I was excited to see that the May Daring Bakers Challenge was another cake. An Opera Cake, to be exact. I had never heard of it before.

So what is an Opéra Cake (OC)?

The classic Opera Cake is a work in six acts. There are three thin layers of almond cake, each soaked in a potent coffee syrup; a layer of espresso-flavored buttercream; one layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache; and a topping of chocolate glaze.

Although an OC is supposed to be made with coffee and chocolate, the challenge hosts specifically requested that no 'dark' elements be used in this challenge. Therefore, we were supposed to use 'light' flavors and colorings such as white chocolate, lemon, coconut, etc. I stuck with lemon mousse and coconut buttercream. Following are my notes from this challenge.

- I made the altered buttercream version given in the challenge recipe. Don't like it!!!! It is goopy. If I do it again, I will do the buttercream from the Party Perfect Cake instead. I think that's why some pictures of people's cakes have goopy looking filling.

- My joconde (the almond cake layers) came out of the pan with tattered edges, so I cut mine at 9 inches instead so I got better edges. It also meant I had a little left over to make a single serving taster. :-) Oh, and it also came out uneven. It's important to spread the batter as evenly as possible in the pan. One was thicker than the other because I obviously didn't split the batter in half accurately. You are supposed to soak the layers with espresso (traditionally). Here I used a coconut syrup.

-Because I disliked the buttercream I tried to spread it as thin as I could. I had not wanted to do the mousse because of the cost of this recipe, but decided to do it after I found out I hated the buttercream. This is why the picture hardly shows the icing between the layers.

- Others had said not to use white chocolate chips, which I had already bought. $$$$$ Between the cost of the chocolate and the cost of gas going around town trying to fine good quality white chocolate in a bar, this is one expensive recipe. Finally ended up using Ghiradelli Premier Baking Bars. But those are 4 oz, so I bought 3 and then just added a little less cream hoping that the consistency would be right.

The layers are as follows:
-mousse or ganache (optional)

Here I am putting on the mousse.

Overall assessment? First, expensive! Second, time consuming. But you can make the buttercream and the mousse a few days in advance. Taste? OK. I think my hatred of the buttercream was a big factor.

Basically I think I need to try this cake again the proper way - with chocolate! I'm sure it will be fabulous then. The white chocolate used in the glaze and mousse was alright, but the whole thing seemed to not have the real decadence I was expecting. I think the chocolate is an important factor here.

Challenge recipe:

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.)

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.)

(Update Note: The recipe for the buttercream that is listed below was originally based on the original but we had some typos. When testing the buttercream, we tested a modified version (we're crazy like that!!!) that had 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and 1¾ cups butter. Yes. That's right. 1¾ cups of butter. The eggs remained the same. We ended up with a very creamy buttercream. VERY. CREAMY. )

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•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 white chocolate ganache/mousse (this step is optional – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake below)

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

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 (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):

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.

Step B (if making the ganache/mousse):

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

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

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

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.
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I've actually been to Dad's Kitchen twice since it opened a month ago and have just neglected to blog it. Terrible, considering they are friends of mine and I want to help support their business.

My first visit was with my co-workers over lunch. We arrived and sat in the back patio area (actually I sat there both times). I love what they did with the patio. They cleaned it up and did a bunch of landscaping and now it is inviting and relaxing. There is the smell of fragrant jasmine in the air. Another nice touch/idea is that they have a bunch of board games available if you want to hang out for a while. And they do have a beer license.

Anyway, we sat down and took a look at the menu. Turns out they have three different menus, which I will get to. But we were there for lunch and so the lunch menu contained a smattering of the salads and sandwiches that are popular over at Dad's Deli. Certainly my favorite Hot Tuna (tuna melt) was here too. The only new lunch items that differed from the deli were burgers, fries, and macaroni and cheese. The burgers are made with Niman ranch beef and three of us ordered those. Hand packed and tasty. My favorite thing was the varieties of ways they are serving their french fries. You can get them plain, seasoned, or with garlic/parmesan or blue cheese/chili oil.

My buddy, Eric, is the head chef and when I later saw him I told him that the only suggestion I had for him was that he needed to add a couple of other new items to the lunch menu. For the office crowd that I lunch with, there needed to be a couple more entree choices. I suggested maybe a quesadilla or some wings.

As I said, I took a look at the other menus, of which I'll mention breakfast now. Their breakfast menu was pretty basic egg dishes including eggs benedict and florentine. Sadly I missed the griddle items such as french toast or pancakes. Before they had opened I had talked to Eric about that and he had mentioned a french toast, but I don't see it. Maybe after they've been going for a while.

My second visit was with my Dining Out group for dinner. The stand out entrees were a rib eye, fish of the day, and the marinated chicken. I was tempted by the grilled artichoke and cheese sandwich entree, but opted to try the marinated chicken. They say it marinates for a few days before they grill it. The half chicken was ordered by almost everyone and we all enjoyed it. It came with baked beans and cornbread. I wasn't too fond of the beans and they seemed a bit undercooked. The jalapeno cornbread was a huge square, but I don't care for cornbread. I'll let someone else judge that. Christina had the asian salad and was very happy with it and the light dressing. Currently they only have a dessert-of-the-day, which was bread pudding that night.

Service was great and I was happy to see that the restaurant was full on a Tuesday night. I've seen another review by a vegetarian who was happy with their offerings. A friend of mine had ordered the fish and said it was delicious and highly recommended it. So I know I have to go back to try some other items.

I'm wishing them luck and hoping that they will get their newbie kinks worked out and change the menu a bit as time goes on.

At the end of the month you will find out our May Daring Bakers Challenge. It was costly and one of the 'mistakes' I made was buying white chocolate chips which I later learned would not work. So what to do with bags of white chips? Make chocolate chocolate chip cookies.

So I looked in Dorie's book and found her Chocolate Chunker cookies. Another great recipe with my only complaint being - it only made 24 cookies! LOL. But they are very chocolatey and rich. You take them out of the oven when they are just cooked so that the centers are nice and gooey. Her recipe calls for adding raisins, but I don't like raisins so I left them out.

I am pretty picky about cookies. I like them fresh and rarely find a cookie that keeps well over several days. These cookies are still munchable a few days later! Love em!!!
This post has two titles for two very distinct reasons.

The story begins way back at my cake decorating classes where one of my classmates was Marie, a Filipina. We didn't talk much, but after class she saw on my blog that I was half Filipina (she hadn't even guessed) and that I grew up in Saudi Arabia. She then emailed me to tell me she'd be happy to feed me (food adoption!) and that she had lived in Saudi also. She, in fact, had met her husband there and he worked for ARAMCO. Wow! I'm an ARAMCO Brat! Small world! So she invited me over for dinner.

Marie has a very beautiful home and yards in South Sacramento. I met her husband, Brian, and daughter and some of her coworkers. And, happily, she had prepared a Filipino feast. There was barbecued pork skewers, lumpia, and pancit noodles. This is homemade Filipino food - the good stuff! There was also cassava cake, flan, and halo halo.

We all talked about life in Saudi. My family was there from 1970-1987. Brian was there in the mid 1990's. Brian was way out in the oil fields. Marie was a nurse at a hospital in Yanbu, an export point, and my dad worked at the Saudi headquarters in Dhahran. Three very different experiences there.

My mother's favorite dessert was a Filipino classic, halo halo. Basically it is shaved ice, milk (evaporated or coconut usually), and then a bunch of things like tapioca pearls, sweet beans, fruit, flan, and then topped with ice cream. It is as varied as the people who make it. Here Marie is making it with some of these ingredients...

The ingredients are layered like a parfait and then mixed up before eating. Here Marie has already mixed hers up, so it looks like a purple milkshake.

Marie was a wonderful host and sent me off with a bag of frozen lumpia and the promise of future invitations. I told her next time I want some cooking lessons. Until then, I have some lumpia to tide me over!