Opera Cake


Hello!!! Remember me? Yes, I haven't posted for like two weeks! Life got in the way and some of that was catching that ridiculous cold that's been going around. Work has been super busy, too, and a whole slew of other things. My last two weekends have been JAM packed, so I really didn't get a second to sit down in front of this computer and post anything! I actually started to post twice, then didn't have time to finish. Those posts will be for another day, I promise.

For today, I'm sharing with you this month's Daring Bakers challenge! It's the Opera Cake! I had never heard of an opera cake before this month, so it was a learning experience for me. If I had to quickly describe it, however, I would tell you that it's like a big, huge petit four (which I love!). Remember the ones that used to come in the Hickory Farms packs with the summer sausages and blocks of cheese? They were bite sized and SO good! Well, this cake was alot like those, but with parts that were very different.

One of those parts was the "cake" part of it, in this case called the joconde. It's a spongy cake made mostly of almonds, with just enough flour, sugar, egg whites, and butter to hold it together. I loved it because I'm a big almond fan. If you're not, well then I would probably turn and run away quickly.

This cake is put toghether in layers, some being cake and some being butter cream (homemade of course!). The top layer has more butter cream, then a white chocolate glaze is poured over top. On my opera cake, it's the pink outter coating.

Now if you've already gone and Googled "opera cake", you will see that it traditionally has the flavors of chocolate and coffee, but our challenge this month was to make more of a "spring-like" version of an opera cake, with pastel colors and "light" flavors. So, I chose to make mine for Mothers Day and made the syrup that soaks into the joconde with some fine orangecello. I used almond extract in the butter cream and then white chocolate and cream for the glaze. I died it pink in honor of Mothers Day.

How did it taste? I liked everything but the white chocolate glaze. It wasn't bad, but I'm not the biggest white chocolate fan. However, the butter cream, because the cake is chilled in the fridge before serving, was REALLY good and had an ice-cream-like flavor to it. The flavor was fairly rich, too, so I made sure to cut it into small square pieces so as to not overwhelm the guests dining on it. All in all, I liked the idea, but I will definitely make it the traditional way next time with the chocolate and coffee and I'll probably scale it down to little tiny petit four cakes so they're bite sized and easy to eat... oh and CUTE!!!

So here it is, the Opera Cake making process... in pictures:

Making the almond meal...


preparing the rest of the ingredients to make the joconde batter:







folding in the meringue to make the batter fluffy and light:


get the pans ready with buttered parchment paper:


Then pour the batter in and pop the pans into the oven to bake:


Here you see one joconde flipped over and cooling and the other one still in the pan and browned on top:


My yummy orangecello...


making the syrup that the lovely joconde will drink up...


now making the syrup that will be the base of the butter cream (adding real vanilla bean...)



Now on to the butter cream... (this is for you, Paula Deen!):




added some food dye to make it a light orange... i love how the colors swirl in before they mix together to form the real color:


Now on to the assembly of the cake...



this is the second layer...



third layer...



and now the white chocolate glaze...



ooh, i love this color...


Now, you're only supposed to glaze the top of this cake so the layers will show... but let me tell you something... that's easier said than done. Also, I thought it looked nicer totally covered in glaze and folks just had to wait until the dang thing was cut before they saw the layers. It's all good!


Then I decorated the top with some melted milk chocolate...



... and that's it! This was a challenge of a cake, but really not as difficult as I first thought after reading the recipe 1,000 times. It's a lot of little steps, but each step isn't so bad. If you're up for the challenge, the recipe is below.

Now, on to more important things... WHO'S EXCITED FOR THE OPENING OF "SEX AND THE CITY" THE MOVIE TOMORROW NIGHT!!??!!?? ME ME ME ME ME!!!! (You are now either cheering along with me in pure unbridled anticipation or you're rolling your eyes at me... )

I promise to stop back with another lovely recipe soon!

~ Tara "I'm a Carrie-Charlotte" the Foodie

A Taste of Light: Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.) R>
1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan R>•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Step A:

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.


Lasagna Supreme


(here's a version I made on 10/21/12 adding sauted kale to the cottage cheese layer)

I was over at Mark's parents' house and his mom had this 1950's cookbook. I can't remember what it was called, but it had a cute retro cover and some great recipes in it with equally great pictures. As I paged through this book, I noticed that it contained good old fashioned recipes, but done right. They weren't "made easy" or dumbed down to "5 ingredients or less" like many of the popular cookbooks snatched up by busy working moms and wives these days. No, this cookbook just had good-looking, probably good-tasting food in it and right smack in the middle of the book was this recipe: Lasagna Supreme. The picture looked delicious. It looked creamy, cheesy, and full of flavor.

Now, you're probably not shocked when I say that I rarely, if ever, make lasagna. It's just not something I normally make. That's like me making a roast or a casserole... I just don't gravitate towards those type of meals. Maybe they're too played out in my mind or they're just not challenging enough... maybe they're just not "Tara Recipes". :-) But after coming across this recipe for lasagna, I decided maybe it was time for me to find a good recipe for lasagna that I could tuck away in my recipe box and pull out maybe once a year and make a couple lasagnas - one to eat and one to freeze.

So I gave this recipe a shot, and you know what? It was AWESOME. The cottage cheese/egg/parmesan mixture was KEY. I believe I like cottage cheese in a lasagna more than ricotta. Yeah, I said it, you want some a this? haha... Hey, don't get me wrong; I LOVE ricotta cheese like any Italian man's girlfriend should... but in a lasagna, I'm reachin' for the cottage cheese. Got it?

So if you'd like to take the time to slap a few of these babies together and tuck them away in the freezer or deliver to your sick friend or serve to your mom on Mother's Day, then here's how you make it:

Start by boiling your lasagna noodles per the box instructions. I used Barilla.

Drain your lasagna noodles and drizzle a bit of olive oil on them so they don't stick together. Lay them out on a plate until you're ready to use them.

Brown your ground beef and italian sausage with onion and garlic, then drain.

I like my mushrooms browned when I cook them, so after removing the meat mixture from the pan, I added the mushrooms and seasoned them with dried basil and marjoram. I sauted them until lightly browned...

...then I added the meat mixture back in with the mushrooms and stirred everything together to distribute the basil and marjoram off of the mushrooms and into the rest of the ingredients.

I then poured in my own homemade pasta sauce that I made just a couple days before. I did this in place of adding the tomatoes and tomato paste.

Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

While that's simmering, beat two eggs...

...then add the cotage cheese, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Now it's time to layer. Since your glass dish has been greased, go ahead and lay the noodles down first. There was no need to put any sauce on the bottom of the dish - I promise. Next spread half the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles.

Cover the cottage cheese mixture with half of the meat mixture...

...then top with half the cheddar and mozzarella cheese.

Repeat the same layers again. The thing that I added to the recipe was to top it all off with another layer of noodles (strongly suggested by Mark), then a bit more pasta sauce on top just for moisture.

Pop the lasagnas in the oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

When the lasagna has about 5-8 minutes left, sprinkle a bit more cheese on top, then put it back in the oven to finish.

Remove the hot lasagnas from the oven and let them rest for at least 10 minutes before you attemp to cut into one of them.

Serve with some salad and crusty bread and you're all set! It was quite good and this will officially be my go-to recipe for lasagna every single time. Unless of course I'm making a crazy seafood lasagna, or something like that. :-)

Lasagna Supreme

Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings


8 ounces uncooked lasagna noodles
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1 can (4 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained
2 eggs
2 cups (16 ounces) cream-style cottage cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions; drain.
2. Cook meats, onion and garlic in large skillet over medium-high heat until meat is brown, stirring to separate meat. Drain fat.
3. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, basil and marjoram. Reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer 15 minutes, stirring often. Stir in mushrooms; set aside.
4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Beat eggs in large bowl; add cottage cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well.
5. Place half the noodles in bottom of greased 13X9-inch baking pan. Spread half the cottage cheese mixture over noodles, then half the meat mixture and half the Cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
6. Bake lasagna 40 to 45 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Tip: Lasagna can be assembled, covered and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. Bake, uncovered, in preheated 375°F oven 60 minutes or until bubbly.