Sunday, 22 April 2012

Opera Cake - Clandestine Cake Club Headingley

This is a cake for a Clandestine Cake Club event. The theme was 'Je Ne Sais Quoi - all things French' and after a bit of research, I decided to make an Opera Cake. This is the first cake recipe I feel I truly 'own' having adapted, merged and quite frankly, just winged it in places to create this cake (all based on the general principles of an Opera cake). I think there is a parallel that can be drawn with the work I used to do, in lab-based research. Once you understand the principles behind a protocol (or recipe) and why each step is there, that's when you can start to modify it for your own purposes. (Also for anyone familiar with lab work - if you can put together a Western blot, an Opera cake is, well, a piece of cake!)

This Clandestine Cake Club meeting was held at The Bowery in Headingley, and was quite a bit smaller than the last event I attended (I'm sure the truly horrible weather contributed to several cancellations, but an evening with coffee and cake in a snug coffeeshop was perfect!). 6 cakes, and 8 people in total meant we all got to try each cake, so I didn't have any regrets about being too full with 10 cakes still to try this time!
The spread of cakes - a cake version of a Tarte Tatin arrived still warm a few minutes after I took this picture, bringing the total to 6 cakes. The quite unusual Dan Lepard fig, red wine and honey loaf was probably my favorite, though the profiterole cake was lovely, and the other chocolate cakes were both gorgeous!
Opera cakes are quite impressive, and I was rather surprised by how easy it actually was - each individual element is something most people who bake will have made before, and assembling it is not as fiddly as you might think - the trick is in cutting the edge off the cake at the end, leaving a lovely neat profile, and eliminating untidy edges.

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients/elements of the cake - the syrup and buttercream can both be made while the sponge is baking, and the ganache is very quick to make too.

Chocolate/almond sponge
4 eggs
220g butter
220g caster sugar
55g ground almonds
165g self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
4 Tbsp cocoa powder

Spoon a thin layer of the mixture into a greased, lined square/rectangular cake tin. You want this to be about 5mm thick or so - I used about 1/3 of the mix in a 10 x 6.5 inches (25x16cm). Try to get the top as smooth as possible, and the layer of batter as evenly spread - otherwise you will end up with a wonky cake! Bake at 180ºC for about 8-10 minutes - once the top looks cooked, you're probably about right - keep an eye on it and use a toothpick to check. I only have one tin the right size, so cooked the 3 layers one after the other, and that worked well. Once you take a layer out of the oven, use the greasproof paper to lift it out of the tin, and leave on a wire rack to cool.

Coffee syrup
150ml caster sugar
150ml water
2 heaped teaspoons instant coffee

Boil sugar and water together in a pan until the sugar has dissolved, add coffee powder and allow to cool. Reserve a little syrup for the buttercream.
Turn the cooled sponge layers over and remove the greaseproof paper, then pour the syrup over the sponge layers - the better coverage you can get the better.
Didn't quite manage to cover the entire cake - pretty pattern though! I'd turned the cake over, but left it on the paper to catch any run-through of syrup.
Coffee buttercream
150g Icing sugar
150g Butter
3 Tbsp Coffee Syrup

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add a little of the coffee syrup until the buttercream is the right flavour for you. Allow to cool in the fridge for a bit if too runny to spread on the cake. Put your first layer of sponge onto your serving plate (if you're serving it as a whole cake). Spread about half the buttercream over the sponge, and place the second layer on top of the buttercream. This is the fiddliest part of the process, and it helps to have someone else on hand to help if you're stuck with both hands full of cake and need something positioning! Spread the rest of the buttercream over this layer, and then place the final layer of sponge on top.
At this stage it looks a bit messy - not to worry though! Use the buttercream to get the layers as level as possible.
Chocolate ganache
100g Chocolate
45g Salted Butter
A few Tbsp smooth apricot jam, heated

Melt chocolate and butter together very gently in a double boiler (I use a plastic bowl that fits loosely over a pan of hot water without touching the water). Spread a thin layer of the heated apricot jam over the top of the cake, to ensure the ganache spreads evenly. Once the butter and chocolate are melted, stir together gently, allow to cool slightly, then pour over the cake. You may need to spread the ganache a little to ensure you cover the top of the cake completely. Dont' worry about drips down the side being untidy - this will be fixed in the next step!
Put the cake in the fridge for a few hours to allow the ganache to set.

Heat a sharp knife (preferably something like a butcher's knife) by running under some hot water. (Repeat between cuts). Slice off the edges of the cake, to leave a clean edge (you could cut into individual portions at this stage if required). Transfer the cake to the serving dish, and keep refigerated (in a sealed container if necessary) until about an hour before serving.
The final product! I think for presentation in the future I would do individual slices, which looked incredible (none survived long enough to photograph...).
And then sit back and enjoy all the compliments on your cake! 


  1. Stunning looking cake and you made it look so easy.

  2. Thank you! It really isn't that difficult - worth a try...