When I look at the length of this post and think back on the experience that the making of this Paleo Opera Cake has been, the first thing that comes to mind is NEVER AGAIN!
For this cake demands SERIOUS time and efforts in the kitchen in order to come to life, and I do mean serious. We’re talking several hours of active prep work and even more hours of resting / cooling time. In fact, I don’t think that you could make this cake in one go, even if you wanted to. This is the kind of dessert that will have you spend a lot of time in the kitchen over the course of several days. And it might even have you curse a little bit from time to time, too.
But… just one bite from the finished product will have you forget aaaaaall about that time you spent slaving in the kitchen.
In case you’ve never tasted an Opera before, let me explain: this cake is pure bliss, pure heaven, pure perfection. We’re talking thin sheets of delicate Joconde almond cake drenched in sweet coffee syrup, topped with layers of melt-in-your-mouth coffee buttercream and silky smooth, intensely dark chocolate ganache. A luscious layer of semi-firm, dark chocolate glaze crowns this heavenly treat.
Honestly, Opera has got to be my ultimate favorite cake in the whole wide world, followed very closely by cheesecake. I’d already managed to create the perfect dairy free version of the latter, but I’d been putting off making the Paleo Opera because I knew just how much work it would be. I’m glad I finally worked up the courage to do it, though, ‘cuz honestly, it’s a masterpiece!
Okay, so like I said, this post is already super LOOOONG, and I’ve already talked way too much. I’ll now save my words to show you how to make the cake so you can judge for yourself just how crazy good it truly is.
One last thing, before we start: I couldn’t take pictures of all the steps, there would’ve been way too many, and some steps were also pretty hard to photograph, seeing as how I only have 2 hands, you know… so I tried to include the most relevant (or mouth watering) captures and I’ll explain the steps as best I can with words.
Ready? Let’s do this. For seriously, in the end, this cake might be a lot of work, but it’s so friggin’ totally worth it.
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
Grease a 13″ x 18″ rimmed baking sheet with ghee or coconut oil and then line it with a piece of parchment paper that fits snuggly inside it. Make sure that the parchment paper adheres evenly to the entire surface, especially around the edges.
Then, combine the almond flour, tapioca starch, coconut flour, salt, honey and 4 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until well combined; the batter will be rather thick and sticky at this point, as pictured above.
Add 4 more eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated between each addition, and then keep mixing on high speed for about 5 minutes, or until the batter gets slightly emulsified and much lighter in color. (pictured above)
Delicately fold in the melted ghee with a rubber spatula, transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Quickly wash the bowl of your stand mixer and switch to the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until the meringue becomes light and fluffy and stiff peaks form, about 4 to 5 minutes.
With a rubber spatula, delicately fold this meringue into the flour and egg mixture we previously reserved.
See how light and fluffy that batter is? Make sure you be very delicate with your folding so it remains that way. Keep folding until all the ingredients are well combined, no more.
With the help of an offset spatula, spread half of this batter as evenly as possible onto the reserved cookie sheet…
Bake your cake in the oven for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown.
Turn your cake over onto a cooling rack or clean tea towel as soon as it comes out of the oven but do not remove the parchment paper just yet.
Let the baking sheet cool for a minute or two, then line it with parchment paper again and spread the remaining cake batter on it. Bake and flip onto a cooling rack or towel like you did with the first cake.
-You could, if you wanted to, put these in the fridge and continue working on your cake the next day. Just leave the parchment paper on and wrap the cakes in a clean tea towel before to place them in the refrigerator.
Chop the cacao paste very, VERY finely and place it in a medium sized mixing bowl.
Bring the maple syrup, coconut milk, salt and scraped vanilla seeds to a slow simmer over medium heat. (You can also throw the empty pod in there to infuse more flavor; just make sure you don’t forget to remove it when you pour this over your chocolate).
As soon as the creamy mixture starts to simmer, pour it over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes, undisturbed, to allow the chocolate to melt.
Stir very delicately with a whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache becomes smooth. Add the melted ghee and stir again very delicately until just combined, no more. Do not over stir, as ganache tends to separate when prepared with coconut milk. If that should happen, just give it a quick stir with a stick blender; it’ll become super smooth and silky again.
Let your ganache rest and thicken until it gets to a consistency similar to that of soft cream cheese. This could take up to a couple of hours, depending on the ambient temperature.
While that ganache is resting, let’s get working on the buttercream.
Add the egg whites to the bowl of your stand mixer equipped with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for about 2 to 3 minutes, just to incorporate a little bit of air into them.
Meanwhile, bring the maple syrup to a boil over high heat and allow it to boil vigorously until it reaches 250°F (120°C) on a candy thermometer, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Start the egg whites on high and while the motor is running, pour the hot maple syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream, being careful not to hit the beater with that syrup.
Now I tried to capture this process, but I haven’t had much success… as you can (maybe) see, I’ve got the saucepan resting right on the edge of the bowl and am allowing the syrup to go down right between the beater and the bowl. You don’t want the sugar to hit the beater, as it would send hot syrup flying all over the place and create a real big mess; but you don’t want it too close to the bowl either because then, it’ll instantly stick and harden against the coldness of the bowl and won’t get incorporated into the whites. So aim right between. It’s not that complicated, you’ll see.
Once all the syrup has been incorporated, continue beating on high for 2 more minutes, then lower the speed to medium-high and continue whisking until the meringue completely cools down, about 10 to 12 minutes.
This is what your meringue should look like when it’s completely fluffed up and cooled down.
Now lower the speed to medium and, with the motor is still running, add the ghee and lard to the meringue, about a quarter of a cup at a time, allowing it to fully incorporate between each addition. Once all the fat has been added, crank up the speed to high and let the buttercream fluff up and tighten for about 2 minutes. In the meantime, dilute the instant coffee powder in the boiling water.
Lower the speed once again and add the coffee extract you just made to the buttercream, about a teaspoon at a time, then mix on high speed one final time for about 30 seconds.
Your buttercream is now ready to use, but if you find it to be a little bit too soft, you can chill it for 10 to 15 minutes and then give it a good whip to make it pliable again.
Now, if you chilled it for too long, it may become too firm and tend to separate when you try to fluff it up again. If that happened to you, don’t fret. Simply heat your buttercream slightly by placing the bowl VERY BRIEFLY over a double boiler, and then give it a good whisk on medium to high speed. If it’s still not soft enough, return the bowl to the double boiler for a few more seconds and then try whisking it again. Repeat as many times as necessary, but always keep the double boiler sessions very brief. You wouldn’t want that buttercream to melt, ‘cuz then you’d have to chill it again and start over.
And THAT may very well cause you to curse a little bit…
Alright, so we now have cake, ganache and buttercream. We need coffee syrup. That one’s easy (thank goodness!) To make it, bring the maple syrup and water to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the instant coffee powder and let this syrup simmer for a minute; kill the heat and set aside.
And now we have everything we need to start assembling this baby!
Grab one of the cake sheets and remove the parchment paper that covers it. Cut the cake exactly in half crosswise (yes, go get that ruler, don’t you go try and guesstimate this. Measure!) and place one of the halves on a large cake board or inverted cookie sheet.
Brush the cake generously with the coffee syrup over its entire surface.
Don’t be afraid to go liberally with the syrup; the cake will soak it all up and will be that much moister as a result. Do make sure you have enough for all 4 cakes, though…
Now mound about half of the coffee buttercream right in the center of the cake…
…and spread it thinly and evenly, all the way to the edge.
Yes, that layer will be thin and you may feel like it won’t be enough, but trust me, it will. This cake is seriously rich, you’ll see. A little goes a long way!
Place the other half of the cake over this first layer and again, brush generously with the coffee syrup. Then, mound about 2/3 of the ganache right in the center of the cake and spread evenly all the way to the edge.
If your ganache has gotten too thick to spread, use the same double boiler technique as the one described for the buttercream to make it soft and pliable again.
Repeat the process with the other cake sheet; remove the parchment paper, cut in half crosswise, add one of the halves over the 2 layers already in place, brush with coffee syrup, spread the rest of the buttercream and then add the final layer, topped with the rest of the ganache.
Oh, you might want to save a couple of tablespoons of both the buttercream and ganache to decorate the cake later…
Smooth the top of that final layer as best as you possibly can and then send your cake to the fridge to firm up and chill all the way through, at least 2 hours, but preferably 4 to 6 hours.
Phew. Told you this cake was a lot of work didn’t I? But we have finally reached what is the final step in the elaboration of this classic masterpiece.
Melt the cacao paste with the macadamia oil in the microwave in 30 second intervals and stir well for an equal amount of time between each session until it’s completely melted. About 3 to 4 sessions should do the trick. Don’t go overboard with this because you don’t want the chocolate to become real hot or worse, burn. In fact, your chocolate should barely feel warm when it’s done melting.
When the chocolate is fully melted, add the maple syrup and pinch of salt and stir delicately until smooth.
Pour that chocolate glaze slowly right in the center of your cake and then spread it all the way to the edge.
Don’t worry if it goes over a little bit, you’ll be cutting that out later. However, try to make that top as smooth and straight as possible. Every little defect will show once the chocolate sets.
You can gently tap your cake a few times against the table if you want, to help get rid of any potential defects and/or air bubbles.
Send the cake back to the fridge until completely set, ideally about an hour.
Take the cake out of the fridge and carefully trim out the edges with a long serrated knife.
Transfer your cake to a clean cake board and decorate the top with the reserved ganache and buttercream.
Finally, you’re all done. But you know what? You can’t even enjoy your cake just yet… told you this baby would test your patience!
To be truly enjoyed at its best, Opera cake needs to sit at room temperature for at least 3 to 4 hours prior to serving. If you were to serve it cold, the ganache and buttercream would be way too firm and would not turn into this rich, soft and velvety morsel upon contact with your tongue, the way they’re supposed to.
Think of it this way. You wouldn’t dream of serving ice cream at room temperature, now would you? Same goes for Opera cake. You just CAN’T serve it cold.
Trust me. It’s taken you this long to make it, you’ve worked this hard to get this cake on your table… give it just a few more hours.
It’ll be totally worth the wait, I swear.