Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not the Aria, Yet

Remember my post about opera cake? The one in which I reminded myself that people go to school to learn to make cakes like that and then decided to bake one, anyway? I finally have an occasion to make one, coming up on Saturday. We are having our UMW general meeting and annual membership meeting, and Day’s End Circle (me and my posse) have to bring desserts.

I have already been heavily involved in the upcoming meeting in that I volunteered myself to find a speaker. I found a historical interpreter who has worked on bus tours for the riverboats that come down the Mississippi and who is charging us what I consider a modest sum to speak to us in character and demonstrate how women dressed in the 1800’s. Nonetheless, as there aren’t too many of us in circle, I felt like I needed to contribute a dessert as well, and what better time to tackle the opera cake? (Other than after I finish cooking school, the pastry division.)

To review: the cake consists of three layers of almond sponge cake, each brushed with espresso syrup, then filled with coffee buttercream alternating with chocolate ganache, and topped with more buttercream and a chocolate glaze. Altogether it uses almost a pound of butter and 14 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. 

So today I did the shopping and then made the items that can be made in advance: the espresso syrup, clarified butter for the chocolate glaze, the chocolate ganache, and the buttercream frosting.

The syrup, butter, and ganache were easy. I had never clarified butter before, but the ghee I buy at the Indian store is too salty for baking, and it wasn’t hard to do myself. Sugar syrup and ganache I have made before.

I’ve made buttercream frosting before, too, but this is not your standard cream-butter-and-confectioner’s-sugar-then-add-flavoring-and-milk frosting. No, this one starts out with boiling sugar, water and vanilla to 255 degrees Fahrenheit (the hard ball stage) then letting it cool slightly while beating one egg plus a yolk. However long slightly is, I seem to have exceeded it, because when it came time to pour the syrup in a slow stream into the beaten eggs, I soon found I was scraping up a powdery mixture and beating it into the eggs instead. Things didn’t look much more promising when I added the dissolved espresso powder. The next step was to beat in 14 tablespoons of room temperature butter, one tablespoon at a time. I think the room temperature they had in mind was a lot cooler than my house, because the butter was rapidly becoming soupy as I frantically cut and tossed.

I reminded myself of Backup Plan One: make a batch of ordinary vanilla buttercream frosting with espresso powder tossed in for flavoring. (Backup Plan Two was buying a can of some appropriate looking frosting at the Winn-Dixie.)

As I was watching the dismal failure congeal under the beaters something strange began to happen. Bits of pale, fluffy looking peaks began to appear in the unpromising mess. Pretty soon, half of the mess began looking like frosting, and then the whole thing looked glossy and held soft peaks.

It worked!

So tomorrow I need to grind two cups of blanched almonds, make two 15” x 10” sponge cakes (to be cut into two 10 x 10 inch squares plus two 5 by 10 inch squares which together become the middle layer), make the chocolate glaze, and assemble the whole thing.

Now, how hard can that be?

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