“Maison Kayser’s French Pastry Workshop” by Eric Kayser. Black Dog and Leventhal. $29.99.

My 15-year-old daughter Sophie likes a culinary challenge.

She asked for a kitchen torch for her birthday so she could more efficiently make crème brûlée. For a recent school bake sale she made éclairs, choux pastry and all. For family dinners, she’s prepared handmade ravioli and braciole, an Italian dish of rolled beef with cheese and herbs.

So I should not have been surprised when I asked Sophie to make one of the recipes in “Maison Kayser’s French Pastry Workshop,” and she chose a two-page, 20-step adventure that detailed how to make a classic French opera cake.

“I chose it because it was the hardest,” she said. “Go big or go home.”

Not that the other 70 or so recipes in the book looked easy. Author Eric Kayser is a master French baker, from a family of French bakers. His baking empire has grown over two decades to include 100 shops in 20 countries. The book is filled with recipes for choux pastries, meringue creations and luscious tarts, among others.

Most of the ingredients for the fancy-sounding opera cake were basic pantry items, but we could not find coffee extract at our local Hannaford, Shaw’s or Rosemont Market. So instead Sophie went online and found you could substitute one tablespoon of instant coffee dissolved in two teaspoons of warm water.

Another substitution Sophie made was ground coffee instead of 1 teaspoon of crushed coffee beans. We don’t use coffee beans at our house, and it’s not possible to buy one teaspoon of them. Though I found the two full pages of directions for the opera cake overwhelming, Sophie said the 20 step-by-step illustrations with the recipe were incredibly helpful to her.

This recipe for Opera Cake serves six to eight people. Photo by Massimo Ressina

Each step in the recipe refers to a numbered picture, and that picture shows you what you should be doing and what it should look like. Several of the more complex recipes in the book have this clever bake-by-picture system.

The recipe says there’s 80 minutes of prep and cooking time for the cake. But Sophie took several breaks and had to redo some steps, so it became an afternoon-long project on a recent Sunday.

The result was a very rich, delicious cake, with a wonderful creamy coffee flavor balancing the layers of dark chocolate. Sophie was very happy with the taste, but not satisfied with the look. Her version lacked the glossy shine of the one in the book, her layers were a little less defined, and her cake stuck a little to the cake pan.

During the process, she said she made mental notes on how to improve the cake’s appearance the next time she makes it. She said she’ll likely use a smaller cake tin to get more height in the layers. Our round cake pan was bigger than the size called for in the book, by about an inch or so. She said she’d also put parchment around the pan’s edges and pipe the buttercream, instead of spreading it, for more even distribution.

“I think it was the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in my entire life” said Sophie. “But I wish it had been a little more beautiful.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier

OPERA CAKE

Recipe from “Maison Kayser’s French Pastry Workshop” by Eric Kayser.

Preparation and cooking time is 80 minutes, plus refrigeration for two hours and overnight. A candy thermometer comes in handy to make the Italian meringue.

Serves 6 to 8

COFFEE SYRUP:

½ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp coffee extract

1 tsp instant coffee

LADYFINGERS SPONGE CAKE:

½ cup minus 2½ tsp all-purpose flour

3 large egg whites

½ cup granulated sugar

5 large egg yolks

ITALIAN MERINGUE:

¼ cup plus 2½ tsp granulated sugar

1 large egg white

COFFEE BUTTERCREAM:

3 tbsp plus 1 tsp whole milk

1 tsp coarsely crushed coffee beans

1 large egg yolk

1 tbsp plus 1¾ tsp granulated sugar

1 tsp instant coffee

1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 3 tbsp plus 1 tsp unsalted butter, room temperature

DARK CHOCOLATE GANACHE:

7½ oz premium couverture 62 percent cacao dark chocolate, in disks or evenly chopped

1 cup plus 2¾ tsp light whipping cream

¼ cup granulated sugar

¾ stick (6 tbsp) plus 2 tsp unsalted butter

GLAZE:

2½ oz premium couverture 62 percent cacao dark chocolate, in disks or evenly chopped

1 tbsp plus 2 tsp unsalted butter

DECORATION:

Chocolate-covered coffee beans and edible gold leaf

Make the coffee syrup. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, coffee extract, instant coffee, and 1/4 cup plus 21/2 tbsp water. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered.

Make the ladyfingers sponge cake. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper. Sift the flour. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks, adding the sugar a little at a time halfway through the beating time. Reduce the speed to low, and add the egg yolks. Beat until incorporated and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Carefully fold in the flour, just until incorporated. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared sheet pan (you will need three 7- or 8-inch layers to assemble the cake). Bake for 10 minutes.

 

Make the Italian meringue. In a small heavy saucepan, heat the sugar and 1 tbsp water over high heat to 250°F. If you do not have a candy thermometer, drop a small quantity of the hot sugar syrup into a bowl of cold water. It should form a ball and feel soft when pinched between your fingers. Meanwhile, using a hand-held mixer, begin beating the egg white on medium speed until soft peaks form. When the syrup reaches 250°F, pour it in a steady stream down the inside edge of the bowl with the egg white and continue beating until all of the syrup is incorporated and the egg white is stiff and glossy.

Make the coffee buttercream. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil and add the crushed coffee beans to infuse. Let cool, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolk and sugar. Reheat the infused milk, add the instant coffee, then whisk it into the egg mixture. Pour the combined mixture back into the saucepan and cook it over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until creamy. Beat in the cooked cream a little at a time until incorporated, then fold this mixture into the Italian meringue.

Make the dark chocolate ganache. Place the chocolate in a large bowl. In a saucepan, bring the cream and sugar to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until thoroughly combined. Add the butter pieces to the chocolate mixture. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth and the butter is incorporated.

Assemble the opera. Use a 7-inch or 8-inch round or square cake ring. Cut the sponge into three equal circles or squares using the cake ring (if necessary, you can assemble smaller pieces of the cake for the center layer). Place the cake ring on a serving plate and place one of the cake layers on the bottom. Using a pastry brush, brush the cake layer with coffee syrup. Evenly spread half of the chocolate ganache on top of the cake layer, then add a second cake layer on top and brush it with coffee syrup. Evenly spread the buttercream on top and smooth it out.

Place the last layer of cake on top and brush it with coffee syrup. Evenly spread the remaining ganache on top (leaving enough room at the top to accommodate the glaze). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Make the glaze. In a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, gently melt the chocolate with the butter (or place them in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute), then stir until completely melted. Let cool slightly, then carefully pour it on top of the cake.

For special occasions, you can decorate the cake with a piece of edible gold leaf in addition to the coffee beans. Refrigerate overnight. Remove the ring just before serving.

filed under: