Classic French Opera Cake

French Opera Cake

The Spruce

Prep: 80 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Chill: 2 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 16 servings
Yield: 1 cake
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
632 Calories
47g Fat
43g Carbs
13g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 632
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 47g 60%
Saturated Fat 23g 116%
Cholesterol 177mg 59%
Sodium 245mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 16%
Dietary Fiber 6g 21%
Total Sugars 31g
Protein 13g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 106mg 8%
Iron 5mg 30%
Potassium 401mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

There is much debate as to who, exactly, invented the original opera cake recipe and where. Some culinary historians have set it as far back as the 1890s, while others put its creation at a Paris shop in the mid-20th century. Most opera cake enthusiasts agree that the best—to some, the only—place to buy opera cake is at Dalloyau, where it was named L'Opera in honor of the Paris Opera.

Whichever camp you fall into, the delicious taste of coffee and chocolate makes this opera cake recipe well worth the time investment. It includes a total of six layers made of light almond sponge cake (joconde in French), coffee buttercream, and dark chocolate ganache, and it's all topped with a chocolate glaze. If you'd like to give it an authentic finishing touch, pipe the word "opera" on top of each piece using any glaze you have leftover.

Do not be put off by the number of ingredients or steps. Read through the recipe at least twice so that you have a good understanding of the ingredients and processes that you'll need to use, then simply take your time. It may seem daunting, but you will be rewarded with the effort you put into this showstopping French dessert

Ingredients

For the Almond Cake:

  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 2 cups blanched, ground almonds

  • 2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

  • 6 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup (60 g) all-purpose flour

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the Coffee Buttercream:

  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso

  • 2 tablespoons boiled water

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 3 tablespoons water

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter

For the Dark Chocolate Ganache:

  • 1/2 cups whole milk

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

For the Chocolate Glaze:

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this dessert is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for baking.

Make the Almond Sponge Cake

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Opera Cake Recipe ingredients
     The Spruce
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line two 15-inch by 12-inch pans with parchment paper and brush the surface of the paper with butter. Set them aside for a moment.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  3. Using an electric beater, beat the egg whites on high until they become foamy and start to expand. Sprinkle in the sugar, one teaspoon at a time, until all of it is incorporated into the egg whites. Continue beating the meringue until it is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

    Opera Cake Recipe
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  4. In a separate bowl, beat the ground almonds, confectioners' sugar, and whole eggs on medium just until the mixture becomes light and foamy.

    Opera Cake Recipe
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  5. Gently stir the all-purpose flour into the almond batter.

    Opera Cake Recipe
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  6. Then, gently stir 1/4 of the almond batter into the whipped egg whites. Fold the remainder of the almond batter and the melted, cooled butter into the egg whites.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  7. Divide the sponge cake batter between the two prepared pans and bake the cakes for 5 minutes, until the surfaces spring back from a light touch.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  8. Cover the top surface of each cake with a fresh piece of parchment and carefully invert them onto a clean surface. Slowly peel back the old parchment from the cakes and allow the paper to rest loosely over the cakes to prevent them from drying out.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce

Make the Coffee Buttercream

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Opera Cake Recipe ingredients
     The Spruce
  2. Stir together the espresso powder and boiling water and set the mixture aside for a moment.

  3. In a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, bring 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons water, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to a boil. Continue cooking it until it reaches 255 F on a candy thermometer. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and egg yolk until they begin to get fluffy.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  5. Continue to beat the mixture and add the hot sugar syrup to the bowl in a smooth, steady, slow stream.

    Opera Cake Recipe
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  6. Once the syrup is incorporated, mix in the reserved coffee mixture.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  7. Continuing to beat on medium-high and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until it is fully incorporated into the buttercream. The coffee buttercream is complete once it turns thick and fluffy.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce

Make the Ganache

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Opera Cake Recipe Ganche ingredients
     The Spruce
  2. In a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, bring the milk and cream to a boil.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring the chocolate for 2 minutes, to ensure a completely smooth texture.

    Opera Cake Recipe
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  4. Stir in the butter and continue stirring the ganache for 90 seconds.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce

Assemble the Cake

  1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut one 10-inch by 10-inch square out of both layers of cake and place one on the baking sheet and the other off to the side. You should have two 12-inch by 5-inch rectangles left over. Cut them down to be 10-inch by 5-inch rectangles.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  2. Carefully spread 3/4 of the coffee buttercream over the surface of one cake. Lay the two 10-inch by 5-inch rectangles together to make one 10-inch by 10-inch square. Spread the ganache over another cake in a smooth layer. Place the last 10-inch by 10-inch square of cake over the ganache, and then spread it with a thin layer of the coffee buttercream.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  3. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 1 hour before glazing it.

Glaze the Cake

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Opera Cake Recipe glaze ingredients
     The Spruce
  2. Clarify the butter by boiling it and skimming off and discarding the solids.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce
  3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and stir in the clarified butter until the glaze is smooth; pour the chocolate glaze over the cake.

    Opera Cake Recipe
    The Spruce 
  4. Allow it to set in the refrigerator, then cut off the edges before serving. Enjoy.

    Opera Cake Recipe
     The Spruce

Raw Egg Warning

Consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs poses a risk of food-borne illness.

Tips

  • Making an opera cake can be spread out over two days. Prepare the cakes and buttercream the first day, then the ganache and glaze when you're ready to assemble.
  • The finished opera cake will keep for 1 day in the refrigerator. Make sure to keep it away from food with strong odors.

Can Opera Cake Be Frozen?

The assembled cake can be frozen for up to 1 month when wrapped tightly. If the cake is too large to consume at one time, cut it into smaller squares and freeze those individually. To thaw, keep it wrapped and place it in the fridge overnight.

What's the Difference Between Opera Cake and Tiramisù?

Tiramisù is an Italian dessert that is similar in flavor to opera cake. While it's also layered, there are distinct differences. Both desserts combine chocolate and espresso, though opera cake has more chocolate, and the ladyfingers that act as tiramisù's cake layer are soaked in brewed espresso. Additionally, tiramisù is not baked, and the cream layer uses mascarpone cheese.

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