremely rich pastry…definitely not for everyone. But I’m very glad you tried it! Overall did it turn out well?

      – Joe

  2. Bronwyn says:

    Argh. Half as much butter, not such.

  3. Bronwyn says:

    It was very impressive. There’s a photo on my Facebook, and we’re friends so you can go have a look if you want.

  4. This is the correct How to Make Opera Cake | Joe Pastry blog for anyone who wants to act out out virtually this theme. You observance so some its almost debilitating to contend with you (not that I rattling would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new protract on a subject thats been shorthand most for age. City clog, just major!

  5. Denise Knight says:

    Joe, you’re a jewel! This cake is beautiful, and again, your commentary is taking a toll on my inventory of “Depends”. Thank you for putting a smile on this “at home Mom’s” face. ~ Denise xoxo

  6. vinay says:

    hi am vinay thakur is presently working in olive bar and kitchen mehrauli ,delhi india have seen the process of making the opera cake and it is very easy to make for anybody by seeing this picture …thanks to joe pastry.

    • joepastry says:

      Thank you, Vinay! Please send me a picture of yours when you finish it!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  7. Kayy says:

    Where can I find the recipe or the tutorial showing me how to make all these ingredients?

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Kayy!

      Just go to the Pastry menu on the left side. You’ll find the tutorial there with the recipe at the bottom. Let me know how it goes!

      - Joe

      • Joanne says:

        I don’t understand how to find the recipes for this Opera Cake. It gives assembly instructions, but where to I find the recipes for the other components? i.e cake, syrup, ganache? I’m going crazy! Thank you.

        • joepastry says:

          Hi Joanne,

          Access it via this link and you’ll find what you need. The various components are at the bottom and there’s a link to the joconde in the text.

          http://www.joepastry.com/category/pastry/opera-cake/

          You probably arrived at that post via google, so you didn’t see the whole set of posts that comprise the recipe. In the future, just look for what you want using the menus on the left and be sure to scroll all the way down.

          Cheers,

          - Joe

  8. AGS says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I would like to know how best to store the cake in the fridge – will it dry out if kept uncovered?

    Thanks again

    • joepastry says:

      Hey!

      This cake is so thoroughly coated and so soaked with stuff that it won’t have an easy time drying out unless it’s kept for a VERY long time. I think you’re good! ;)

      - Joe

  9. AGS says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the prompt response. The cake is chilling in the fridge now. Here’s how it went:

    1. I think I got carried away with the soaking. The parchment paper on which I had placed the bottom layer was wet (partly because of the syrup spilling). Also because of the over soaking, I had difficulty cutting into neat squares. Anyway to fix this? Alternatively, what happens if you under-soak?

    2. I ate the trimmings which were absolutely delicious. I thought that maybe the caffeine was a bit strong for kids (was planning to serve it at an event which involves kids) – any thoughts to be make it more kid friendly besides reducing the coffee?

    Thanks again for this brilliant tutorial.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey AGS!

      Thanks for the report. I’m so glad you made it. Sorry about the soaking thing, I should probably make a note not to go too far with it. Once it’s done and the cake is together there’s really nothing to be done about it except enjoy all the great coffee flavor. ;)

      As for a kid-friendly version, next time you can go with a standard cake syrup, maybe one with a little flavoring in it…even a chocolate extract (they do exist and can be had via mail order). Thanks for the email!

      - Joe

  10. AGS says:

    Hi Joe,

    Got rave reviews for the cake – thanks to you!

    I live in the Middle East so it may be difficult to get access to chocolate extract since it is alcohol based. Can something be prepared with cocoa powder?

    Cheers

    • joepastry says:

      Ah yes, “ae” is Arab Emirates, isn’t it? Here I thought you lived in Romania. Silly me.

      You might try adding a little cocoa powder to some hot syrup, but only enough to color it, not much more. That might make a nice substitute.

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  11. AGS says:

    Ok Joe, one last question :)

    Any possibility of converting this into cupcakes? If yes, what do you suggest I do?

    Thanks again…

    • joepastry says:

      Hey AGS!

      Sorry for the late reply. I think this would be very, very difficult to convert to cupcakes at least if you still wanted layers. I’d suggest a radical simplification…coffee-flavored chocolate cake with a little syrup painted on top, then some buttercream.

      I’ve seen opera cake work in bar form, however, sort of like petits fours. That might be better for the type of small portions you’re describing.

      Cheers and good luck!

      - Joe

  12. susanna says:

    all i can say thank you i made it for first time today ….. and by the end of the day it was gone .

    thank you

  13. Avi Jutley says:

    Hey Joe, tried your recipe – it was my first time making an Opera Cake, I wanted something different for Father’s Day and thought I’d try this though I hate Coffee lol – that’s why I took it a little easy on the soaking. Well, I Love how well it turned out – I halved the recipe – I used your recipe for the sponge – the rest I thought I could use similar recipes I had. My Dad loved the cake, so it was well worth the lengthy process – made in all the same day – made it on friday and cut it up today, on a sunday.

    Thank you for the chocolate bottom tricks and tips, worked like a charm – definitely going to be using that trick for other cakes too!

    Below is a link to a photo of it if you’d like to see it and there are other photos of it too on the page. :)

    http://photos-g.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/954706_383683791731969_1178355225_n.jpg

  14. ness says:

    Hi Jo !!! New to your site and just read your write-up on ‘about jo’ can I firstly say what a truly fantastic inspiration you are, you and Mrs Joe, you brought tears to my eyes, made me embarrassed that I had an awful moan about life earlier, ashamed of myself for not having courage at times and then gave me a big kick up the *ss to get on with things and stop wasting time worrying that I’ll fail … THANK YOU BEYOND WORDS. Secondly, my adorable little cat who’s only 3, has just been diagnosed with gastro lymphoma, we’ve been advised on chemo, she’s starting next week, she’s a tiny puss with a huge spirit for life, the aim is that the chemo will also send her into remission, your story has made me feel more positive for her, and if she could read, she’d agree with me ;o) ……… and thirdly, the question I wanted to ask you … ‘phew! get on with it’ I hear you say, ok, well here it goes … I made too much joconde for the baking trays I had, so I have left over mixture, will the mix keep until tomorrow if I pop in fridge covered? I have a feeling you’re going to say no, but I thought I’d ask on the off chance and haven’t thrown it away yet ………….. thank you Joe !!!!!!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey!

      Try it and see! You’ll lose a lot of the bubbles, but who knows what you might create in the process? Might be some darned good cookies. Worth a shot for breakfast I think.

      Thanks so much for all the kind words, I wish you all the luck in the world with the kitty. One of the many things I learned about cancer is that it’s harder to watch someone to go through cancer than it is to go through it yourself. You have the harder job, just like Mrs. Pastry did, the poor thing. Keep the little one happy, give her lots of reasons to hang in, OK? Treatments are great, I’m sure she’ll sail right though!

      Cheers and keep in touch…I want to know progress!

      Your friend,

      - Joe

  15. Jen says:

    You have some brilliant tips which I’m hoping to try out on a caramel apple opera this evening… thanks for a great how-to post!

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks so much, Jen! I want pictures of that caramel apple opera cake! What a great idea…

      - Joe

  16. Pingback: Caramel and Apple Opera Cake | bakearama

  17. Lila says:

    After the success of the Choux gnocchi I finally made this scrumptious Opera cake and it was just divine.

    The only modification I made to it is rather than Buttercream I used a creme mousseline to make it lighter and less rich . Apart from that really highly recommend it. Its a nice alternative to Tiramisu!

    Thanks for such detailed post as always!

    • joepastry says:

      Good choice, Lila! I think crème mousseline would work splendidly in opera cake. Thanks for checking in and letting me know!

      Your friend,

      - Joe

  18. Shake and Bake says:

    Hi Joe,

    Your website is fantastic and I would like to thank you for your contribution to the online community! Your work is greatly appreciated!!

    I am in the process of making this Opera cake, but I was a little confused by the comment to keep the jaconde sponge layers the same way up as they were baked. Do you mean as they were cooking in the oven? The under-side seems to have many more bubbles and I would have thought the bottom would absorb more liquid than the top?? I am a bit of a novice so not quite sure.

    Thanks in advance!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey S&B! Sorry for the delay. The reason for that is to keep the more caramelized top from sticking to the pastry board, or whatever surface you’re building the pastry on. That’s really the reason, but if you’ve got a plan to mitigate the sticking, feel free to ignore me! ;)

      - Joe

  19. Abi says:

    Hi Joe,
    This is the perfect walk-through recipe. I’ve been meaning to attempt an Opera cake for some time but haven’t had the courage until seeing your step by steps.
    Unfortunately i have a tiny oven so my pans are about half the size so can i ask how thick you make your joconde sponges?
    Do you think this recipe would half well?
    Thanks.

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Abi!

      The joconde is thin, only about half an inch or so. But you can definitely use smaller pans and yes, by all means cut it down by half, it will work fine. This makes a lot of cake! ;)

      - Joe

  20. tanu says:

    here’s the thing – I had never tried buttercream (they were scary), tempering chocolates was reserved for chefs and ganache was more of a hit and trial : you miss most and get some.

    And then I landed here. The first recipe I land on is this. I stared at it for a long time before diving in and trying it. Result : rave reviews. Yes it wasn’t as neat but the taste was perfect! The key I guess is not to question the recipe and follow it right down to the last t.

    Thanks a ton!

    • joepastry says:

      Woohoo!

      Thanks so much for commenting, Tanu. I love to hear stories like that. Of course following these recipes perfectly isn’t a requirement by any means. I’m just glad you did it.

      Keep in touch as you try more things! Cheers,

      - Joe

  21. Rachelle says:

    Hi Joe,
    Love the recipe! Looking to make it this weekend for my Grandma’s Birthday. Was wondering the tray size of the joconde?
    Many thanks, can’t wait to bake!

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Rachelle!

      I used a standard half-size sheet pan which is 18″ x 13″.

      Best of luck and let me know how it goes!

      - Joe

  22. Kienchuc says:

    Thanks Joe, Its so lovely cake and beautiful to smell, taste and enjoy. But I haven’t seen any recipe, please show me where I can get the recipe for this. Thanks Joe.

    • joepastry says:

      Hello!

      I added new links at the top of the post. Have a look and you’ll find everything you need!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  23. Nicole says:

    Hi Joe,

    For some odd reason I wanted to make an Opera cake for my mother’s bday, and thank the Gods for your detailed tutorial, along with all the components very well explained. I actually had to double the recipe as I realised the cake would be too small for +30 people. Needless to say the cake was an absolute success – I usually don’t write in blogs but I feel you deserve all the praise for sharing with us your knowledge!
    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going through your blog, any challenging cakes you may suggest? I’m feeling a little confident at the moment haha.
    Again, much appreciated!

    • joepastry says:

      Wooohooo!! All hail the brave Nicole!

      Nice going, my friend. I hope you’re basking in your well-deserved glory. Thank you very much for the kind comments, I have fun doing this as I hope you can tell. As far as the next challenge is concerned, my picks are: napoleons, marjolaine or Rigó Jancsi. What do you think?

      - Joe

  24. Caroline says:

    Hi Joe,
    I had been dreaming of making this cake for a full year in my sad kitchen-less college freshman dorm, and finally got the chance in my tiny apartment kitchen!
    I made it as a birthday cake for my boyfriend’s 2oth and he absolutely loved it! Thank you for the wonderful recipe!
    My one piece of advice to those about to make it is to take your advice! My experience with cake syrup is limited so I was a bit timid with my application. After tasting, I think the texture would have been much better had it been thoroughly soaked!
    Thanks so much!

    • joepastry says:

      Hehe…thanks Caroline! I love success stories, so thanks for sharing it. And yep, a good soaking is what that sponge needs!

      Tell your boy friend to go easy on the leftovers…this thing is rich! ;)

      - Joe

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