Since coming back from my trip everything has been a bit too manic. Grotty real life has taken the place of daily yoga, sun ripened fruit and time just to think. I've found it really hard to get back into the swing of 12* hour days at work and, as such, I nearly forgot about the impending Daring Bakers' challenge. I realised late last Thursday that there was an opera cake to bake and I hadn't reserved any time to do it. Would it be curtains for the challenge? (sorry sorry). I was heading back to Yorkshire for the bank holiday weekend so I decided that I would pack my sugar thermometer, Swiss roll tin and take the challenge on location.
I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about tackling this recipe. When it comes to crafting beautiful French patisserie my versions are generally more Dover than gay Paris. What's more I had the added fear of cooking in someone else's kitchen. My Dad's wife is absolutely lovely but she is a real neat freak. I, when I cook, am not. Yes I tidy up at the end of the process, but while I'm sifting, stirring and sweating there can be a little chaos. Fellow Daring Bakers warned that this task was all about calm organisation and with none of my own equipment around me and my step-mum's ever ready sponge looming I felt the pressure. Luckily my Dad was on hand to help me clear up which he did in his own special way (licking the bowl when he thought I wasn't looking).
An opera cake is an elegant desert comprising of light sponge layers (made with whipped egg whites), moistened with syrup, sandwiched with flavoured buttercream and topped with a light glaze. Our task, set by founders Lisa and Ivonne together with newcomers Fran and Shea, stipulated that we could add our own flavours as long as they were light in colour. Given that I brought back so much rum from Cuba, I decided to go with a rum and raisin combination. This classic flavour combination worked perfectly. The sponge absorbed the sweetened rum syrup and the alcohol soaked raisins nestled sweetly in the buttercream.
Out of the whole recipe, I found the buttercream the most hassle to make. The sugar syrup was heated to 225 degrees and then added to the egg mixture. As the hot syrup met the eggs I ended up with quite a few crystallised pieces of toffee. Clearly this was not supposed to happen, but the butterscotchy pieces actually added to the flavour of the icing. When it came to assembling the cake I don't think I took the necessary care. It was slightly on the wonk. In fact, if Disney started dabbling in opera, my cake would be 'Beauty and the Beast. Like the hairy monster my cake was a little scary to look at but inside it was good and oh so sweet.I would like to try the light sponge cake as a standard Swiss roll filled with fruit and cream as its delicate flavour and reasonably hip-friendly ingredients make it a real find. I think I would tackle the opera cake again but I would allow myself a less stressful setting in which to craft it. It would make a fabulously special birthday cake and it was very popular with my tasters (kitchen use paid for in cake seems fair!). I would definitely recommend trying it with the rum and raisin theme (rum in my tum = yum). If you fancy conducting your own Opera Cake experiment, the recipe is available here.
To see the other creations go and look at the delicious results here. Many of these dazzling cakes have been made in honour of Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation. Well done everybody.
* Make that 18 hours. It's 2am and I've only just got home from the office. Booooooo.