Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Daring Bakers Go Out for Some Culture!

[Quick shout-out: Happy Birthday, Mom!!]

Growing up, that is what my friends and I used to call going to museums or the theater: getting culture. We'd go, we'd appreciate the arts or learn some history and come away smarter (or so we thought.) This cake certainly made ME smarter, and while it doesn't look the way it should, it was quite the learning experience. This is why I love being a Daring Baker.

Our darling, daring creators Lis and Ivonne, accompanied by members Fran and Shea, chose for us the dramatic Opera Cake. For those of you that don't know, the Opera Cake is a classic chocolate-coffee cake, thought to be served at a French-American Opera reception in the 1930s. It is usually a coffee-syrup soaked almond cake layered with chocolate. The sides of the cake are left bare to better showcase the layered effect. That said, our hostesses asked that we keep our cakes light in color in flavor, preferably yellow or white, in honor of our friend Barbara and her unwavering support of LiveSTRONG, the Lance Armstrong Foundation. While the recipe called for almond meal to make the jaconde, we were allowed to deviate, so I chose pistachio. I cannot tell you how long it took me to shell all those nuts, but it was well worth it. And I had help, so I can't complain. ;)

Why pistachio? You see, my husband and I have a new favorite dessert, found at Michel Richard's Citronelle in Georgetown, DC. It is this lovely layered dessert, much like an Opera Cake, with a cookie layer, a cheesecake layer, a pistachio cake layer, with blueberries and raspberry tuile on top. I wanted to try to get as close to that cake as possible. This seemed like the perfect first step. We were also allowed to customize the syrup and buttercream flavors - so I went with a basic vanilla syrup and used cream cheese instead of butter in my buttercream.

Now, I don't know enough about making buttercream to know what I did wrong, but man, was it a runny mess. A seriously runny mess. I was crunched for time - my mom was due over in a few short hours, so I couldn't go out and get more ingredients for a re-do. What I did do, and I imagine it probably counts as rule-breaking (but know that I wasn't happy about it), is I mixed unflavored gelatin with some heavy cream and mixed it into the runny cheesecake buttercream. 90 minutes in the fridge and the buttercream thickened up slightly. Not as much as I'd hoped, but enough. No crisp edges here, but close enough, right?

This cake was exactly what I had hoped for flavor-wise. The pistachio jaconde was light and tender and flavored perfectly. The cream cheese buttercream was delicate and smooth and brought the pistachios and blueberries together in a fresh way, almost as though they were made to go together. My mom commented that it was too sweet, and I tend to agree with her - but it wasn't anything that a slightly smaller slice and a glass of cold milk wouldn't solve!

Thank you, ladies, for a wonderful learning experience! This is definitely a dessert I wouldn't have tried on my own, but I am so glad to have made!

Please check out what the other Daring Baker's have created - I marvel at their creativity!

The Daring Bakers’ Opéra Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle’s and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde:
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 425◦F. (220◦C).

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 (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

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.

For the soaking syrup:
½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream (The recipe for the buttercream that is listed here is based on the original. When testing the buttercream, we tested a slightly modified version that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. But we don’t want anyone to be afraid of our modified version so you have the option of using the original above or the quantities we’ve listed here in this note):
1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar (Used to say 2 cups but should be 1 cup)
¼ cup (60 grams) water (Used to say ½ cup but should say ¼ cup)
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature (Used to say 1¾ cups of butter but it should be 1¾ sticks).
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) (Note: The original recipe instructs to heat the syrup to 255◦F (124◦C). We heated it to 225◦F and it worked just fine. However, if you are concerned, then by all means heat your syrup to 255◦F.) 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. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
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.
At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the ganache/mousse:
7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)
Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.

Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.

If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.

If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze:
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.



The Food Librarian said...

Looks great! Happy Birthday to your mom - I'm sure she loved the homemade cake!

glamah16 said...

I adore all your flavors. Beautiful presentation.

Engineer Baker said...

I love the blueberry layer! And pistachios sound like a wonderful addition.

Bumblebutton said...

Very pretty, and what an inspiration--love the pistachio base. Mine was blueberries with tea!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Looks awesome Katie! I love the blueberries! How cute!

Shari said...

The pistachios sound delicious with blueberries. Beautiful cake!

Claire said...

Mmmm...pistachio! That would be SOO good. Might have to try that if I make this again. And blueberries...I'm going to get some this weekend!

Heather said...

looks delicious! Great job!

giz said...

It amazes me that we all made the same recipe and they look so different. I love your combinations. I have a way to go yet to reach a creative level that lets me even experiment. Great job Katie.

myriam said...

its a mistery to me why i didnt think about pistacios. of course! looks fab and sure tastes fabulous with the blueberries. good job my girl!

farida said...

Your cake looks great! I had some problem with buttercream too, it was good at the beginning, but after I pulled it out of fridge, it started to curdle, then I beat it but still the result was not what it was supposed to be.

Happy B-day to you mom!

Aran said...

I LOVE pistachios... great cake!!

steph- whisk/spoon said...

looks wonderful!

Bellini Valli said...

Blueberries are one of my favourite fruits..if not THE love the flavours of your Opera Cake...good job!

Dhanggit said...

Happy Birthday to your mom!! what a lovely opera you made here!!

linda said...

Wonderful combination of flavours! Great job on rescueing the buttercream with gelatine. Now that's what I call a Daring Baker :)

Jacque said...

Mmmm, the dish you tried to recreate sounds delicous, so your cake must have been awesome too. How fun!

Sometimes when this type of buttercream turns runny it's because the whipped eggs and sugar weren't completely cool before adding the butter, or the butter was too warm. Don't know if that was the case here.

It looks terrific!

Kim said...

Love the blueberrie and pistachio combination, fabulous Opera Cake!

ChichaJo said...

Oh! Blueberries and pistachios sound so yummy! And cream cheese buttercream??? What a winner! :)

Christine said...

Happy Birthday to Mom! Your cake looks amazing!

Deborah said...

That's the one reason I don't use pistachios a lot - because of having to shell them! I'm impressed, though - your cake looks great!

chou said...

I love the pistachio jaconde idea--mix that in with some pistachio (or even chocolate) buttercream and I think I would be in heaven. Then again, those blueberries look heavenly. As always, it's a joy to read about your experience.

Hannah said...

Topping off the cake with blueberries is a great idea, and it looks delicious too!

HoneyB said...

Great looking cake! Happy B-day to mom!

Barbara said...

Pistachios AND blueberries. delicious.

toontz said...

What a great flavor combination! I would have never thought of pistachios with blueberries. Great job!

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Yumm looks delicious! The pistachio blueberry combo sounds great!

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

Blueberries -- yes! Well done.

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Oh, I would have loved to taste this L'Opéra!! Pistachios and blueberries?! Cheesecake buttercream?! Hubba-hubba!

Dolores said...

The blueberry's provide a beautiful contrast, and I'm intrigued by the pistachio cake/cheesecake combination. Great job! Hope your mom had a sensational birthday celebration!

Flanboyant Eats said...

fabulous girlfriend, fabulous!

how are you?

Dayna said...

Pistachio! I love it.

Rebecca said...

Ha! My mom used to tell us to go "get some culture." Those blueberries must have been delicious. Gorgeous cake!