Monday, September 13, 2010

Opera Cake Cupcakes

My mom has commissioned me to come up with some French-themed cupcakes for her upcoming book club discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Weirdly, despite the fact that France is known for its delicious desserts, most of those are difficult to translate into cupcakes. Their fruit tarts are delicious but the defining element is the tart. Napoleons are tasty morsels but without the crispy pastry layers it's just a bunch of pastry cream and icing. And so it goes. To add to the challenge, these cupcakes need to be freezable so things like chocolate mousse are right out as the liquid would separate upon thawing. Time to get my thinking cap on.

I'd had my sights set on recreating Opera Cake as a cupcake for a while now because the full-size version is too intimidating for a baking neophyte like me. Once I remembered that it's a French dessert I knew I had my first book club cupcake candidate. A traditional opera cake is an almond sponge cake soaked with coffee syrup layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. While I couldn't do anything nearly as fancy and elegant as the full cake, I could at least capture those flavors in miniature.

I tried two variations to see which way brings the flavors out the best. Both begin with a version of the Princess Cake Cupcakes I made a few weeks ago but with the substitution of almond meal and almond extract. I poured coffee syrup into each after scooping out a cone and then filled half with coffee buttercream and half with chocolate ganache, using the opposite flavor as frosting on top.

The cake has a spongy texture so it soaks up the coffee syrup nicely. There's just a hint of almond although I'm wondering if the final batch couldn't do with more. Just as I expected from the coffee buttercream recipe's rave reviews, it was perfect with the right amount of bitter coffee flavor to offset the sweetness. It was hard to stop myself from eating it all with a spoon!

Still waiting for feedback from my lovely co-workers as to which arrangement they prefer, but my vote goes to the ganache filling with coffee buttercream on top. I think that helps separate the flavor of the coffee syrup in the bottom of the cake from the coffee buttercream on top and is truer to the original with the layered flavor effect. You're welcome to try it both ways as printed below in the recipe, or try whatever variation appeals to you. You can't really go wrong. Whatever you choose you'll experience a fantastic symphony of flavors that's sure to please you. Bon appétit!

Almond Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 egg whites
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup buttermilk

1) Preheat oven to 350 F and line 15 cupcake wells with paper liners.
2) In a small bowl, mix together flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3) In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together sugar and butter until well combined. Add egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in almond extract. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk, making three additions of flour mixture and two additions of buttermilk. Beat until combined.
4) Scoop batter into prepared pan. Bake 22 to 27 minutes or until tops of cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Coffee Syrup
Recipe from The Splendid Table

1/4 cup water
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 3/4 teaspoons instant coffee granules

Stir everything together in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cool. (The syrup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Chocolate Ganache

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature

1) Place chocolate in a bowl and set aside.
2) Heat cream and in a saucepan over medium heat until it just boils. Pour over chocolate and let sit for one minute. Stir until smooth.
3) Add butter and stir until smooth.

Coffee Buttercream
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon hot coffee

1) In a small bowl, mix together coffee granulates and hot coffee. Stir until coffee granules are dissolved. Let cool completely.
2) In a small bowl, using an electric miser on low speed, beat together butter, sugar, and salt until well combined. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, beating until frosting is smooth.
3) Add cooled coffee to butter mixture, beating until smooth, creamy, and well mixed. You will need to scrape down sides of the bowl several times while mixing.

To Assemble

1) Using the cone method, cut a cone out of each cupcake. Spoon approximately a generous amount of coffee syrup into each cavity. Try to coat both the sides and bottom of the cavity to help spread the flavor around.
2) For half of the cupcakes, fill with chocolate ganache. For the remaining half fill with coffee buttercream. Replace cone tops.
3) Let the remaining chocolate ganache sit for approximately 30-40 minutes until no longer runny. Beat with a mixer for 1-2 minutes until it's the right consistency for piping. Be careful to not overbeat.
4) Pipe ganache onto the coffee-filled cupcakes and pipe coffee buttercream onto the ganache-filled cupcakes. Conduct your own taste test to determine your favorite!

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laylablue said...

oh oh oh! the elegance of the hedgehog! i L O V E that book. the vocabulary alone swept me away. for some reason (maybe i am more under a rock than i care to admit) i was surprised by the excellent word choice given that the book was translated from the French language. i must have some secret mistrust for translators. what am i even talking about? i don't even know french. pooh.
and the cupcakes look delightful.
let's be friends in real life.
you think i'm kidding.

Baye said...

These look great!

Envy My Cooking said...

Just found your blog through links.. such a cute blog. If you ever need new recipes or want to share your own, or share your own find(craft or something you cant live without) come check us out and email us

HoosierHomemade said...

Yum! These look divine!
Thanks for sharing on Cupcake Tuesday!

MamaBug said...

For the syrup, it says 3 3/4 (but the coffe or espresso or ??? it is not listed.) Can you please let me know what to add? I want to make these wonderful cupcakes, tout de suite!


Sourkraut said...

So sorry I left that out! I think I spent too much brain power halving the recipe and ran out of brain cells when it came to typing in the actual ingredient! I corrected it in the post but it should be 3 3/4 teaspoons instant coffee granules.

Jami said...

Those look delicious! You are so talented!

Debbi Does Dinner Healthy said...

Love the coffee with the chocolate! YUM! These sound very classy and delicious! Perfect for one of my adult appetizer parties, thanks!

Kristy said...

How decadent. AND unique! Here from Lamb Around!

I♥naptime w/ Chocolate Sundaes said...

these look so yummy! I'd love for you to link them up at sundae scoop!

The Road to Sweetness said...

These are so...regal!

Lori@Paisley Passions said...

Those are making my mouth water! Thanks for linking up to Thrilling Thursday.

Bella said...

Yumm, what a great looking cupcake, and your instructions are really good, so detailed, I love it. I love coffee flavored cakes, and icing, yumm. A little chopped nuts in the batter, and it is sooo good. THANK YOU so much, with a big cherry on top, for linking up to **Amaze me August**, so happy to have you, and really look forward to having you back next week!!!

Ps. your plate, and cupcake holder is too cute, :)

Gail said...

these sound so delicious..but what is almond meal..canadian this an american thing??
tfs..loves ya Gail

Ashlee @ I'm Topsy Turvy said...

I hope your mom's party goes well! Thanks for linking up to Topsy Turvy Tuesday's!