I watch a lot of cooking programmes. I mean, A LOT. I’d say approximately 80% of all TV I watch is food-based. I plan my weekends around Saturday Kitchen and Sunday Brunch. I have many a time been late because Nigella Express was on (Food Network is both the best and worst thing to have ever happened to Freeview). And I really don’t understand how River Cottage can always be on, yet I still haven’t seen the same episode twice.
Anyway, so I reckon I’m quite the food programme connoisseur! And in my infinite wisdom, I do declare that nothing compares to the Great British Bake Off. No other programme has you writhing behind a pillow as another cake gets stuck in its tin, or yelping in horror as a custard curdles before your eyes. And no other programme inspires in me quite the enthusiasm to get in the kitchen and BAKE! This week it was the striking Opéra cake that really caught my eye (though the Charlotte Royale was truly intriguing. It did look…bizarre… in fact, I’m quite tempted to make it for Halloween, in all its brain-like, shiny oddness. In case you didn’t watch the episode, this is what i’m talking about. The BBC says it’s ‘kitsch’. Which must be their way of saying ‘actually quite ugly’)
I did a hell of a lot of research into making this both gluten- and lactose-free, and while it is completely gluten-free I must admit I’m always totally stumped when it comes to replacing double cream. Replacing just whipped cream is easy, there’s things you can buy from vegan shops: soy, coconut, rice, etc. But replacing double cream to go in things like ganache is a whole ‘nother ball game, which I’m simply not adequate enough to play! So, alas, while there is no butter in this recipe and the sponge and buttercream components are both lactose- and gluten-free, the ganache and glaze are not 😦 But for you lucky non lactose-intolerant people, get stuck in!!
I put together the recipe from so many places it seems pointless to call it out really, but my main inspirations were the amazing Ed Kimber’s blog (reppin’ the Bake Off theme) here, and Martha Stewart’s recipe here. There’s a number of things I would change if I were to do it again, which I’ve listed at the bottom, I really recommend reading to the end and taking them into account if attempting this for yourself!
- 225g almond flour (ground almonds)
- 225g icing sugar
- 6 medium eggs
- 6 medium egg whites
- 70g gluten-free flour mix (I use Dove’s farm: link is here)
- 2 tbsp almond milk (not necessary if using normal flour)
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp stork (or unsalted butter), melted and cooled
- 120g dark chocolate (for the bottom layer)
- 120ml water
- 60g caster sugar
- 1.5 tbsp instant coffee powder (or a shot or two of proper coffee, if you’re so inclined. I went for instant, and it was juuuust fine. And I’m somewhat of a coffee snob)
- 2 tbsp instant coffee powder prepared in 15ml boiling water (or a couple of fresh brewed espresso, whateverrrr)
- 100g caster sugar
- 60ml water
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 200g stork (or unsalted butter if yer belly can take it)
- 120g dark chocolate
- 90ml double cream (sorrrryyyyy!)
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter (I figure since us poor lactose-fearing souls have to avoid this layer anyway it might as well be proper butter)
- 120g dark chocolate
- 180ml double cream
- 1 tbsp golden syrup
- Make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven). Line one 25x35cm and one 25x17cm rimmed baking sheet** with parchment paper and grease
- Sift the icing sugar into the almond flour and add in the whole eggs; beat together with an electric whisk on medium until light. Mix in the gluten-free flour and almond milk until just incorporated
- In a new bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add the granulated sugar, whisking until stiff, glossy peaks form
- Mix in the butter to the flour/egg mix, then carefully fold in the meringue with a rubber spatula or metal spoon
- Divide the mix between your baking sheets
- Give the bottom of the pan a good tap to get out some of the larger air bubbles that may be trapped
- Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch, then let cool completely in their trays before turning out.
- Coffee Syrup
- Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a small pan over a medium heat
- Stir in espresso powder/coffee shot
- Let cool
- Coffee Buttercream
- Place sugar, water and vanilla into a small saucepan over a medium heat and cook until the mixture reaches 240°C (softball stage), swirling every now and then (but don’t stir)
- While this is coming to temperature, whisk together the eggs until pale, fluffy, and expanded in volume
- Add the sugar syrup to the egg mixture slowly, whisking on slow
- Increase the speed to medium/high and whisk until the mixture comes to room temperature
- Add the butter a tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated***
- Add the coffee
- Chill, stirring every 5 minutes until spreading consistency
- Heat cream in a small pan over a medium heat until just simmering
- Pour over the chocolate, and let sit for about 30 seconds before stirring
- Add in the butter and stir until fully incorporated
- Let cool to spreading consistency
- Chocolate Glaze
- Heat the cream and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a medium heat until just simmering
- Pour over the chocolate, leave for 30s and then stir until completely mixed.
- Assembly Time!
- Once cakes are completely cool, cut the larger cake in half to match the size of the smaller one
- Melt the 120g dark chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave if you’re brave enough (I’m certainly not) and once cooled slightly, pour over one layer of cake, spreading out evenly
- Refrigerate until the chocolate is set
- Arrange onto a cake board with the chocolate at the bottom, and brush 1/3 of the coffee syrup liberally onto the cake
- Spread over the coffee buttercream, thickly and evenly, making sure you get right to the edge
- At this stage, I refrigerated the cake for 20 minutes to get the buttercream nice and set
- Place another layer of cake over the butter cream, pushing down slightly to get the cake and buttercream to adhere, and return to the fridge for 10 minutes or so
- Spread over another 1/3 of the coffee syrup, followed by the chocolate ganache, again thickly and evenly.
- Place the final layer of sponge over the top, apply some gentle pressure to get the cake to adhere and again refrigerate for a short time.
- Brush over the final 1/3 of coffee syrup, and let sit for a bit to absorb (in the fridge if necessary)
- Pour over the glaze, making sure it gets right to the edge of the top layer. Don’t worry if it spills down the sides, I’d place some parchment paper around the cake to catch it so as to make clearing up easier though!
- Return to the fridge until glaze is set.
- Trim the cake: using a hot serrated knife (dip the knife in boiling water, wipe clean then immediately use), cut around 1-2cm off each edge, wiping and reheating between cuts to give a nice clean finish
- Decorate as you wish using any leftover glaze (but keep it classy yo, this is an Opéra cake after all. Daaarling.)
Notes for next time:
* I would actually double the buttercream recipe and get another layer in there (see next point). I’ve seen quite a lot of cakes that have a second buttercream layer and I think they look awesome.
** These are simply the baking sheets I had to hand. I actually think that slightly thinner cakes would look just a little more elegant, so I’d try the mixture in two of the larger sized baking sheets (though maybe a little smaller than the one I used), and have 4 layers of sponge instead (see above note about buttercream)
***My buttercream split! I don’t know if it was the coffee, or the fact I used Stork instead of butter, but if this happens to you its easily saved – turn the electric whisk up to high and beat until it comes together then whack into the freezer, and whisk on high every 10 minutes. That did it for me! Basically the key is to cool the buttercream right down, and to beat the **** out of it.