Ten batches of macarons, two batches of cupcakes and two batches of sponge cakes later, I still haven’t come off the pastry-making high brought on by the month-long hiatus. What to make next? Then I remembered the congnac I asked for but never drank on the flight from the States. Of course, I’ll make an Opéra! It’s been ages since I’ve made an Opéra, mainly because it’s such an intense flavor that you almost need a grand occasion to make it, just like its namesake, the grand Paris Opera. But lately, I’ve been pining for some strong tasting desserts. Maybe because I have, in the large part, been disappointed by the dessert scene in Singapore, or maybe it’s because I haven’t done any dessert binging in such a long time that my body is sending me the signal to indulge. Either way, today is the day to make Opéra.
Although many believe that Dalloyau was the first to have come up with the recipe, known as L'Opéra, it was Louis Clichy who debuted this cake at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris with his own name emblazoned across the top. Regardless of who created it, the basic components of Opéra are joconde biscuit soaked in coffee and cognac flavored syrup, layered between coffee flavored butter cream and chocolate ganache. It is traditionally covered with pâte à glacer in a shiny mirror surface with simply the word Opéra written across. Sometimes it’s adorned with a few specks of gold leaves, but the overall effect is very minimalist. This is a cake that has enough flavors to speak for itself that no frivolous decoration is needed.
A good Opéra needs to be very low in height. Mine usually clocks in at just slightly more than 2.5cm with three layers of joconde. I also prefer to use a chocolate glacage to cover the surface in place of the pâte à glacer for who needs compound chocolate when you can have the real thing?
When I made my first Opéra, I made the mistake of not soaking the joconde with enough syrup. Since the joconde is rather dry by nature and neither butter cream nor ganache is rich in moisture either, if not properly syruped (hm, is that a word?) you’ll end up with a dry Opéra, which is still nice but doesn’t have nearly as much oomph as a properly syruped one. Although easy in theory, I kept on under-soaking my joconde because it is sometimes scary to brush so much syrup into one thin layer of cake. Then I had a piece of Opéra at Joel Robuchon’s Tokyo outlet, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. From the side the only light beige you see is that of the coffee buttercream. The joconde is completely soaked in coffee syrup that it blends in with the ganache. When you taste a piece it reminds you exactly of having an apertiff after a late night dinner followed by a square of bittersweet chocolate with a strong cup of coffee. This is what a real Opéra is supposed to taste like and I finally understood the importance of syruping.
From that day on I put into my Opéra (approximately 13cm x 21cm) almost 240ml of syrup. Yup, that’s right, that’s one whole cup soaked into three layers of joconde. Far from being sopping wet, it needs this much syrup to bring all the flavors together, trust me! So next time you make an Opéra, make sure to soak those joconde layers really well.