Singing The Praises of Opera Torte

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on August 16, 2011

If you have never had opera torte, I encourage you to find a great European bakery and try it…just once. This is one of my absolute favorite desserts and for good reason. It is usually a square or rectangular shaped cake made of many layers of a sponge cake called jaconde (pronounced ja-kond). The jaconde are super thin cake layers made with almond flour (otherwise known as almond meal). Each layer is filled alternately with mocha buttercream and a rich and delicate chocolate ganache cream. The cake itself does not have a very pronounced almond flavor, so when I make it at home, I prefer to use almond paste.  I just love the combination of almond, coffee and chocolate together…it is so very addictive.

I use the same recipe for the cake layers that I use to make the famous rainbow cookies that are sold in traditional Italian markets in New York. Instead of baking the batter in a regular cake pan, I bake it in 3 parchment lined half sheet trays which are easy to handle once chilled or frozen. You can bake the batter in a cake pan if you want to, but the great thing about doing it this way is that you don’t have to slice the cake into layers…the mere thought of having to do this sends some people into convulsions.

Since this recipe makes 3 half sheet pans, you can use all 3 layers to make a large half sheet cake or do what I do…use one layer and cut into 3 slices, then layer on the chocolate and buttercream and simply freeze the rest for another time. Once stacked, this single layer cut into 3 pieces will serve 8 nice rectangular wedges of cake.

Simple Syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup water

Add the water and sugar together in a small pot heat until it comes to a boil, then shut off the heat and allow the syrup to cool completely before using.

Mocha Buttercream

½ cup egg whites (plus pinch of salt)

6 oz granulated sugar

¼ cup water

3 oz corn syrup

8 oz unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened

2 tablespoons of coffee extract or dissolve 1 tablespoon instant coffee with 1 teaspoon warm water.

**For complete step by step directions on how to make the buttercream, check out my instructional link for Italian meringue. Once you have made the meringue add the softened butter and continue to beat until the mixture resembles whipped cream. Lastly, add the coffee extract and combine it all well together.

Almond Cake

1 pound of butter, softened

1 pound of sugar

1 pound 4 oz almond paste

1 pound 4 oz whole eggs

8 oz cake flour, sifted

Cut the almond paste into small pieces and add this to the bowl of your stand mixer along with the sugar. Using your paddle attachment, allow them to combine well together until it resembles a coarse meal. Next add your softened butter and mix for about 5 minutes or so until light and fluffy. Next add the eggs one at a time until all are well incorporated then slowly add in the cake flour until you have a uniform batter. Spray and line 3 half sheet pans and evenly distribute all of the batter between these 3 pans.

Bake each sheet pan at 350°F for approximately 12-15 minutes until golden brown, do not over bake or the layers will dry out.

Allow the layers to cool completely before layering with the fillings. You can even freeze them and it will make the assembly of the layers much easier for you to handle. If you are putting together all 3 half sheet layers then turn a half sheet pan upside down and place a piece of parchment paper on the pan. Invert one layer of the cake onto the parchment lined bottom of the sheet pan.  Generously brush on the simple syrup and using an offset spatula, add a thin layer of chocolate ganache all over the cake layer.  Add the next cake layer on top of this and brush on more simple syrup. Next, using your offset spatula, add a thin layer of the mocha buttercream. Lastly, top with the final cake layer and again, generously brush on the simple syrup.  Put another piece of parchment on top of this final cake layer and then top the entire cake with another sheet pan. Weigh this down with something heavy and put in the refrigerator to set for about an hour. Once chilled, move this to your serving platter or cake board. Spread ganache on the top and with the use of a pastry comb make a decorative design in the chocolate. Return this to the refrigerator to chill again for about 15 minutes. Once completely chilled trim all of the edges and serve as a large cake or cut into rectangular wedges. Decorate the top with additional buttercream and chocolate coffee beans.

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