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L'Operation: Learning to Love (and Make) the Opera Cake

L'Opéra (Opera Cake), like its namesake, is a pinkies-out affair: deeply layered, intricate--and a huge time commitment. With multiple alternating layers of ganache, buttercream and sponge cake, it's certainly not a light dessert, but when done well, it is indeed a delicious one. And this month, it was the Daring Bakers Challenge (a challenge dedicated to Winos & Foodies). Though it was specified that the cake ought to be light in flavor, we felt that in our case this would be a cheat--aren't you supposed to learn the rules before you break them? While the original thought was to make the classic Opera Cake and then another variation afterward, perhaps we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into in terms of time and effort--and well, let's just say only one cake was made, and in perhaps reverse Cakespy behavior, our classic Opera Cake is decidedly non-mischievous, and in doing so we actually ended up breaking the rules. Oh, the shame! (Though, to see some beautifully creative entries that did follow the rules, visit here). 

L'OperaBut happily for us spies, all of those between-step moments gave us time to reflect on L'Opéra and its grandeur, as well as recall some of the slices we've known and loved in the past--because although making an opera cake is a major feat and ultimately tastes crazy-delicious, one thing that we've learned from the arduous process of making it is that sometimes it's just better to have it already made for you--simply so you don't have to wait.
Here's what we learned in those in-between moments:
First off, what is an opera cake?
We think we couldn't possibly say it better than pastry diva Dorie Greenspan:
The classic Opera Cake is a work in six acts. There are three thin layers of almond cake, each soaked in a potent coffee syrup; a layer of espresso-flavored buttercream; one layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache; and a topping of chocolate glaze. Traditionally, the cake is decorated with its name written in glaze across the top and finished with a piece of shimmering gold leaf.

L'OperaOpera Cake's Origins:

"L'Opera" is said to have made its grand debut in the early 1900s in Paris at the Exposition Culinaire. It was introduced by Louis Clichy, which is why the cake may be referred to as Gâteau Clichy. It wasn't until many years later, when Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau reintroduced the cake as "L'Opera," (after the Paris Grand Opera), that it became immortal. And really, as the Balduccis description says, "The name makes sense, as the cake is comprised of several layers, similar to 'acts' in an operatic presentation."
A note on the presentation: We feel as if we heard somewhere that only cakes that meet certain standards of preparation are marked as "Opera" on the top, however this might just be a daydream. Any thoughts?


Some Great Opera Cakes (made by other people):

We'll defer once more to Dorie Greenspan, who says, "The greatest Opera Cake is made at Dalloyau. There, executive pastry chef Pascal Niau makes a cake as sleek and smooth as an opera stage and as gloriously delicious as La Boheme is affectingly beautiful."

Sign, La BergamoteThough--alas--we haven't had the pleasure of tasting aforementioned Opera Cake, we do recall where we first were acquainted with the sweet. It was in Paris, at a pâtisserie in the the Saxe-Breteuil Market with a red awning, although we we cannot recall the name of this spot of sweet awakening.

Since then, we have sampled the opera cake at a few places stateside; here are a few that made an impression:


In New York, we were delighted by L'Opéra at Tisserie (857 Broadway; online at tisserie.com) which was rich, smooth, and layered in rich flavor, but we absolutely swooned over the version at La Bergamote (169 9th Ave b/t 19th St & 20th Sts; 212- 627-9010).

Opera Cakes at Ken's Artisan Bakery, Portland ORIn Portland, OR, one of our spies fell en amour with the Opera Cake at Ken's Artisan Bakery: it was somehow rich but not heavy, silky-smooth, and we loved the handwriting on top (hey, details matter!) -- (338 NW 21st St.; online at kensartisan.com).

In Seattle, our hearts belong to Belle Epicurean; their "Opera Slice" is made with almond Jaconde sponge cake, layered with espresso buttercream and Frangelico ganache--which is to say, it's nutty, rich, and completely decadent (1206 4th Ave.; online at belleepicurean.com).

In San Francisco, our spies have been wowed by the Opera Cake at Tartine. It's true, everyone loves this place, and with with good reason: their opera cake is chocolate-y, rich, and gorgeously smooth (600 Guerrero St. at 18th Street; online at tartinebakery.com).

Some Great Variations: If you love the idea of L'Opera but want to get creative, check out Opera Macarons here, and if you want to really drool, read about a Green Tea Opera Cake here, and try one out here!



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Reader Comments (55)


May 28 | Unregistered Commenterbonnie

You guys!I love your new creation. Fantastic post!

May 28 | Unregistered Commenterglamah16

Never heard of Opera cake until today.Your's must be the 6th Opera cake I saw within 7 hrs!
Each one of them looks gorgeous, chocolate Ganache layer is thick and yummy!Good job:))

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterAsha

Loved learning about one of my faves! This is one cake that is best in its traditional form, I think-yours looks great.

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterRicki

Dearest Cakespy, how I love your quirky take on all things sweet and airy!

Once again your post is a delight to read and I love your little Opera Cake Brunhilde picture! I have to find someone to buy that for!

That is a super cute painting Jessie! I have to tell you a little secret... I also prefer the traditional chocolate and coffee opera to any other!!!

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterAran

LOVE the diva!!! She's fantastic!!

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterEB

Ah, l'Opéra! I love it both in cake and music form. Your Opéra looks fabulous, as does that little cupcake Opera singer! :)

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterLyB

i heart cakespy!!! great job on your cake!

May 28 | Unregistered Commenterjennifer

I love it, send me a cake please!

I commend you on even thinking about making two of these. This one is fantastic in all its contrasting colors. I love the singer, she's just the freaking sweetest.

You do have spies everywhere. I had the one at Tisserie and it was very good, now i want to try la bergamote's version. Sounds yum!
I love your paintings!!

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterZen Chef

I'll confess that except for the cut scraps from my soon to be assembled light opera, I've never tasted one... certainly not the traditional. I'd love to have had a slice of yours... it looks luscious!

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterDolores

Sweet. The green tea version looks truly awesome!

Thank you thank you thank you!!!

It is so true to learn the rules before breaking. When you have a cake as classic and lovely as an Opera (or Clichy or Marjolaine) you can't reinterpret it. You must change the name.

Thanks to you, some people will have learned something new today besides another insipid lemon mousse torte.

May 28 | Unregistered Commenterporterhouse

i think everything should be eaten with the pinkies out. it's important for hand balance. :)

clearly, your cake is perfect in appearance and surely delicious. nice job!

May 29 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

Just charming, love your cake, writing and drawings. A treat, thanks.

May 29 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Yo're great! Loved the post and the cupcake diva is something else!

A naughty wonder as usual! Love the cake it looks gorgeous, love the info, I feel smarter already. Love the fat cuppie...she is just....divine :)


May 29 | Unregistered CommenterC.L.

Encore! Love the tidbits of info sprinkled among the pics. Great job!
Shari@http://www.whiskblog.com/" REL="nofollow">Whisk: a food blog

May 29 | Unregistered CommenterShari

Love it! I especially adore the mini Viking-ess. She sure adds a special touch to your already special creation.

May 29 | Unregistered Commentermarias23

Hi Jesse,

I never knew there was actually a cake called Opera Cake. Thanks for my "I learned something knew today."

Your post is just brimming with tempting delights. Where to I begin, I wonder...

May 29 | Unregistered Commenter~~Louise~~

Mmm... your cake looks delish! Love the painting as well :)

the tisserie version is delightful, but not as delightful as your drawing!

Adorable cupcake diva! Love that you broke the rules and made a chocolate cake. I would soo like a chunk of that:)

May 29 | Unregistered CommenterHalf Baked
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