Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May Daring Bakers: Opéra Cupcake!

I had heard tell of the mysterious Daring Bakers and their daring achievements in baking, but when I started seeing gorgeous and inventive takes on Cheesecake Pops pop up on Tastespotting and discovered they were the April Daring Bakers challenge, I knew that I had to join. I squeaked in just under the wire to be included for their May challenge, and what a challenge it was...

When I read that my first challenge was to prepare an Opéra Cake, I almost broke out in hives (and that's not just because it's made with Almond Meal--remember, I'm a nut-free Brownie). An Opera Cake is an elegant and classic dessert that traces it's origins to France in the early part of the 20th century. The cake is typically made up of five components: a joconde, the cake layer; a syrup, to moisten the joconde; a buttercream, for filling some of the layers; a ganache or mousse, for topping the final cake layer; and a glaze, for covering the final layer of cake or topping the ganache/mousse. Whoa. 5 parts? Buttercream? Mousse? Glaze? Eeeep! So many steps. So many pans! So much butter! And as an added twist, in honor of spring and Barbara's A Taste of Yellow event that supports the LIVESTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong. It was going to be a lot of work, but it was an excellent recipe for an excellent cause, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Reading through the recipe about 50 times was extremely helpful, as was reading through the comments and suggestions fellow Daring Bakers made. And when you break it down and prepare your workspace, it's really not as hard as it looks.

In light of my recent obsession with Blood Oranges, I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate the Blood Orange flavor into the recipe. After some thought, I decided I would make a Blood Orange syrup, a lightly vanilla flavored joconde made with oat flour instead of almond meal (thanks to Sara at Cupcakemuffin's suggestion), a strawberry butter cream (using the Dorie Greenspan Buttercream recipe from the March Daring Bakers challenge, per several DBs suggestions), a rum and Tahitian Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Mousse and a Blood Orange Glaze. I decided to try to make it into cupcakes (or at least mini round cakes) and halved the recipe, since I figured it would be hard to bring the finished product to work to share in which case Lawman and I would have to eat it all.

You can find the original recipe here and below is the recipe I followed with my modifications

Blood Orange syrup

1 cup fresh blood orange juice
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons grated blood orange peel or regular orange peel

Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan. Heat mixture at medium until the sugar dissolves.

Boil syrup until it is reduced to about 1/2 a cup, about 20 minutes. Refrigerate until cold. Cover and keep refrigerated up to 2 days.

Boiling the Blood Orange Syrup

Joconde (Cake)

3 egg whites
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup icing sugar (aka confectioners sugar)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup oat flour
3 whole eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablepoons butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line one 12 x 17 jelly roll pan with parchment paper. (I didn't know that the baking sheets with the sides are actually officially known as jelly roll pans, go figure...I learned this as I was at the cookware store trying to buy a jelly roll pan, I discovered I already was the proud owner of several jelly roll pans).

Beat the egg whites and granulated sugar until they form stiff, glossy peaks. Set aside. (If you are like me and you mess this up on the first try you can add in an additional egg white, re-beat the mix and then discard the additional 1/4 cup of eggwhites).

Beat the oat flour and eggs on medium speed until thick and voluminous, around 3-4 minutes. Add the all-purpose flour and beat on low speed just for a couple of seconds until everything is combined. Gently fold in the egg whites and then the cooled butter with a rubber spatula.

Pour batter into the parchment lined pan and bake in the oven for about 5-9 minutes until the edges are brown and the cake is springy to the touch. Don't freak out, the layer of batter in the cake pan will be very thin and you will think to yourself, how is this ever going to work, but it will! Once the cake is cooked, remove from oven cool for a couple of minutes and then remove parchment with cake and cool on wire rack.

Whipping up the Joconde

Readying the Joconde for the Oven

Strawberry Buttercream
After reading several Daring Bakers' experiences, I followed their lead and used Dorie Greenspan's Buttercream recipe from the Perfect Party Cake. Hope this is ok!

6 ounces of fresh strawberries
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (approximately 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Wash and hull strawberries and toss them into Kitchen Aid food processor. Puree strawberries and set aside.

Add sugar and egg whites into a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. (I confess I have no idea what "shiny marshmallow cream" looks like. With my mixture, it had been over three minutes and the sugar was dissolved and the mixture was hot to the touch, so I went with it)

Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes (at this point my mixture looked more milky white and shiny).

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. Don't freak out if your buttercream curdles or separates, keep beating and it will come together again.

Once the buttercream is thick and smooth, gradually beat in the lemon juice on medium speed, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. By this point you should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream.

Add gradually add in strawberry puree and while beating on medium speed until well incorporated.

Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly. If you aren't ready to use the buttercream immediately, place it in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the buttercream if it's been refrigerated, you'll need to get it up to room temperature then beat by hand. Don't try to beat it with a paddle attachment right out of an extremely cold refrigerator. The buttercream will separate and you will be sad. Take it from one who knows.
(Note: I didn't halve this recipe because you can freeze the extra buttercream to use later.)

Look, Ma! I'm making Buttercream!

Mmmm. Buttercream

Rum infused Tahitian Vanilla and White Chocolate Mousse

3.5 oz. good quality white chocolate
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum
1 vanilla bean

Melt the white chocolate and 1 1/2 tablespoon cream in a small saucepan. (I completely misread this direction so I used a double boiler).

Stir the entire time with a rubber spatula. It may look curdled and gross for a while but will come together eventually. When completely melted, take off the heat and keep stirring until smooth. Add the rum and stir to combine. Keep stirring it every couple of minutes until it is fully cooled but not hardened.

Beat the remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream until you get stiff peaks.
Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse. If the mousse is 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.

Folding the Mousse

Blood Orange Glaze

Ok, here's where I fell off the course, the true glaze for the Opera Cake is supposed to be made with 14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped and ½ cup heavy cream and then you can add whatever flavoring you'd like. Well, I had some trouble with the white chocolate in the mousse and the 3 stores near me were either 1) out of white chocolate, try back next week; 2) now completely vegan, so no more white chocolate; or 3) out of white chocolate save a lone Nestle Crunch white chocolate bar. Not exactly the ideal situation. So I decided to use the leftover Blood Orange Syrup to glaze the top. Sorry fellow DBs! Next time I will be sure to locate extra amounts of necessary ingredients before I start cooking!

Assembling the Opéra (Cup)Cake

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Using round cookie cutter, cut cake circles out of the cooled pan of joconde.

Version A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):

Place first cut out cake circle on baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread thin layer of buttercream.

Another cake circle. Moisten this pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another thin layer of buttercream on the cake and then top with the third joconde cake circle. Wet the joconde with the syrup. Spread buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde. Set aside. Repeat for however many mini cakes you can make with your cookie cutter and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cupcake slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Version B (if making the ganache/mousse):

Place first cut out cake circle on baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread thin layer of buttercream.

Another cake circle. Moisten this pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another thin layer of buttercream on the cake and then top with the third joconde cake circle. Wet the joconde with the syrup. Repeat for however many mini cakes you can make with your cut outs and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cupcakes slightly chilled.

Voilà! The Opera Cake is ready!

Whew. I think this is officially my longest post ever! I had some challenges (I'm talking about you, tricky white chocolate and you, too, buttercream that didn't want to return to room temp), but overall I was very, very pleased with the results. Much of this was due to the help and support of Lawman. I couldn't ask for a better sous-chef. He helped make sure our small kitchen stayed clean and I stayed sane as I went through all of the steps. This was definitely a challenging recipe and because of that it was that much more rewarding when I was able to complete it. It's an impressive showpiece recipe and while I won't be making it for last minute dinner, I will consider making it again for special occasions. I'm not a white chocolate gal, so next time I'll probably go super dark chocolate. The buttercream was really the winner for me. I've always been intimidated by actual buttercream and I was so proud that I could actually make it myself. With 3 sticks of butter, it's an indulgence for sure, and to be honest, I had my doubts, as I was whipping it up, it smelled an awful lot like just plain butter. But once it all came together it tasted heavenly. Subtle and not overly sweet, just the way I like it. I also liked the form of the cupcake for the Opera cake. It's a very rich cake (with the potential to be very, very sweet) so just having a little taste is all I needed. And while it's a bit more work assembling multiple mini-cakes, it feels special to have your own.

Special thanks as well to the fabulous founders of the Daring Bakers Lis of La Mia Cucina, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice who along with Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Shea of Whiskful chose this challenge. Encore! Encore!

Check out the awesome and amazing takes on the Opéra Cake by other Daring Bakers.

And more pics of my process here.


Barbara said...

The flavour combinations sounds wonderful. And it looks so pretty.

Dolores said...

Congratulations on your first challenge (you had *quite* an 'initiation' recipe) and welcome to the madness. Looking forward to getting to know you better and sharing hosting duties in November.

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

I like the idea of blood orange syrup. Great job!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

Anne said...

I really love the sound of that flavor combination, and the strawberry on top looks great. Good job!

Unknown said...

Welcome to the group! I'm glad you have such a good baking and eating!

Brownie said...

Thanks guys! It was definitely a challenge, but that much sweeter to complete! :)

Anonymous said...

Omigoodness - I'm so impressed. And, now, starving...

Anonymous said...

My first challenge, too. I think this qualifies as being baptized by fire. Good job!

The Irreverent Cook said...

Welcome to the DBs!! Your cake looks amazing, the decorations, especially!

iTink said...

very cute. Looks so yummy!

Happy Kitchen said...

wow!!! I love strawberries and your cake is so cute!!!
Great job on your first challenge!!!

Anonymous said...

Love the look of your little cake! And what great flavor choices! Terrific first challenge!

Jyotsna said...

Very nice looking cake and amazing choice of flavorings!

Anonymous said...

Blood orange syrup, wow, that sounds good. Your cake looks great! Good job on this challenging challenge.

Barbara Bakes said...

Your strawberry buttercream looks especially delicious! Nice combination of flavors!

silverrock said...

I too decided to join the DB blogroll this May. I simply love the feeling of baking with other foodies. Your mini-opera cake looks delicious and I love the strawberry buttercream idea.

Michelle said...

Oh yummmm strawberry buttercream looks and sounds wonderful. Your opera cake looks simply perfect!

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a lovely job on your cake. I love the strawberry on the top.

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go