Opera cake: perfection in six acts

Rainbow Shores Restaurant executive chef and owner Rebekah Alford with a slice of "Opera Cake." Photo by Norm Johnston/NNY Living

(20 servings)

6 large eggs
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
2 ¼ cups (225 grams) confectionary sugar, sifted
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and briefly cooled


Position racks to divide oven into thirds and preheat to 425 degrees. Prepare two 12½-by-5½ jelly-roll pans with parchment paper; brush with melted butter.

In a mixer—using the whisk attachment—beat egg whites until they form soft peaks; add granulated sugar, then continue to beat to stiff and glossy peaks.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat almonds, confectionary sugar, and whole eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, approximately three minutes. Add flour and beat on low speed only until it disappears. Gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture with a rubber spatula, and fold in the melted butter. Divide batter between two prepared pans and bake cakes five to seven minutes, or until they golden brown and springy to touch.

Place pans on heat-proof counter, cover with parchment paper, turn cakes to unmold. Peel away parchment, turn parchment over and use to cover exposed sides of cakes. Let cakes cool to room temperature between parchment sheets. Cakes may be prepared a day ahead, wrapped and kept at room temperature.

Coffee syrup

½ cup water
¼ cup sugar
1½ tablespoons (7 grams) instant espresso or coffee


Stir everything together in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Cool.
Coffee buttercream
2 tablespoons (10 grams) instant espresso of coffee
2 tablespoons (15 grams) boiling water
1 cup (100 grams) sugar
¼ cup (30 grams) water
Pulp of ¼ vanilla bean
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yoke
1 3/4 sticks (7 ounces, 200 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature


Dissolve instant espresso in boiling water to make coffee extract, set aside.

Bring the sugar, water and vanilla bean pulp to a boil in small saucepan; stir just until sugar dissolves. Continue to cook without stirring until syrup reaches 255 degrees as measured on a candy thermometer. Pull pan from heat.

While the sugar is heating, put the egg and the yolk in a mixer bowl fitted with whisk attachment and beat until eggs are pale and foamy. When sugar is at temperature reduce mixer speed to low and slowly pour in syrup. Raise speed to medium-high and continue to beat eggs until thick, satiny and room temperature, about 5 minutes.

With a rubber spatula, heat butter until soft and creamy, but not oily. With mixer on medium, steadily add butter in two-tablespoon (30 gram) chunks. When all butter has been added, raise speed to high and beat until buttercream is thickened and satiny. Beat in coffee extract. Chill buttercream, stirring frequently until firm enough to spread and stay where spread when topped with a layer of cake, about 20 minutes. Buttercream can be packed airtight and refrigerated for four days or frozen for a month. Before using bring to room temperature, then beat smooth.

Chocolate ganache

8 ounces (240 grams) bittersweet chocolate,
finely chopped
½ cup (125 grams) whole milk
¼ cup (30 grams) heavy cream
4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 60 grams) unsalted
butter room temperature


Put chocolate in medium bowl and keep close at hand. Bring milk and cream to full boil, pour over chocolate, wait one minute, then stir gently until ganache is smooth and glossy.

Beat butter until smooth and creamy, then stir it into ganache in two to three additions. Refrigerate ganache, stirring every five minutes until it thickens and is spreadable. About 20 minutes. Ganache can be packed airtight and refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for a month; bring to room temp. before using.

Chocolate glaze

5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate,
finely chopped
1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter

Cake assembly

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Working with one sheet of cake at a time, trim cake to two pieces, one 10-by-10 and one 10-by-5. Place one square of cake on parchment and moisten layer with coffee syrup. Spread about three quarters of the coffee buttercream evenly over the cake. (If the buttercream is soft put the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes before proceeding.) Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square; moisten with syrup. Spread the ganache over the surface, top with the last cake layer, moisten then chill in freezer for about 10 minutes. Cover top with thin layer of coffee buttercream. (This is to smooth the top and ready it for the glaze — so go easy.) Refrigerate cake for at lest an hour, up to six hours; it should be cold when you pour glaze over it. If you’re in a hurry, pop the cake into the freezer for about 20 minutes and continue.

Cake glazing

Bring butter to a boil in small saucepan. Remove pan from heat and clarify butter by spooning off top foam and pouring clear yellow butter into a small bowl; discard milky residue. Melt chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. Stir in clarified butter. Lift the chilled cake off parchment-lined pan and place on a rack. Put rack over parchment-lined pan and pour over glaze, using a long offset spatula to help evenly smooth across top. Slide cake into refrigerator to set glaze and chill, which should be served slightly chilled. At serving time, use a long, thin knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry to carefully trim cake sides so drips of glaze are removed to reveal layers.


Each element of the cake can be made ahead, as can be the assembled cake, The cake can be kept in the refrigerator away from foods with strong odors for a day or you can freeze it. Wrap it airtight once frozen. Keep frozen for a month. Defrost wrapped overnight in refrigerator.

Pages: 1 2