Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Daring Bakers Challenge: Opera Cakes

May was my first month as part of the Daring Bakers group, and what an introduction! Our challenge this month was to make an opera cake. Opera cakes usually involve thin layers of sponge cake alternating with chocolate or coffee buttercream and mousse, but the challenge specified "no dark colors or flavors," so I decided to make a mint-raspberry version, with a light mint buttercream and a delicious raspberry mousse.
I also wanted to make mini round cakes. I'm obsessed with miniature food (everything tastes better smaller!) and love the neatness of individual round cakes. So after the joconde was made, I cut it out into 3" circles. Since each cake would have three layers of sponge, I ended up with 24 circles, or enough for 8 cakes. I didn't have pastry rings to assemble the cakes in, so I used the next best thing. And by "next best thing," I mean the cheapest, most convenient thing: heavy stationary. Posterboard would have been better, but we work with what we have, right? I cut heavy cardstock into strips, wrapped it around my bottom layer (already on small cardboard circles) and taped it nice and tight. As you can see from the picture, I went a little crazy and made them unnecessarily tall.
After I did the first one, I figured out the proper height for the rings and cut the rest of them down so that filling was much more manageable. The assembly wasn't bad at all, actually. I put the mousse and buttercream in pastry bags, so that I could easily pipe even layers into the rings. After assembly they chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours, so that when I applied the warm glaze they wouldn't melt. I finished the cakes with fresh mint leaves, fresh raspberries, a rosette of whipped cream, and a white chocolate treble clef. I was worried about unmolding them but they held their shape beautifully.
The best part is, they taste as good as they look! The buttercream recipe called for a lot of butter, and unfortunately I only had salted butter, so when I tasted it by itself it seemed a bit salty. However, the white chocolate glaze was very sweet, so the slightly tart mousse and slightly salty buttercream balanced it out nicely. As for the glaze, I would definitely increase the cream next time, since it hardened a bit too much for my liking. But the cake was deliciously moist and tender, the mousse was divine, and the buttercream was oh so rich with just the right amount of refreshing mint flavor.
Here's the (world's longest) recipe:


  • 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 425F. (220C). 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. 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.

Simple Syrup

  • ½ cup (125 grams) water
  • ⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar

Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp mint extract
  • 7 ounces unsalted butter

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 240 (softball stage) 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.

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.

Add the mint extract and green food coloring (optional) until well-incorporated.

  • 2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 5 cups fresh raspberries or two 10-ounce bags frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. In a blender, puree 4 cups of the raspberries with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Strain the puree into a bowl through a fine sieve.

In a microwave oven, melt the gelatin for 10 seconds on low power. Whisk the gelatin into the raspberry puree.

In a large bowl set over a pot of simmering water, whisk the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 of cup sugar until warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the heat. Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the whites at medium-high speed until stiff and glossy. Fold the egg whites into the puree.

In the same bowl, beat the cream until firm. Fold the whipped cream into the raspberry mixture. In a small bowl, coarsely mash the remaining 1 cup of raspberries. Fold them into the mousse.

  • 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.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chocolate-Orange Petit Fours

I devised this recipe for a recipe contest sponsored by Green & Black's Chocolate. I gave them awesome chocolate-orange cakes, they gave me the proverbial hand. Now I give YOU the recipe, in the hopes that you will appreciate it more than they did. The rules were that entrants could only use five ingredients, and one of the ingredients had to be (at least 2 oz of) chocolate. The base of these cakes is a fudgy flourless chocolate-orange cake, topped with silky chocolate ganache, then finished with orange-scented whipped cream and orange zest.


  • 7 ounces (two 3.5 oz bars) Green & Blacks Maya Gold chocolate (or other chocolate)
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided


Preheat your oven to 325. Place 30 1-inch foil candy cups on a rimmed cookie sheet.

Zest one of the oranges and finely chop the zest, placing it in a large glass bowl. Cut the orange in half, and squeeze half of the orange over the glass bowl, producing about two tablespoons of juice.

Chop one 3.5-oz chocolate bar into small even pieces, and place the pieces in the bowl with the orange zest and juice. Microwave the chocolate for forty-five seconds, then remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the chocolate. If the chocolate is not fully melted after stirring, microwave it for another 20-30 seconds or until it is melted. Stir until the chocolate-orange mixture is smooth and well-combined. Set the bowl aside to allow the chocolate to cool slightly.

Crack the egg into a medium-sized bowl. Using a hand-held mixer, beat the egg on medium speed and slowly rain in two tablespoons of sugar. Continue to beat the egg until it is thick, light in color, and forms a ribbon when you lift up the beater, about 5 minutes. Gently fold the egg mixture into the chocolate, stopping just before the egg is fully incorporated.

Pour 1/3 cup of cream into the mixing bowl you used to beat the egg—you don’t even have to clean it first. Exchange the mixer’s beaters for whisk attachments, and whip the cream with the hand-held mixer until it holds soft peaks. Do not overbeat the cream and let it get too stiff. Fold the cream into the chocolate-egg mixture, stopping as soon as the cream is incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the arranged foil candy cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full.( For a faster alternative, you can place the batter in a piping bag fitted with a ½” round tip and pipe it into the candy cups.) Cover the top of the entire baking sheet loosely with aluminum foil. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 15 minutes. The cakes should be soft but just set in the middle. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the cakes to come to room temperature.

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the ganache topping. Finely chop the other 3.5-oz bar of chocolate and place it in a small bowl. Place 1/3 cup of cream in a small saucepan and heat it over medium heat until it reaches a simmer and small bubbles appear on the sides of the pan—do not let the cream boil. Once it is simmering, remove the pan from the heat and pour the cream over the chopped chocolate. Allow it to sit and soften the chocolate for one minute, then whisk it until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Drop a spoonful of ganache over the top of each cooled cake and swirl it in an even layer that comes to the top of the foil cup. Place the cups in the refrigerator for one hour to set the ganache.

To complete the cakes, zest the second orange and finely chop two tablespoons of zest. Whip the remaining 1/3 cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar and the two tablespoons of zest, until the cream forms firm peaks. Spoon a small dab of orange whipped cream onto the top of each cake, or use a pastry bag fitted with a star attachment to pipe a rosette on top of each cake. Garnish the cakes with the remaining orange zest.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Let's All Eat Cake

Last week was Cake Week at work: I had just a few days to create and design a new cake menu for our wholesale and catering books. We'll still do lots of custom cakes, but these are our new standard offerings, with apologies for the poor lighting and ugly set-up:
Carrot cake
Triple Chocolate
Coconut Snowball (my inspiration was the Hostess snowball snack cakes!)
German chocolate
Red Velvet
Tuxedo Cake: chocolate with whipped cream and a ganache glaze

Strawberries and cream
Lemon cake, the original design. I didn't love it when I made it, and the next morning, I woke up early knowing I had to change it. I couldn't stand having this design in our cake book! Revised lemon cake design. LOVE the polka dots. It's much more in keeping with our goal to do playful cakes, plus it just seems to fit the sunny taste of lemon curd.