XX Anniversary Opera Cake (Project 130918)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

So anniversary number XX was a few days away and we were undecided on what cake to bake. After all just the week before we baked up a storm with 4 cakes:
David Lebovitz' Devil's Food Cake
Allrecipes' White Chocolate Cake
Smitten Kitchen's Best Birthday Cake
Smitten Kitchen's Espresso Chiffon Cake
each with its own frosting. And all in 2 days.

So for this week, I was contemplating a Walnut Coffee Cake, a Hazelnut Chocolate Torte or something quite decadent and adult-like, maybe bordering on the boozy kind. But upon closer review, I noticed those cakes are ... ahem ... short and besides, I would have made them on another regular occasion anyway. Not something worthy of XX.

As Celine rightly said, we needed to bake something special, something different ... we needed a show stopping cake. And the search was on for a layered, tall and somewhat complex concoction. And this is what we settled for.....

We prepped and baked 1 recipe of the cake which yielded 2 layers, it would have made a large though short-ish cake. And we both decided it was just not enough to go around. So we made another cake with 1-1/2 times the recipe, thereby creating 5 cake layers, which when cut, and stacked, would make 10 layers, which when filled with alternate layers of coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, would equal 20 layers.

Perfect for the XX. Now THIS would be that show stopping cake that we wanted.

This recipe is adapted from Dalloyau by Dorie Greenspan from her book: Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shops

The cake: (I multiplied this 2-1/2 times to make 5 layers)
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
2-1/4 cups (225 grams) confectioners sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

The coffee syrup: (made 3 times this amount)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons (7 grams) instant espresso or coffee
1/2 cup Kahlua (my own take on this)

The coffee buttercream: (tripled this and found it was just right)
2 tbsp (10 grams) instant espresso or coffee
2 tbsp (15 grams) boiling water
1 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (30 grams) water
Pulp of 1 vanilla bean
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
1-3/4 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

The chocolate ganache: (doubled this and spread it thin and ended up with 1 thick layer on top coz we didn't want to keep it aside. Ha.. Ha..)
8 ounces (240 grams) Valrhona 61% chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (125 grams) whole milk
1/4 cup (30 grams) heavy cream
4 tbsp (60 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

The chocolate glaze: (kept this the same coz it goes on top)
5 ounces (150 grams) Valrhona 61% chocolate, finely chopped
1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter

The tedious process:

A. Making the cake: (can be made up to 1 day ahead, wrapped and kept at room temperature.)
1. Position 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds. Preheat to 425 F or 220 C.
2. Line two (31 x 39 cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

3. In a bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
4. Add the sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy.

5. In another bowl with the paddle attachment, beat the almonds, confectioners sugar and whole eggs on medium speed until light and doubled in volume.
6. Add the flour and beat on low speed only until it disappears.
7. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture. Now fold in the melted butter.
8. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

9. Bake the cakes for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and springs to touch.
10. Remove from the oven, cover each with a sheet of parchment, then turn the cakes over.
11. Carefully peel away the (what used to be the bottom) parchment, turn this parchment over and use it to cover the top (exposed) sides of the cakes.
12. Let the cakes come to room temperature between the parchment or wax paper sheets.

B. Making the syrup: (can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated)
13. Stir everything together in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
14. Cool.

C. Making the buttercream: (can be packed airtight and refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 1 month; before using, bring it to room temperature, then beat to smooth it.)
15. Make a coffee extract by dissolving the instant espresso in the boiling water, then set aside.
16.. Bring the sugar, water and vanilla bean to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
17. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup reaches 255 F or 124 C, as measured on a thermometer.
18. Remove the pan from the heat.

19. While cooking the sugar, place the egg and the yolk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until the eggs are pale and foamy.
20. When the sugar reaches 124F, reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly pour in the syrup.
If the syrup spins onto the sides of the bowl, do not mix this into the eggs.
21. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the eggs are thick, glossy and have come to room temperature, about 5 minutes.

22. With a rubber spatula, smooth out the butter until it is soft and creamy.
23. With the mixer on medium speed, add the butter in 2 tbsp chunks. When all the butter has been added, increase the speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thickened and satiny.
24. Add in the coffee extract, beating to incorporate.

25. Chill the buttercream, stirring frequently, until it is firm enough to be spread and will stay and hold up a layer of cake, about 20 minutes in the fridge should do it.

D. Making the ganache: (can be packed airtight and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month; bring to room temperature before using.)
26. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.
27. Bring the milk and cream to a boil, then carefully pour it over the chocolate, wait 1 minute, then stir gently until the ganache is smooth and glossy.
28. In another bowl, beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy, then stir it into the ganache in 2 to 3 additions.
29. Refrigerate the ganache, stirring every 5 minutes, until it thickens and is spreadable, about 20 minutes.

E. Assembling the cake:
Decide if you'd like a 10x10" square or a 10x5" rectangle.
30. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
31. Working with one sheet of cake at a time, trim the cake so that you have:
a) two pieces: one 10x10 inches square and one 10x5 inches rectangle.
Or b) three pieces of 10x5 inches.
32. Place one layer of cake on the parchment and moisten the layer with coffee syrup.
33. Spread the coffee buttercream evenly over the cake. 
If the buttercream is too soft, put the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes before proceeding.
34. Top with another layer of cake; moisten with syrup.
35. Spread the ganache over the surface.
36. Top with the another cake layer, moisten, then chill the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
37. Cover the top of the cake with a thin layer of coffee buttercream. 
This is to smooth the top and ready it for the glaze - so go easy.

If you have more layers, it goes the same way:
Moisten, buttercream
Moisten, ganache
Repeat till layers are over. 
However many layers you have, you'd want to finish with a light layer of buttercream on top.

For the top of the cake:
38. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour or for up to 6 hours; it should be cold when you pour over the glaze. Alternatively, place the cake in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

F. Glazing the cake:
39. Bring the butter to a boil in a small saucepan.
40. Remove the pan from the heat and clarify the butter (spoon off the foam and pour the clear butter into a small bowl, discarding the residue)
41. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, then stir in the clarified butter.

42. Lift the chilled cake off the parchment-lined pan and place it on a cooling rack set over a parchment lined pan.
43. Pour over the glaze, using a long offset spatula to help smooth it evenly across the top.
44. Place the cake into the refrigerator to set the glaze and chill the cake, which should be served slightly chilled.
45. At serving time, use a long thin knife, dipped in hot water and wiped dry, to carefully trim the sides of the cake so that the drips of glaze are removed and the layers revealed.

Making ahead:
Each part of the cake can be prepared ahead, as can the assembled cake. The cake can be kept in the refrigerator, away from foods with strong odors, for 1 day, or you can freeze the cake, wrap it airtight once it is frozen, and keep it frozen for 1 month; defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

The cake is beautiful as it is, but if you'd like to add a little crunch: press toasted sliced almonds onto both the buttercream and the ganache.

The fact that I broke down the directions to 46 steps would probably intimidate most folks but I assure you it is so worth the effort.
There are a few components which when followed to a T yields fabulous results. And they don't take too long on their own.
Then there's the assembly; which after your 4th layer will be smooth sailing from then on (assuming you have more!).
Yes ... It was not the precisely levelled and layered cake you see in the patisseries, but I am dang sure it tastes better than most I've had.
Valrhona chocolate, fresh vanilla, Papua espresso & Kahlua. Need I say more??

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