This month our challenge was Opera Cake. What - you never heard of Opera Cake? Me either, until the beginning of this month. You know me, my food is a little more rustic - I like my stuff to use a few bowls as possible. Less clean up means more time to eat.
Actually, though the recipe looked complex, once I broke it down into parts, it was actually pretty easy. The challenge rules stated that Opera Cake is usually made with coffee and dark chocolate. Yummmmmmmmmmmm.....but alas! this time we were to make pale cakes loaded with white chocolate in celebration of spring and all the happy birds, flowers and bunnies... Which kinda stank, as I really dislike white chocolate. Ah well...
The recipe consisted of cake layers (joconde - kinda easy),a flavored simple syrup (super easy!), a white chocolate ganache/mousse (which was optional, so I skipped it for the aforementioned reason), a white chocolate glaze (easy peeezy!) and an Italian buttercream (kinda tough but not too bad!). You take all these elements and build a leaning tower of Opera Cake.
We also had the option of favoring the cake and buttercream with anything our little hearts' desired. Me - I chose to stick with an almond based cake, but decided to make a mango flavored buttercream. I had some dried mango I picked up at Trader Joe's and decided that when cooked in a little water, would make a really nice paste which could be mixed into the buttercream without adding too much moisture. I also flavored the simple syrup with cardamon and cinnamon - plus I cheated a little and used the excess cooking water from the dried mango for the liquid. (I've been on an Indian food kick, so the flavor combination seemed to fit.)
Once of the things I liked best about this project is that I could tackle it in piecemeal fashion - one day I made the syrup and buttercream - the next, I baked the cake and assembled it. Unlike a lot of fancy recipes which require a ton of time all in one chunk, this one I would make again just because I could fit it into my busy schedule. The recipe states that the icing can even be made ahead and frozen for up to once month - that makes it a winner in my book!
The buttercream was a pain in the patoot! For those of you who have not made Italian buttercream - it requires you to add blisteringly hot boiling sugar syrup to beaten eggs while the mixer is running with a whisk attachment. Yeah - I was sweating it hard. I could just see something bad happening - burn units and plastic surgery in my future. But thankfully, my luck held and no bodily harm came to me or any member of my household. Also, I had to guess at temperature of the boiling lava- I mean syrup. I do not have the right sized pan to hang my candy thermometer off of - and the instant read I have on hand only goes to 220 degrees. That was kinda scary - but I guessed right and the buttercream came out fantastic. It was all I could do to keep the family out of the bowl once I put it in the fridge.
For the syrup, I just threw in some whole green cardamon pods and a couple cinnamon sticks. The finished flavor in the cake was not super strong, but lent an air of mystery to the whole affair...
The cake batter came together nice and easy. It's once of those recipes that is very simple - therefore you can crash and burn quickly if care is not taken. Tons of eggs whites, beaten to stiff peaks are folded into a nut meal and egg yolk mixture. You can't over-mix or you have almond hardtack - under-mixed, you have big pockets of eggy tasting pockets of fluff. Though the recipe didn't state it - I used the trick of "lightening" the batter by mixing in some of the beaten whites before folding in the rest.
Assembly - well, I could not find my offset spatula. I realized as I was making this at 2 am in the morning that I had loaned it to one of my friends. Yeah me! So with the help of a butterknife, I assembled everything. Cake, syrup, icing,cake, syrup, icing,cake, syrup, icing,cake, syrup, icing, and then.... the glaze. I did white chocolate for the glaze. I would have loved to figure out how to do a fruit based glaze...but I was too darned lazy by this point.
Here is my pale, pale creation with all of its hidden exotic flavors. It made a boatload of cake which I ended up taking to work and calling friends to stop over and help me eat it. The hubby's verdict: The cake was simply a buttercream delivery system but on the other hand he said he never believed that he would like a non-chocolate cake this much. My friend Eric simply asked us to leave the room so he could have some private time with his slice.
So yes - this is one of those recipes that I would make again. In fact, I know that I will get requests very soon.
This month's challenge was hosted by four of our group: Lis, Fran, Shea and Ivonne. This month's challenge is dedicated to Barbara of winosandfoodies.com and her commitment to the LiveSTRONG foundation founded by Lance Armstrong. Barbara, despite her own everyday challenges, hosted an event called Taste of Yellow in support the LiveSTRONG foundation. On her site, Barbara shares with us her own personal story. That takes a lot of courage. It also takes a lot of courage to want to continue when it is easier to submit. So I am dedicating my post to Barbara, Lance and all the other people out there who find the courage to get up and keep on going.