Daring Bakers Challenge #3: A Taste of Light Opera Cake – Lavendar, Lemon & Rose

I’ve been a member of The Daring Bakers for three months now and have really enjoyed the challenges and the community of creatively wonderful people. Each time I visit one of their websites or blogs or our private forum to see the creations, I am amazed and in awe of the beautiful creativity that is out there. I love the challenging of myself and how I get stretched to push for perfection. They’ve been easy on me so far, the first two challenges were good ones and certainly a challenge, but this month really stretched me and I learned a lot.

This month, the challenge was to create an Opéra cake, but one that was light in color and in taste to honor the Taste of Yellow food blog event to benefit LiveSTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong. Barbara, a Daring Baker is the force behind the Taste of Yellow event which is held in May this year and I would like to dedicate my Opéra to her and to LiveSTRONG. I have my own personal reasons on why this challenge meant so much to me – cancer and I are old enemies and it has affected my life and that of my family and friends for far too long and in too many insidious ways.

Our lovely challenge hosts were Lis, Ivonne, Fran & Shea.

We were given a recipe and some leeway. I took one look at the recipe and knew immediately that I wanted to use lavender in some way. The problem with lavender though is that I often find it I used with far too heavy a hand and things made with it (it’s become trendy in California) often taste like cough medicine. The challenge I posted to myself was how to use it and compliment its flavor without it being overpowering. I puzzled on it for almost the whole month, shopping and tossing ideas up in the air and rejecting one after another. Finally, I decided that lemon would be a lovely accompaniment but still puzzled over the strong taste of lavender and how to mute it just enough so that I could balance out the lemon and almond flavors of the cake but make sure its presence was felt.

Another challenge was finding the ingredients. Thank goodness for the wonderful Trader Joe’s in Eagle Rock and the equally splendid Sur la Table in Pasadena. I found almond meal, white chocolate, heavy cream, butter and limoncello easily and economically at TJ’s. Trader Joe’s also had a beautiful fresh lavender plant that I bought for garnishing the cake. At Sur la Table, I found lavender extract (yay I had thought to make my own from dried lavender found in the Mexican section of the grocery store. We use it for tea.), as well as superfine confectioners sugar, silver pearl dust, paint brushes and a lovely lemon extract.

In my vision of my cake, I saw a soft green buttercream and glaze lightly flavored with lemon and the white chocolate mousse dyed lavender to match the extract I was flavoring it with. At the last moment, as I rummaged through my baking shelf, I found a little bottle of rose water and it clicked. I’d use rose water to round out and sweeten the lavender as well as giving a hint of rose. That’s when I really began to be excited about this challenge and I couldn’t wait to taste it.

Friday morning it rained and when I woke up I knew it was THE DAY. I gathered my ingredients and the recipe and read it through twice. My original plan was to prepare part of it on Friday and the rest on Saturday. I didn’t count on my crazy compulsion to finish or my excited reaction to each step. I made it all in one day. Lesson learned: Never make an Opéra cake all in one day, it’s completely mad.

I ran into one or two small glitches in my plans. The cream I had bought had soured and I only realized it when I tried to whip it and got clotty goop, which caused a five-minute cursing rant (good thing I was alone). I’d also miscalculated the amount of white chocolate needed and was under about 6 ounces. I ran out in the rain the six blocks to the store and came back armed with fresh cream and a couple of white chocolate candy bars, all I could find at the nearby store.

The almond meal sponge cake turned out perfectly and perfumed the house. I used the host’s change in butter ratio on the buttercream and got a perfectly creamy, lovely green buttercream scented and flavored with light lemon. I was stoked. I made the syrup and used the limoncello to intensify my lemon theme.

For the white chocolate mousse, I didn’t use liqueur, opting instead for the lavender extract drop by drop tasting after each drop to ensure I didn’t get cough medicine mousse, then adding the rose water to the mixture. Tasted it again and added one more drop of lavender extract. I got the result I was hoping for, a light lavender flavor that held up to the lemon but was almost a whisper. The rose water scented the mousse and made it almost ethereal. I then dyed it lavender, hoping the food coloring wouldn’t water it down. It worked. I ended up with a pretty color and the mousse held up.

I ran into problems again with the glaze, which just wouldn’t set properly. I blame the candy bars but it still looked lovely. I put the cake in the fridge at about midnight and left it till the morning. I then dusted the whole thing with silver pearl dust and garnished with fresh lavender and sliced it up. It as just what I hoped – light, airy, delicate and layered with flavor. It tasted like a garden and summery light.

Runny glaze – my one disaster. It worked out in the end.

This is the description from our hosts of L’ Opéra:

For those of you that don’t know about this cake, it’s an extremely elegant and polished French dessert that is believed to have been created around the beginning of the 1900s. Many people credit a gentleman by the name of Louis Clichy with inventing the cake and that’s why it’s sometimes referred to as Clichy Cake.

So what exactly is an Opéra Cake?

Well it’s a cake that is made up (usually) of five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer of cake or of ganache/mousse).

Finally, the recipe.

A Taste of Light: Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 121?2 x 151?2-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
1?2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (11?2 ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425?F. (220?C).

3.Line two 121?2 x 151?2- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.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.

5.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.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.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.

8.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.

9.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.

10.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 syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


1?2 cup (125 grams) water
? 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.)

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

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

(Modified buttercream recipe I used, courtesy of our hosts modified version that had 2 cups sugar, 1?2 cup water and 13?4 cups butter. Yes. That’s right. 13?4 cups of butter. The eggs remained the same)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1?4 cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
13?4 sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

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

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225?F (107?C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255?F (124?C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225?F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.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.

4.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!

5.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).

6.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.

7.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.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.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 white chocolate ganache/mousse (this step is optional – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake below)

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.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.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1?2 cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 121?2-cm) rectangle.

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

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde 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 cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Step B (if making the ganache/mousse):

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde 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 cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

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12 thoughts on “Daring Bakers Challenge #3: A Taste of Light Opera Cake – Lavendar, Lemon & Rose

  1. I love lavendar, recently I made my own lavander blossem sugar. I could have used this for my cake, too. Next time! Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. A very interesting combinations of flavours. I liked the colour contrast of pale green and lavender, very unusual.

  3. Your cake is so beautiful and the flavour combo sounds divine. Rose is by far one of my favourite flavours ever in baking and I have always wanted to try lavender. Imagine how good the cake would be if you used pistachios to make the meal? Yum! Great work and love all the photos too!

  4. Ah, great use of lavender—and i didn’t comment earlier, but I love that enchilada recipe. I have bookmarked it.

  5. I love your colours -they look like a Provence Summer! Beautiful and Daring with the flavours-Brava!

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