Another month and another Daring Bakers Challenge. This month it was Opera Cake, selected by the founders of DB, Lis and Ivonne of La Mia Cucina and Cream Puffs in Venice respectively and Fran and Shea, two newer members of the group. I knew vaguely what Opera cake was when I read the recipe but I wasn't (and still am not) sure that I've ever had it. The twist to this month's challenge was that we couldn't use any of the traditional opera cake flavors. I will admit, I was the tiniest bit annoyed, since chocolate and mocha are two of my favorite dessert flavors but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is exactly why I signed up to DB in the first place- to force me to try new things and become a better baker.
The flavors for the cake had to be light, and since Opera cake is traditionally composed of several layers (cake, buttercream, ganache and glaze) I needed to come up with more than one 'light' flavor. Having already done lemon and berry for my first DB challenge I was stumped- until I remembered how much I liked green tea flavored sweets on my visit to Japan a few years ago. I wanted a slightly tart flavor to contrast with the green tea and had initially decided on apricot, which I thought would provide the tartness I was looking for while not being too dark in color.
Unfortunately, the grocery store did not want to cooperate on either account. No fresh or frozen apricots in sight and after spending a good 5 minutes staring at the tea section (black, red, oolong, decaf, berry, zen, weight loss, weight gain and green but all of the leaf in bag variety) I found a small box of individual packets of sweetened green tea, meant to be used in ice tea. At that point I couldn't even think of trying to figure out a new flavor combo while in the store so I tossed the tea into the cart and bought a bag of frozen raspberry while channeling Tim Gun and his "Make it work" mantra.
I got home and set to work on the cake itself. The joconde (sponge cake layer) was a first in many ways for me- the first cake I've made that based on nut flour, the first leavened only with egg whites and the first cake recipe that had absolutely no salt in it. I had hoped that with the addition of two green tea packets the joconde would turn out green and tea flavored but sadly it did not. That led me to attempt to flavor the buttercream with green tea. That worked out a bit better and the buttercream ended up a very pale green with a distinct green tea flavor. I decided to skip the ganache (since I really don't like white chocolate) and just make a glaze for the top out of pureed, strained raspberries and confectioners sugar. For some reason, I really thought that it would turn out a pale pink, not the dark red like it did (so I apologize for breaking the rule and having a dark color in my cake).
I brought the cake over to a friend's and cut it into little slices. The green tea flavor seemed to take people by surprise but went over well. The almond meal in the cake gave the finished Opera a slightly rough texture (I'm not sure if store bought almond meal would, but since I made mine in the blender it ended up a rather coarse texture) and the raspberry glaze was fresh, tart and delicious and (for me at least) prevent the cake from being overly sweet. Will I try to make Opera cake again? Yes, but probably with the traditional flavors next time. If you'd like to try your hand at Opera Cake, you can find the recipe at any of the blogs listed above.