ground almonds

French Opera torta and Italian Opera balls in tomato sauce

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Opera Cake is a type of French cake. It is said to have made its “grand debut” in the early 1900s in Paris at the Exposition Culinaire. It was introduced by Louis Clichy, which is why the cake may be referred to as Gâteau Clichy. However it wasn’t until many years later, when Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau reintroduced the cake as “L’Opera,” (after the Paris Grand Opera), that it became immortal. And really, as the Balduccis description says, “The name makes sense, as the cake is comprised of several layers, similar to ‘acts’ in an operatic presentation.

It is a very demanding cake to make with layers of almond sponge cake (known as Joconde in French as well). According to Larousse Gastronomique “Opéra gateau is an elaborate almond sponge cake with a coffee and chocolate filling and icing.” The cake was popularized by the French pâtisserie house Dalloyau.

Viennois Cake

  • 2 large eggs, separated and at room temperature, 1 large whole egg, at room temperature, 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar, 2/3 cup ground almonds, 6 tablespoons cake and pastry flour, sifted

Ganache Layer & Glaze

  • 1 cup whipping cream, 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, 2 ounces coating chocolate OR chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Coffee Butter cream

  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature , 2 Tbsp + 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, 1 tablespoon coffee extract (or 1 Tbsp very strongly brewed espresso, cooled), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Coffee Syrup & Assembly

  • 1/2 cup hot coffee, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 1/2 ounces coating chocolate, melted, 6 chocolate covered coffee beans


Preheat the oven to 400 F and line an 11-x-17-inch sheet pan with parchment paper.

Whip the 2 egg yolks and the whole egg with the ¼ cup of sugar until it is thick, pale and holds a ribbon when the beaters are lifted. In a separate bowl, stir the ground almonds and flour together.

In another bowl, whip the 2 egg whites until foamy, then slowly add the remaining 2 Tbsp of sugar, whipping until they hold a soft peak when the beaters are lifted. Fold the whipped whites into the yolks in 2 additions, then fold in the almond mixture. Spread this evenly over the prepared sheet pan, ensuring that the batter is as level as possible (the batter will only make a thin layer). Bake the cake for about 8 minutes, until golden brown and allow to cool. Once cooled the cake make dry a bit – that is expected.

For the ganache, heat the cream until it just begins to simmer and then pour this over the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate. Let this sit a minute, then gently stir with a spatula starting at the centre and widening the circles until the chocolate has fully melted and the ganache is smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

For the butter cream, place the egg whites in a bowl and whip with the 2 Tbsp of sugar until just past foamy. Place the remaining ½ cup of sugar in a small pot with 2 Tbsp of water and bring to a full boil over high heat, boiling until the sugar hits 240 F on a candy thermometer. With the mixer on medium speed, carefully add the hot sugar to the whipped whites by pouring it down the side of the bowl (this helps to avoid splashing), then increase the speed and whip until the whites have cooled to room temperature, about 4 minutes. While beating, add the butter a few pieces at a time until combined. While adding the butter, if it appears that the butter cream is not fluffy, or seems curdled, not to worry – simply keep adding the butter, continue to beat and it will come together. There is no risk of overbeating. Add the coffee extract (or espresso) and the vanilla and use at room temperature.

For the coffee syrup, stir the coffee and sugar together until the sugar dissolves.

For the assembly, remove the sheet of cake and cut into three rectangles (about 6-x-11-inches). Brush the bottom of one of the layers with the melted coating chocolate and let this set until firm (or chill 3 minutes). Place this layer, chocolate-side down onto a flat cake board or platter. Brush the layer with coffee syrup then spread half of the butter cream on top. Top this with a second cake layer, brush it with syrup and now spread two thirds of the cooled (but still spreadable) ganache layer over the cake. Place the final cake layer over the ganache, brush it with syrup and spread the remaining half of the butter cream on top (or you can save about 1/4 cup for garnish).

For the ganache glaze, re-warm the remaining one third of the ganache, adding the coating chocolate and vegetable oil, stirring until smooth. Spread this over the top of the cake (but not the sides), and chill until set, about 2 hours.

Before serving, trim the sides away to reveal clean layers then slice into 6 rectangle portions (a hot, dry knife makes this easy). If you wish, pipe a little coffee buttercream on top of each and place a coffee bean on top.

Opera meat balls in tomato sauce with baguetteimagesCAZYSJBH

This dish is a much easier to make.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup, (60ml) olive oil, 1 onion, finely chopped, 1 cup (250ml) dry white wine, chicken or beef stock, 400g can chopped tomatoes, 1 carrot, 1 celery stem, parsley, 400g dried short pasta flaked parmesan, to serve

For the meatballs: 500g minced lamb meat, 2 cloves garlic, crushed, 50g parmesan, finely grated, 1 egg, 1/4 cup (35g) dried breadcrumbs

Direction: For the meatballs, place all ingredients in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Form tablespoonfuls of mixture into balls (12 balls each circa 40 grams)

Heat five tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or saucepan over high heat. Add meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, for 5 minutes or until well browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add chopped onion, carrot, celery to pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat for 5 minutes or until tender. Pour over wine or wine with the stock and simmer until reduced by 1/2. Return meatballs to pan with tomatoes and bring to the boil. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

 Place meatballs on the tomato sauce then serve scattered with flaked parmesan.