Gateau l’opera

My last bake.

I can’t believe it.

I also can’t believe I only started this bake this morning. It feels like I’ve been baking for five days.

According to the bakebook:

The spiritual home of the most elegant of French cakes is the Dalloyau Pâtisserie in Paris. It’s the attention to detail as well as the exquisite taste that makes Opéra Cake so special. There is a lot of work involved, but the six elements can be prepared in advance and then assembled when you have everything at hand. The finished cake can be kept in the fridge for a day or so (the flavour will improve).

“A lot of work” is an understatement. Which is why I procrastinated this bake until the very, very end. This recipe is five pages long!

Also it’s my mom’s birthday this weekend and we’re celebrating tomorrow, so I said I’d make it gluten-free for her. But that’s tomorrow and this is today and I am tired and Walter is sick of me standing up so I’m sitting on the floor, Nick Kroll’s stand-up special is paused, and Walter is sitting on my lap slowly making my left leg fall asleep. He’s zonked out as I am writing this.

My final bake’s blog post.

This morning at about 9:30 a.m., I cut and measured three 25cmx25cm parchment squares. The recipe says to use parchment-lined foil, but I’m doing what I did with my previous bake and doing a bit o’ both.

I figured I’d cut the parchment square and then surround that with foil and make a little dish.

Guys, I took this very seriously. I measured. I double-checked my measurements, I brushed melted butter onto the insides of the foil. I am not messing around today.

Then I read ahead in the recipe and measured out all the eggs I’d need for this bake. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot.

First it’s 6 egg whites. Then it’s 6 whole eggs. And later on it’s 2 egg yolks.

In the egg whites, I’m told to put a “pinch” of cream of tartar. I did. But full disclosure: the cream of tartar is expired. But I was not about to go to the grocery store to buy a new box for a single pinch. I figured it was fine.

P.S. At second glance, I really hope that’s DAY/MONTH/YEAR and not YEAR/MONTH/DAY.

Okay so maybe I’m not taking it super seriously.

I put it in the stand mixer that never quite reaches the bottom of the bowl and got mixing.

I did that until it reached the “soft peak stage” before sprinkling on the caster sugar AKA granulated sugar.

Then I got mixing a little more and a little more after that to get “a stiff and glossy meringue.”

With that ready, I set it aside and put the six whole eggs into a bowl and sifted the icing sugar on top.

First of all, my regular sifter was in the dishwasher so I had to pull this one out of the back of the cupboard.

Second of all, I was about 100 grams short of the required amount of icing sugar and to avoid having to run to the grocery store I texted my neighbour and sister for a cup(ish) of sugar. Then I started mixing it with the mixer and reread the recipe only to realize I also needed to add the ground almonds. So I quickly threw those in and got mixing with my hand mixer.

Yes, you are correct, I still have a single whisk attachment because I still haven’t bought new attachments nor have I bought a new hand mixer.

I always forget until the moment I bake that I need a new hand mixer.

Note to self: Buy a hand mixer with two whisk attachments because it just wasn’t cutting it for these purposes. So I transferred the meringue to another bowl and transferred this mixture to the KitchenAid bowl.

This bake set a record of how many bowls I used, obviously that’s partly due to the complexity of the recipe and partly due to my own idiocy and lack of forethought.

With the stand mixer doing its thing to make the batter “very thick and massively increased in volume,” I prepped my other ingredients.

I sifted in the (gluten-free) flour, hoping that because it’s only 75g it won’t make much of a difference to the integrity of the bake.

Then I folded like an absolute pro.

Then I totally forgot about the butter.

In addition to my pet peeve about a lack of photos in bakebooks, my other pet peeve (I just realized today) is instructions that are in the ingredients list. I don’t look at the ingredients list and set everything out in ramekins as I go. I glance at the ingredients list to make sure I have everything I need (and that also means I sometimes neglect to realize how much I need, cough cough, the icing sugar). But then I rely on the steps to tell me what to do. If one of the ingredients is “butter, melted and cooled,” I would rather have that as the first step of the bake vs. the ingredient. Does this rant make sense? Is it just an overly wordy excuse for my lack of attention to detail when it comes to baking? Yes. Apparently yes.

I left the batter to quickly melt the butter and put it in the fridge until cool and then I poured it overtop and gently folded it in.

Then I grabbed a scrap of paper and a pencil and did some math.

I weighed a mixing bowl and jotted down the weight just in case, set the scale to zero, added the mixture to weigh it, divided that by three and then grabbed yet another bowl to measure out 350g for a single sponge.

I poured that into the first foil dish and popped it in the oven.

After five minutes, I rotated the sheet, cooked it for 4 1/2 minutes more and pulled it out of the oven.

Then, while still warm, I flipped it over on top of a baking sheet, took off the foil and the parchment and realized that I totally nailed it.

I did that two more times before washing some mixing bowls because I knew this wasn’t over.

I also can’t lie to you, readers. My third cake was not 350g of batter. It was 315. My math didn’t totally work out.

With the three sponges cooling in select spots in my kitchen (one was on the counter, one was balanced on the coffee maker, and one was cooling in the fridge), I got started on the coffee syrup.

Once again, I messed up. I was supposed to put the sugar, coffee and 125ml of water in a small pan, but instead I put the sugar, coffee, and brandy extract into a small pan (reading from the ingredients list) only to realize that water is also included in the step but not the ingredient list (what?), and that I was supposed to stir the brandy in later. But I think that’s if you want a boozy cake and since I’m using extract and not the real deal, I decided this mistake was passable.

I put it on the stove and set it on low heat.

With the sugar and coffee dissolved, I turned up the heat and set it to a boil before simmering it for a hot minute.

The recipe didn’t say “simmer it for a hot minute” it said “simmer it for a minute” but I feel like they missed a perfect opportunity there.

I should be a bakebook editor.

I then let that cool a little before transferring the coffee syrup appropriately into a coffee cup and washing the small pan.

(I washed my hands and dishes so much today that my hands are pruned and dried out.)

Onto the next step! The coffee buttercream.

The first step is to put the caster sugar and 4 tablespoons of cold water (again, why is water not in the ingredients list?) into a small, heavy-based pan and set over a low heat.

This was triggering for me.

If you’ve been with me since the beginning you’ll know how much I dislike caramel. I don’t want to say “hate” because that’s such a strong emotion and it has its place, but it is not an enjoyable thing to make and I’ve messed it up so often.

Also it takes forever for the sugar to dissolve and then it can turn on you in half a second. It’s a nightmare for an impatient baker.

After what felt like hours, the sugar finally dissolved and I could boil it to get to 125 degrees Celsius.

But my thermometer didn’t reach the bottom of the pan because it’s such a little amount of sugar and water, so I had to occasionally take it off the heat and tip it to check the temperature.

After what felt like several more hours, it finally reached the correct temperature, and by this point I had been trying to problem-solve something else.

While the syrup was boiling, I was told to put the egg yolks into a heatproof mixing bowl and whisk until frothy. But as I’ve discussed, my KitchenAid doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl, and it wasn’t frothing up the two pitiful egg yolks. Leaving the yolks in the KitchenAid bowl, I tried to grab the one-armed bandit of a hand mixer that I have but it didn’t reach the bottom of the bowl, so I had to tip the bowl to froth it up. But the recipe says to keep the mixer going as you add the hot syrup, but obviously I can’t do that with a tilted bowl and eventually I’d need to add butter that I thought would require a big bowl, so I frothed up the egg yolks with the tilted bowl and hand mixer, put it back in the stand mixer attachment, didn’t lock the bowl so it was a little higher up, and had the mixer running on high, audibly scraping the bottom of the bowl.

Maybe I need a new stand mixer too. This one was a hand-me-down.

With the mixer running, I ever so carefully added the hot syrup (not yet caramel) and watched as it sprayed around the bowl. But the recipe says to not run it down the side of the bowl, so I tried pouring it in the middle.

Then I let the mixer run, as instructed, for five minutes until the mixture was “very thick, pale and mousse-like.” I was also instructed to keep running the machine if the mixture was warm. I felt the bottom of the bowl and mixed it until the bowl felt room temperature.

Then I added the butter chunks.

I’m fairly certain there are easier ways to make buttercream. I also wish this bakebook told you which technique you were doing. Presumably this is some kind of special buttercream like Swiss or French or something. I’d feel smarter if I knew what technique I was messing up.

With the butter added in, I mixed it a little more because I have always struggled with buttercream.

I also kept it mixing because I made another error. Once again, I didn’t read the ingredients list properly and once again I realized too late in the game that I was to dissolve instant coffee with boiling water and give it enough time to cool.

I kind of did that, poured it in, mixed it up and transferred it to another bowl so I could clean the mixer bowl in case I needed it again.

I put that in the fridge to harden a bit and got started on the ganache.

I put chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl, not bothering to weigh it because the Ikea bars are 100g each.

Then I heated the double cream to “steaming hot” and poured it over.

I let it sit for a minute before stirring.

It was at this point I realized I probably didn’t heat the cream enough because the chocolate wasn’t melting. So I put it over a pan of boiling water and tried to soften it a little more.

With the chocolate melted, I added in the butter and mixed it up until smooth.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is nothing more beautifully satisfying than melted chocolate.

I put the ganache into the fridge to cool and harden as well, mixed the buttercream a little to make sure it was doing its thing, and it looked perfect so I took a wee break.

I had been on my feet for most of the morning by this point and Walter kept coming into the kitchen to pitifully stare at me, so I let him sit on me as I took my break.

But then I started to get antsy because I really just wanted to finish this thing.

I made him get up, put on my supportive slippers, and went back into the kitchen to chop up more chocolate.

I melted this chocolate for the under-glaze. I’m fairly certain I should probably be told to temper the chocolate considering what happened the time I was told to brush chocolate onto the bottom of a Florentine, but I just did as I was told and melted it over a pan of hot water.

Then I grabbed a wooden pastry brush I had in the back of my cupboard and got brushing.

The pictures showed a bristled brush rather than a silicone pastry brush, so I thought that would be better. It mostly worked, but I did have to pick out one bristle from the chocolate.

With that sufficiently covered, I popped it in the fridge to harden.

It took a while.

Then I took it out, flipped it over, and brushed the top side of that particular sponge with the coffee syrup.

This time I used the silicone brush.

Then I grabbed the buttercream. I had pulled it out of the fridge a little earlier but it was still quite hard so I tried mixing it with the mixer and then it got kind of weird. The texture seemed off and not as beautiful as when it first went in the fridge, so that was more than a little disappointing. But I powered through and softened it up enough to spread it in an even layer.

I used only three-quarters of it, as instructed, and topped it with another sponge, crust-side down.

Again, I brushed it with coffee syrup and let it sit a little to soak in.

I was too impatient to let it soak for the full 10 minutes, so I grabbed the ganache, which I had also taken out of the fridge, only to find that it was completely hardened.

Completely!

It was a rock. So I scooped it out into a heatproof bowl, and set it over a pan of hot water again to loosen it up.

It’s times like these that I miss a microwave.

I scooped it out all over the coffee-soaked sponge and used a palette knife to even it out.

Then I put the third sponge on top. Nearly there, folks.

More coffee syrup.

And then I tried to pay close attention to the instructions because I had to clarify butter.

I’ve never clarified butter before.

I put butter in a small pan and heated it up, scraped off the foam, and poured the clear butter into a bowl, leaving the milky residue in the pan.

I washed and dried the pan and poured the clear butter back in to reheat until bubbling.

To avoid the ganache fiasco, I made sure it was really bubbling before pouring it on most of the chopped chocolate.

And then I stirred and stirred and stirred.

Then I got impatient again, put it back on the heat, melted it a little more, and then added the last bit of chopped chocolate.

Then I had to work quickly. I assumed this was akin to a mirror glaze, so I didn’t want to mess it up. I poured it onto the cake as evenly as I could.

Using a palette knife, I made sure every bit of the top of that cake was covered, trusting the recipe to say the sides could be messy because they’d be cut.

It was at this moment that I realized I forgot the second layer of coffee buttercream.

I was supposed to do a very thin layer before covering it with the chocolate glaze, but obviously that was now impossible and I shrugged thinking this was an appropriate way to end this blog: with a massive mistake.

It’s layered. But it’s incorrectly layered. No one will know, but of course I’ll tell them. My mom will still say it’s great, even though it’s a technical fail.

Yet more proof that I can never be on the actual show. I’d be kicked out in the first week.

*a few hours later*

After letting it chill for a few hours, I took out a sharp knife, ran it under hot water and trimmed the edges.

And then I ate those edges.

It was so tasty and coffee-y. I had it with a cup of nut tea and devoured it. I could have let the sponges soak up a little more coffee but overall, I’d say this was a success.

*the next day*

I took the cake to my sister’s and used a hot knife to once again cut up slices.

Everyone agreed that it was a very decadent, delicious cake. I’m glad the pay-off was worth it because if I worked on this for a full day and then it tasted subpar and bland, I’d be upset.

But all in all, I think it was the perfect bake to end this five-year baking journey on.

I did my first bake of pecan shorties on September 5, 2017. I did 114 bakes in five years and nearly two months:

  • 20 biscuits and traybakes
  • 23 breads
  • 22 cakes
  • 17 sweet pastry and patisserie
  • 14 savoury bakes
  • 18 puddings and desserts

This recipe alone was 12 eggs and countless mixing bowls, so I can’t imagine how much flour, sugar, butter, milk and other baking ingredients I’ve used over the years.

I could go back and count everything up and end this blog impressively, however but alas I’m too tired and I want to close my laptop.

Goodbye, dear readers. If you’ve made it ’til the end, I congratulate you!

And I congratulate myself for actually finishing this massive book.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rolf says:

    Congratulations for making it all the way through. You have all reason to be very proud of yourself. Not only producing VERY yummy baking but also providing plenty of entertainment for your readers along the way.
    On behalf of all your readership… THANK YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. justcomma says:

      Thank you for your kind words!

      Like

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