A Light Opera Cake ala “The Mikado” for the Daring Bakers


This month the Daring Bakers’ Challenge is being hosted by our fearless leaders Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Veniceand Lis from La Mia Cucina– along with two members they’ve taken under their baker’s wings Fran from Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea from Whiskful to help co-host. This month’s challenge is dedicated to the lovely Barbara from Winos and Foodies who is an ongoing inspiration to all of the Daring Bakers. Check out everyone else’s creations here.


Of course I thought a Light Opera- well that’s got to be Gilbert and Sullivan and what better for inspiration than one of the most popular light operas ever staged: The Mikado? So, I made hazelnut joconde, brushed Amaretto syrup on it, slathered it with Morello Sour Cherry Conserve Buttercream and then Crème de Cacao and White Callebaut Chocolate Mousse- then I topped it all off with a Matcha (green tea) infused white chocolate glaze and cherry blossoms made of marshmallow fondant and chocolate branches. I’ve noted my changes to the recipe below that was given as the challenge in bold after the ingredient listed.


A Taste of Light: Opera Cake
This recipe is based on Opera Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.
For the joconde
(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
parchment paper
a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds hazelnuts (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.
2.Preheat the oven to 425F. (220C).
3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.
5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.
6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).
7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.
9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.
10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavoring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.) I used Amaretto liqueur.

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.
2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)
What you’ll need:

a small saucepan
a candy or instant-read thermometer
a bowl and a whisk attachment
rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavoring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.) (I added about 4 ounces of organic Morello Cherry Conserve.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225F (107C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255F (124C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.
3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.
4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).
6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.
7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.
8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.
9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate ganache/mousse(this step is optional please see Elements of an Opera Cake below)

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

a small saucepan
a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate I used Callebaut
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liqueur of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.) I used Crème de Cacao

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream) (I increased the cream by a couple of Tablespoons and added 1-1/2 teaspoons of Matcha powder)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opera Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavored syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.


What is Allowed:

If you are feeling up to the challenge, instead of a square or rectangular Opera Cake you can make a round Opera Cake or you can make Opera cupcakes. You can also use your joconde to make mini Opera Cakes. Go nuts!

You can use any flavoring you wish in the joconde, syrup, buttercream, ganache/mousse and glaze as long as it is a light flavor (vanilla, coconut, honey, banana, almond etc.).

If you are feeling daring, you can use fresh fruit in between your joconde layers.

If you have another version of buttercream that you would like to use, you may do so as long as it remains light in color and flavor. By light in color and flavor what we mean is light colors (yellow, white, ivory, cream) or light spring colors (blue, pink, green) but they should be light shades. NO DARK COLORS (black, brown, gray).

You can use only the buttercream to fill and top your cake (prior to the glaze) and omit the step of making the ganache/mousse.

If you do not like the white chocolate glaze, you are free to either leave the glaze out (although a traditional Opera Cake has a glaze) or you can use another glaze as long as it remains light in color or flavor (vanilla glaze, lemon glaze, etc.).

You may decorate the outside of your cake in whatever manner you wish (piping, fresh fruit, icing sugar, flowers, etc.).


Whatever dietary changes are required to meet needs based on allergies, dietary requirements, etc. (But this applies to you only if you have allergies or special dietary needs.)

What is Not Allowed:

ABSOLUTELY NO DARK COLORS OR FLAVORS: no chocolate, coffee, cocoa, etc.

While we realize the recipe is very long, please understand that we’ve endeavoured to include as full and complete a recipe as possible to help you with this challenge. And don’t be daunted by the length of this recipe, most of us that tested it were able to make it one day. Please remember that if you want a copy of the recipe in Word, just e-mail us!

Here is some additional information that will help you with this challenge:

The Elements of an Opera Cake:

Joconde: The base of an Opera Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).

Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup that can be flavoured to suit your tastes.

Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.

Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. While not hard to make, this makes the recipe quite involved. We are giving Daring Bakers the option of either using the buttercream to cover the final layer or, if they’re feeling up to it, to go ahead and make the ganache/mousse.

Glaze: The final step to an Opera Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.


I hope you enjoy it!


  1. Vic says:

    Hi, I’ve made this cake twice and spent about an hour searching for this recipe, so I could make it later this year. I just wanted to let you know how fond of it I am.

  2. Gabi says:

    Hello Jazz,
    Thank you for the comment and for asking to use the photo with a credit. I wish you every healing, good thing and I am honored for the cake to be inspirational to such an inspiration!

  3. Jazz says:

    Hi Gabi, I hope you don’t mind – I used your cake photo on my post today. I plan to bake your cake to celebrate making it to the 5th anniversary of my stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. The cake was so inspirational I just had to borrow the photo to post beneath a quote. I’ve captioned it with the title of your cake, your name, and this site.

    Please let me know if this is a problem and I’ll take it down immediately.


  4. Dusty says:

    You rock, Gabi! I check in every once in a while to see what incredible things you are up to. Amazing!

  5. Gabi says:

    I really will get to this- definitely this weekend- sorry I’m such a procrastinator!

  6. Lisa says:


    I was wondering how you made the flowers and branch. Everything looks great as a whole so I wanted to try to make the decorations as well! Can you send the resipes or steps? I am so excited about making this beautiful cake! Thanks!

  7. bridgett says:

    I’ve never seen a more gorgeous cake. I think the japanese blossoms are the winning touch. I am just in awe of your creation: the colors, the detail and the obvious skill and hard work that went into this. Just lovely!

  8. natalie says:

    WOW! that has got to be one of the most beautiful cakes i’ve ever seen!!! the cherry blossoms are fantastic!!

  9. Holly says:

    I think yours is my most favorite cake! So, so gorgeous! I can’t believe how crazy and busy this summer has been!

  10. Shari says:

    I absolutely adore your cherry blossoms on this Spring cake! Your combination of flavors sound amazing. Thanks for stopping by my blog – you made my day yesterday!!
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  11. Sandie (Inn Cuisine) says:

    Not that 65 people before me haven’t said this same thing, but this cake is phenomenal! So lovely, so exquisite and someday, when I have all the time in the world, I will try to emulate your fabulous work.

  12. Joanna says:

    Those cherry blossom decorations are so elegant. I love the way you presented your cake… very creative. I want to eat your cake right now! 😛

  13. Y says:

    THAT is such a beautiful cake! Love the flavours, the flowers on top. Beeyootiful!

  14. Tempered Woman says:

    Oh my gah! Your cake is so freaking beautiful. No joke, my jaw just dropped when I saw it. Unfreakinbelievable! Very clever. You should have just pushed the envelope right over with the green and used pistachios, heh

  15. Molly says:

    Your cake is certainly absolutely fabulous looking. It’s the kind of dessert you don’t want to eat, you just want to look at it. Thank you for giving details of what you did so we can attempt pieces of your fete.

  16. Maddy says:

    Wow…this is the most stunning opera cake of them all. How poetic the colors are and the flavors sound creative but very accessible still. Genius, seriously 🙂

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