Want to make a cake for a special occasion? This opera cake must be tried at least once. This beautifully layered cake has layers of pear and ginger syrup soaked joconde sponge, pear and ginger buttercream and dark chocolate ganache. And on top? Ginger poached miniature paradise pears!
Dear Reader I've always wanted to make an opera cake but with a caveat. You see I don't really like the taste of opera cakes. To me they're a bit bland, and a bit boring. That's why I gave mine a pear and ginger flavour.
What I also liked about this cake is that it could be made ahead of time and just assembled when you want it or you can keep it covered in the fridge and it will keep for a day or two. I made this cake for Mr NQN's sister Amaya's birthday. It fell on a very busy weekend. The Saturday before her birthday was Mochi's memorial service.
Mochi wasn't just my dog, she was my baby girl. And dog parents will understand the amazing bond between you and your dog. How they give you unconditional love and devotion. Humans are complicated but dogs are simple, they are pure love.
My friend Girl Next Door has recently become certified as a wedding and funeral celebrant and she kindly offered her services to us. I was so touched by this and a few weeks after she passed, 17 of Mochi's nearest and dearest gathered at my parent's home for a little farewell to my tiny girl. They were all the people that looked after her who all adored her as much as we did.
I wanted it to be as much a celebration of her life rather than a mournful event. At first we had plans of playing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" but that would have been too sad and Mochi also hated to see people sad. When my time comes, I want people to not be sad but to be happy because I loved life.
Our guests brought some lovely gifts. Anastasia and Ruslan put together a gorgeous photo book with some pictures that I had never seen before of Mochi. The Elliotts gave us a beautiful phalaenopsis orchid that we're going to try our hardest to keep alive (so far so good!). Ivy and Ryan brought a candle in one of my favourite scents and a big home grown pumpkin and it was just nice to have everyone around that loved her.
My favourite part was hearing everyone's favourite Mochi memories. Her bowl sat in front of the paintings of her and photos and we gave her some duck (her favourite food) and everyone brought a plate of food and we ate lunch afterward. I'm pretty sure Mochi was there eating all the food.
Girl Next Door also shared some pieces of wisdom gleaned from little Mochaloo:
Take time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures like a warm spot in the sun, walking through long grass or your Mum’s roast chicken.
Find comfort in the arms (and laps) of those who love us
Never give up – if you fall over, just pick yourself up and try again
Learn to trust your instincts
Don’t let the terrible things you've experienced define who you are
Even the smallest among us can be the bravest
And lastly, always find time for a nap
So tell me Dear Reader, what life advice do you relate to? Do you have any pieces of advice? Have you ever made an opera cake?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
Pear & Ginger Opera Cake
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 100 minutes plus chilling time
Cooking time: 30 minutes
For joconde cake layers
- 4 egg whites, room temperature
- 30g/1oz caster or superfine sugar
- 150g/5ozs. ground almonds
- 140g/4.9ozs. icing or powdered sugar
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 40g/1.4ozs. plain all purpose flour
- 40g/1.4ozs. melted butter or oil spray (for greasing)
For Pears and Syrup
- 1.5 cups water
- 1.5 cups white sugar
- 16 paradise pears, peeled
- 5 slices fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pear & Ginger Buttercream
- 100g/3.5ozs. egg whites
- 100g/3.5ozs. sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 100ml/3.5flozs. pear and ginger syrup from above
- 300g/10.6ozs. butter, room temperature
Dark chocolate Ganache
- 200g/7ozs. dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup cream
Tip: your fridge is your best friend when making this opera cake. I recommend clearing some shelves in your fridge for the cake to set when it comes to assembling this cake. You can also make parts of this cake ahead of time.
Step 1 - First make the joconde sponge. I had some cake tins that measured 25.4x10x2 cms or 10x4x0.75inches but you can also do this in a large swiss roll tin or two and then just measure and cut out same size rectangles. Line each tin with parchment on the base and sides and grease the bases too using melted butter or an oil spray (to help the cakes release better). Preheat oven to 220C/440F. Using a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then add the sugar and whisk until you get stiff peaks that don't move. Scoop out and set aside.
Step 2 - Switch to a paddle attachment. Sift the almond meal and icing sugar into the mixer bowl and beat with eggs until light and fluffy (around 3 minutes). Add flour and mix to combine. Then fold meringue in in 3-4 lots until the white streaks disappear. Divide among the prepared trays trying to make sure that they're around an even thickness (admittedly I didn't quite achieve this). Bake for 9 or so minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and springs back to the touch. Cool to room temperature. You can make these a day ahead and just cool and wrap.
Step 3 - Make the pears in syrup. Boil the water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pear, ginger and cardamom and simmer until the pears are cooked but not mushy-they will turn glossy. Remove the pears from the syrup and then reduce the syrup so that it becomes a bit thicker-it still needs to be brushable. Set aside both to cool completely. This too can be made a day or two ahead.
Step 4 - Make the buttercream. Heat the sugar, water and syrup together until the sugar has melted. Then bring the syrup up to a boil. When it gets to around 105C/221F then start whisking the egg whites on medium high speed until you get soft peaks. Once the syrup reaches 115C/240F then remove it from the heat and pour it in a steady stream while the eggs are whisking on medium high speed. Whisk for around 6 minutes or until the bowl is cool to the touch. Then add in the soft butter in chunks incorporating it well until it is thick and shiny. Cover and set aside.
Step 5 - Make the ganache. Heat the cream until almost boiling and then pour over the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate has melted and is completely smooth. You want this to thicken and to be spreadable so place it in the fridge to firm up if need be.
Brushing with pear syrup
Spreading with ganache
Smoothing the buttercream
Step 6 - Cake assembly: Take the layers of the sponge and brush them with the syrup. Spread the chocolate ganache on top at an even thickness and then place the layers in the fridge to set. Run a smoother over the top of the ganache to smooth it out. Then spread the buttercream over this and allow to set in the fridge and do the same with the smoother.
Step 7 - Stack the cake layers on top of each other and then trim the edges with a hot knife. Use a little buttercream to affix the pears on top. You can also pipe some buttercream rosettes and add some gold leaf if desired.