Classic Opera Cake

This classic French cake is made with layers of almond sponge, potent coffee syrup, French buttercream, and chocolate ganache. It’s worthy of any special occasion.

Opera Cake

Ah, Opera Cake. This coffee lover’s dream-come-true is a six layer affair, stacked with three layers of almond sponge, soaked with espresso syrup and alternating layers of French buttercream and butter ganache. 

It has been described as ‘elaborate’ which is true. Its preparation calls for your time, patience, and a candy thermometer, but the end result is so worth the effort. It is one of my favorite cakes of all time, and it’s certainly one to try if you’re looking to hone your skills in patisserie. 

Opera Cake

A cake such as this deserves a brief explanation of its history, although it is slightly murky. Many claim that this cake dates back to1903, from pastry chef Louis Clichy who unveiled this cake at a Paris culinary exposition that year. He named it simply “Clichy Cake” with his surname penned in ganache across the top. 

Another French pastry shop, Dalloyau, popularized the cake (c.1955) and lays claim to it with a version called L’Opera, created in honor of the Paris opera. Also scribed on top in ganache is the word ‘opera’. Which sounds very Clichy-esque to me,  but as one article on the subject noted: ‘history is written by the victors’. 

So Opera Cake it is. 

Opera Cake

The foundation of this cake is Jaconde sponge, a classic French pastry element. I used the recipe from my own cookbook because I can trust it to be perfect every time. Each layer of sponge is soaked with espresso syrup, which is made using reconstituted espresso powder.

French buttercream is silky and luxurious, and it’s also flavored with the espresso powder. It is probably the most challenging part of the entire recipe, which requires the use of a candy thermometer and patience. Even so, this is not the most complicated cake I’ve ever made.

Opera Cake

Simple butter ganache (literally butter + chocolate) is its center layer and topping. It’s so lovely and sweet with the deliciously bitter coffee notes.

Opera Cake

I’ve been saving some fancy decorative molds for a special dessert, and this one just begged for fancy swags of laurel. You can find the mold I usedhere, which can be used for other mediums but is also food-safe (and marked as such on the package). 

I found that homemade chocolate modeling clay was the best (and tastiest!) medium to use with this mold. I tried casting just chocolate in the molds, but the design was intricate and the chocolate proved to be too delicate and shattered. The clay is more pliable and can bend a little without breaking upon removal.

Opera Cake

Just a little gold luster dust dry-brushed on the decors really made them pop, and accentuated all the finer details.

Opera Cake
Opera Cake

This cake is absolutely worth every minute of work dedicated to its creation. Its architecture is so thoughtfully planned that its flavors compliment each other in perfect harmony. This homemade version is every bit as good as something you’d find at a fancy patisserie or boutique bakery. 

If you’ve never made Opera Cake before, and you love learning patisserie, then you’ll want to make this cake to experience something special. 

Classic Opera Cake

Heather Baird
This classic French cake is made with layers of almond sponge, potent coffee syrup, French buttercream, and chocolate ganache. It's worthy of any special occasion.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 40 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine French
Servings 6

Equipment

  • Sorrento Laurels Mold for Decors

Ingredients
 
 

Jaconde Sponge

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 33 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter melted

Coffee Syrup

  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 5 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons brandy or cognac

French Coffee Buttercream

  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup unsalted butter cubed and softened

Chocolate Glaze and Topping

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 7 oz. semisweet chocolate chopped fine

Modeling Chocolate Decors

  • 10 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • luster dust gold

Instructions
 

Jaconde Sponge

  • Preheat the oven to 450F. Lightly grease a 17×11 jelly roll pan and line it with parchment; grease the paper (alternatively, use a Silpat and grease the mat).
  • Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, all-purpose flour, whole eggs, and egg yolk until combined. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  • In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites and fine sugar with an electric hand mixer until a thick, glossy meringue forms. Gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture. Add the melted butter and gently fold again, being careful not to deflate the batter. Pour into the prepared baking pan; spread evenly using an offset spatula. Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed in the center. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. The cake should pull away from the sides of the pan, but if it doesn’t, run a knife between the cake edge and the pan to loosen the sponge.
  • Invert the cake onto a wire rack and carefully peel away the parchment or silicone liner. Conservatively trim away the browned edges of the cake using a small sharp knife. Set aside to cool completely.

Coffee Syrup

  • Stir together the espresso powder and 1 tablespoon of the water. Stir until dissolved. Add the remaining water to a saucepan along with the granulated sugar. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the espresso and brandy or cognac. Let cool to room temperature.

French Coffee Buttercream

  • Stir together the espresso powder and 1 tablespoon water until the powder is dissolved. In a saucepan, bring the sugar and remaining water to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Clip a thermometer to the side of the pan and bring to a boil without stirring. Wash down any crystals that may form on the sides of the pan using a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Cook, and bring to 238°F (soft ball candy stage) and remove from the heat.
  • Beat egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the hot sugar syrup to the yolks in a slow fine stream (avoid getting the syrup on the sides of the bowl, aim for the middle). Add the dissolved espresso mixture and beat at high speed until completely cooled. The mixture may look liquid and not at all like buttercream. This is normal. When the mixing bowl is cool to the touch, switch to the paddle attachment and, with the mixer running, add butter pieces one at a time. The mixture may begin to look curdled – this is normal, keep going. When all of the butter has been added beat on high speed until the mixture comes together in a thick, creamy mass of silky buttercream. Cover and set aside.

Chocolate Glaze and Topping

  • In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter and 6 oz. of the chocolate together (reserve remaining 2 tablespoons/1 oz. of chopped chocolate), about 1 to 1 minute 30 seconds in a standard household microwave. Use a whisk to gently stir the mixture smooth. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate and whisk until melted. Let stand at room temperature until thickened to spreading consistency, or speed setting by refrigerating. Stir the mixture often if refrigerating.

Assemble the Cake

  • Cut the cake evenly into thirds (I recommend using a ruler). Place a layer on a serving plate and use a pastry brush to apply an even layer of the coffee syrup. Spread half of the French buttercream over the soaked sponge. Top with a second layer of sponge and brush it with the coffee syrup. Spread half of the chocolate glaze over the soaked sponge. Top with the remaining sponge cake and brush with coffee syrup. Add the remaining French buttercream and spread to the edges. Chill the cake until the buttercream is firm, about 30 minutes.
  • Reheat the remaining chocolate glaze in the microwave for about 15 seconds or until shiny and pourable but not hot. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake and spread evenly. Chill until firm.
  • When the cake is firmed, trim away the edges of the cake to neaten. Cut slices evenly into fingers (about 2 inches wide). Decorate as desired, gold laurel instructions follow.

Modeling Chocolate Decors

  • Heat the chocolate chips in the microwave at full power in a microwave-safe bowl at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly after each heating. When the chips are smooth, add the corn syrup and stir until the mixture becomes thick, the chocolate with lose its shiny appearance. Spread the mixture on a large piece of wax paper and top with a second sheet; gently roll flat with a rolling pin. Let stand until firm 1-2 hours.
  • Remove paper from the surface and knead the chocolate until pliable and puttylike. Press small pieces of the chocolate clay into the candy mold until overflowing. Use a knife to trim the excess chocolate away so that the chocolate in the mold is flat and even with the mold’s surface. Freeze for 10 minutes. Remove gently and let stand until room temperature. Repeat until you have as many laurels as you have cake pieces (about 5-6).
  • Dip a dry art brush into luster dust and gently brush over the high points of the decorative laurels. Add a dot of corn syrup to the backs of the laurels and attach to the tops of the opera cake slices. Refrigerate cake until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Notes

Adapted from Epicurious.com, the Sprinkle Bakes book, and other textbooks on classic French pastry.
Keyword french pastry, instant espresso powder, layer cake, opera cake, patisserie
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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basketpam
basketpam
2 months ago

When you separate this luxurious dessert in each individual portion its not all that complicated. I'm grateful for this recipe as one of the desserts one year of the The Great British Bake Off was Opera Cake. I think this may have been the first I heard of it. I really only have one question. I have looked and reread several times and for the life of me I can not figure out why it looks like you spread the buttercream over the silpat in the very first instructional photo. Am I missing something? Is there a step missing? For… Read more »

Heather Baird
Heather Baird
2 months ago
Reply to  basketpam

Hi Pam,
Thanks for your comment. The photo is the spreading of sponge cake batter over the silpat. It is pale. It can simply be poured in, but I prefer to spread it evenly using an offset spatula.

Paula
Paula
2 months ago

Hi Heather! I think I am going to attempt this soon. Question on the almond flour. My son brought home Gluten Free almond flour. Is this OK? Is all almond flour GF? I have not used this before, but I have used GF flour, so I really don't know. Thank you so much, and everything you do is art!

Heather Baird
Heather Baird
2 months ago
Reply to  Paula

Hi Paula,
Yes, almond flour in general is gluten-free. As long as it just has one ingredient: ground or pulverized almonds. It's perfectly fine to use in this recipe. Good luck with the cake!

Pam in CA
Pam in CA
2 months ago

Happy New Year, Heather! Opera cake has been on my ambitious-projects-to-attempt list forever. Your photos and instructions broken down by individual components are encouraging; I’m going to try making it for my birthday (in March) this year!

Heather Baird
Heather Baird
2 months ago
Reply to  Pam in CA

Hi Pam! I bet you'll do great with it. It would make a wonderful birthday cake, now that I think about it. Good luck with the cake! The feeling of crossing off a lofty baking project from the baking bucket list is very satisfying. I have a few on my list this year!

Paula
Paula
2 months ago

Hi Heather! Well, I have found my courage and am going to attempt this cake! 2 questions: I have a 17.25" x 11.25" pan, which my Silpat does fit into, but the edges are just the slightest bit up the sides. Will this pan be OK? And, are there any components of this cake that I can make ahead, or would you suggest that everything be made and completed the same day? Thank you.

Heather Baird
Heather Baird
2 months ago

Hi Paula! So happy to hear you're ready to dive in! Your pan will certainly work. If the sides look slightly misshapen because of the silpat edges, that won't matter. You can just trim that away. You can make just about everything ahead of time. The French buttercream can be made and stored airtight in the fridge. It will solidify, so you'll bring it to room temperature and re-whip it before applying to the cake. The coffee syrup can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. The ganache can also be made ahead and… Read more »

Paula
Paula
2 months ago

Heather!!!! I made it today! All components. My son helped a bit, but it's done. Wow, I really enjoyed this "challenge". Felt like I was taking part in The Great British Baking Show, only I used way more time then they would have allowed! Mine is not as pretty as yours on top. I love your chocolate molds. Totally gorgeous! Wish you could see the pictures I took. I will post to my Instagram and tag you! Thank you again for your help. You always answer questions and provide encouragement. One question: I had a good amount of coffee syrup… Read more »

Heather Baird
Heather Baird
2 months ago
Reply to  Paula

Hi Paula! I saw your pictures on Instagram – WOW! Awesome job. And thank you SO MUCH for sharing. I've been rooting for you, and your first attempt doesn't even look like a first attempt. You mastered it on the first try!

Paula
Paula
2 months ago

Hi Heather! I cannot tell you how complimented and wowed I am by your personal reply and that you are now following me on Instagram!! OMG! You are a celebrity and someone that I follow for inspiration. The fact that you take the time to personally reply, personally encourage, is huge. This cake, not sure about "mastering"..(you are adorable), was a personal challenge. To show myself, and my son, that attempt is success. Failure means attempt, and attempt is a victory. Without attempt, we have nothing. I can. He can. With your written and visual instructions, and replies, this was… Read more »