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Big Bertha’s got a baby brother: American Opera Cake by Francois Payard from Chocolate Epiphany

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Joined: Dec 12, 2005


Posted to Thread #22561 at 11:30 am on Jul 27, 2012

Years ago I made a layered cake that had 2.5 pounds of chocolate in it. With my latest goof-up, this one has almost four pounds of chocolate PLUS a cup of cocoa.

Oh ya...this sibling is a definite winner.

By the way, if you want to make this gluten-free, use the Bertha cake base [see Link]. It's made from ground almonds instead of flour, but you'd need to [edited to say] TRIPLE the recipe.

<a href=";current=001-2.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a>

[Marilyn's Note: All of the instructions are paraphrased, while Francois's book provides more detail. Also, the bottom ganache isn't that thick. I couldn't photograph until I got a slice home and then had to smooth out the edges.]

Three 10x15 pans, sprayed and lined with foil, sprayed again.

[Marilyn's Note: If you have 2 half-sheets (12x18"), you can use those. Once the batter is baked, cut 6" off the long side. You'll end up with two 12x12 pieces and two 12x6 pieces. After merging these last two into a third 12x12 layer, you'll never notice the seam once the fillings are added. Proof for Math geeks: Three 10x15 pans gives an area of 450. Two 12x18 pans gives an area of 432. Close enough for government work when covered with pounds of filling.]

Preheat oven to 350 F.

4 2/3 C (470 g) flour
4 tsp baking soda
3 1/3 C (670 g) sugar
1 TBL salt
2 C (450 g) buttermilk
1 ½ C (340 g) vegetable oil
1 C (90) g Dutch-processed cocoa
1 C boiling water

Sift first 4 ingredients. Mix oil and buttermilk and blend gently into dry ingredients.
Add boiling water to cocoa, whisk to smooth and add by hand to the batter.

Evenly distribute the batter between the three pans. Bake 2 pans for 15 minutes. Remove and bake the third pan. Cool and put in freezer to firm up for transfer.

<b>Peanut Butter Buttercream</b>:
¾ C (140 g) sugar
3 large egg whites
16 TBL butter
½ C plus 2 TBL peanut butter
½ C peanuts, toasted and chopped
Grated zest of 1 orange

Constantly whisk sugar and egg whites in a double boiler until mix is hot and sugar is dissolved (Marilyn's Note: test by rubbing between fingers. There should be no grittiness to the touch). Pour into KA mixing bowl and beat HIGH for 10 minutes with whisk. When meringue is cool, add butter in TBL-sized chunks. Add some of the meringue to the peanut butter/nut/zest mixture to lighten, then fold into meringue. Refrigerate until ready to use.

<b>Peanut Butter Ganache</b>:
7 TBL butter
1/3 C + 1 TBL peanut butter
18 oz (550 g) milk chocolate, chopped
1 C heavy cream
2 TBL milk

Put butter, PB and chocolate in large bowl. Bring cream to boil and pour over mix. Stir to melt completely. Add milk. Cool to thicken (Marilyn: I stuck it in the frig)

<b>Chocolate Ganache</b>:
16 oz (550 g) semisweet (61%) chocolate, chopped
3 TBL light corn syrup (Karo)
2/3 C heavy cream
1/3 C + 1 TBL whole milk
8 TBL butter

Put chocolate and syrup in boil. Bring milk and cream to boil. Pour over chocolate and stir until melted. Add butter and stir to incorporate.


I used the heavy plastic base of my 12x16" cake carrier. Or...use a heavy cake board, gently flip one of the cake layers and peel off foil.

[Marilyn's Note: Take heed! This is why you freeze it...otherwise it’s so soft it will crack, like my first layer did because I didn’t bother with this step. I immediately rearranged room in the freezer and put the other two layers to harden up a bit. Also, since the cake is so thin, you can't torte it, so use the fillings to keep the cake level.]

Spread with Peanut Butter Ganache, using an offset spatula to keep the icing level.
Flip/center on another cake layer.
Spread with Peanut Butter Buttercream
Flip/center on third cake layer

[NOTE: At this point, you can wrap and freeze the cake for up to a month. Thaw overnight in refrigerator and add the final ganache before serving. Otherwise, continue...]

Spoon on ganache and use an offset to push icing across top.

[Marilyn's Note: I didn’t read the directions carefully and “iced” the entire surface, including the sides. I did have a moment’s hesitation because he had been very generous with the fillings and this was barely enough to cover the entire cake. Once again the Universe cries out: "Read the damn instructions, Marilyn!"

Apparently, the final ganache shouldn’t go on the sides. Ah well...the cake was now very cold from being in the freezer/refrigerator and the ganache started to firm up considerably. I got it covered, but it had a dull sheen. being me, I made <i>another</i> batch of ganache with 8 oz of bittersweet, 4 oz of milk chocolate, 3/4 boiling cup of heavy cream, and 2 TBL butter. Poured that over the top, gently smoothed it to cover the top surface and then when it hardened slightly, drew a saw-tooth plastic form across the surface as a pattern.

Refrigerate for at least one hour to firm up. [Marilyn's Note: I made mine the night before and kept it in the work frig all morning. Brought it out 1.5 hours before serving.]

Dip a sharp, thin knife in hot water, wipe off and cut. Serves 20.

Marilyn’s Note: "Serves 20" in his dreams. I cut the long side into 5 sections (3” each), then turned the cake so the short side was facing me and measured off 1” pieces ( for 10 slices). That gave me 50 slices of cake (see photo).

This was totally last minute. I already had the book checked out of the library and had read that Francois like this for a "large party cake"; however, coworkers didn't ask me to make the cake until 3 PM for the next day's luncheon (SallyBR, consider yourself warned!). I went shopping for the ingredients when I got home from work and started baking at 6:00 PM. Finished by 9 PM and the kitchen was no longer a war zone by 10 PM.

Nor is this a cheap cake to make. Including the pounds of Callebaut chocolate, butter, heavy cream, cocoa, buttermilk, etc. I would estimate $50...and I buy my Callebaut in bulk. But then, that's $1 a slice and it's a billion times better than a grocery store bakery cake. This sucker weighed a ton. Well, not exactly a ton...I put it on the shipping room scale and it weighed 14 pounds.

Everyone was in the conference room for the luncheon and a coworker carried in slices as I plated them. I walked into the room with the last few slices and someone started to clap. Then everyone in the room started to clap. I was so embarrassed that I put one foot behind the other, bobbed a short curtsy and left the room.


I'll be auditioning for a scullery maid role on <i>Downton Abbey</i> next.


Jesus saves. Buddha recycles.

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