What’s An Opera Cake?

what's an opera cake

Are you a fan of French cuisine, especially French desserts and pastries? Well, you’ve likely heard of the opera cake, a cake known for its rich, complex flavors and elegant presentation. But if not, you’re likely wondering right now what’s an opera cake and why should you know more about it.

Well, to summarize things, it’s a delicious dessert that has layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, chocolate ganache, and coffee buttercream. Let us tell you, it’s a VERY indulgent dessert!

Did that get you salivating? Well, keep on reading as we explore further what it is, its history, what it’s made of, and so much more!

Key Takeaways

TL;DR? Here’s a quick summary of what to expect from this article:

  • Opera cake is a French dessert that is known for its rich, complex flavors and elegant presentation.
  • It is called an opera cake because the layers of the cake resemble the levels of an opera house.
  • There is no definite origin story for the opera cake, but many claims attribute its invention to different pastry chefs.
  • The ingredients for a classic French opera cake include almond sponge cake, coffee syrup, chocolate ganache, and coffee buttercream.
  • Making an opera cake is a complex and time-consuming process but is well worth the effort.

So… what’s an opera cake?

L’opera cake is a French dessert. So now you have the answer in case you were wondering, “Is opera cake French?”–it is. 

This French pastry has plenty of delicious layers of almond sponge cake, which is known as Joconde in French. The layers are drenched in coffee syrup, stacked with ganache and coffee (or liquor) French buttercream, and finally coated with a chocolate glaze. 

The presentation of the classic French opera cake usually involves the word “Opera” being written on the top of the cake. 

what's an opera cake the bailiwick academy

Sometimes, chefs also include edible gold leaves for an extra touch of elegance. 

what's an opera cake

All the elements of the opera cake make for a delicious combination of coffee and chocolate. This is one of those dessert recipes that are a true indulgence for people who love rich and complex flavors.

Oh, and the general total number of layers of an opera cake is six. Imagine biting through that many yummy layers!

Why is it called an opera cake?

So why is opera cake called opera cake? Apparently, the name was inspired by the layers of the cake, which are reminiscent of the levels of an opera house, specifically that of the famous Opera Garnier

what's an opera cake french opera  opera garnier

And if you do check out the sides of this layer cake, you’d see it. Well, at least we do!

Oh, and another version says it is a tribute to Opéra de Paris dancers who used to regularly come to the store that sold it. This leads to the next section, which is…

Who invented opera cake?

Just like torta caprese, another delicious chocolate dessert, there’s no definite origin story for the opera cake. There are many claims, though. Consider the following:

  • One of the many famous opera cake origins is that it was invented by pastry chef Cyriaque Gavillon in 1955. He was responsible for popularizing it at the French pastry shop Dalloyau. His wife Andrée named it the opera cake because it could evoke the stage of the French opera.
  • When the 1960s came around, Gaston Lenôtre, the founder of the Maison Lenôtre claimed that he was the one who invented this iconic pastry.
  • Another lesser-known claim is that pastry chef Louis Clichy unveiled this cake at a Paris culinary exposition in 1903. He called it “Clichy Cake”–instead of “opera” on top, it was his surname.
  • In 1988, the newspaper Le Monde attributed the opera cake directly to Dalloyau without mentioning Chef Gavillon at all!

We’re sure of three things, though: opera cake is delicious, it’s French like a baguette, and we’re glad someone came up with it!

What’s an opera cake made of?

A classic French opera cake recipe means you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • Almond sponge cake, made of ground almonds, egg yolks, sugar, and egg whites.
  • Coffee syrup composed of strong coffee and sugar, which is brushed onto each layer of the sponge cake so that you’ll get a rich coffee flavor.
  • Chocolate ganache that is made with dark chocolate and heavy cream that adds a luxurious richness to the opera cake.
  • Coffee buttercream made with butter, sugar, egg yolks, and coffee extract so you’ll get a smooth and velvety cake texture.

How To Make Opera Cake

Making a classic opera cake is a complex and time-consuming process, but the end result is well worth the effort! While we’re sure there are already many variations or personal cake recipes of how to go about it, here’s a general step-by-step guide on how to make this classic French dessert:


For the Joconde sponge:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the coffee syrup:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brewed espresso or strong coffee

For the buttercream filling:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or French liquor (optional)

For the ganache:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

For the chocolate glaze:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Jaconde Sponge

To make the Joconde sponge, sift the powdered sugar and almond flour together. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and egg whites together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture is thick and pale. 

Gently fold in the powdered sugar and almond flour mixture, followed by the all-purpose flour. Spread the batter evenly onto a pre-heated rectangular baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until the cake is lightly golden and springs back when touched. Let it cool completely.

Coffee Syrup

To make the coffee syrup, combine the water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove after, then stir in the brewed espresso or strong coffee. 

Let the mixture cool.

Buttercream Filling

To make the buttercream filling, whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat water over medium heat until it reaches 240°F or 115°C on a candy thermometer. 

Gradually pour the hot water into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Continue until the mixture is thick and pale, then beat in the softened butter, instant coffee or espresso powder, and Grand Marnier (if you will add it).

Opera Cake Ganache

To make the ganache, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the chopped bittersweet chocolate. Let sit for a minute, then whisk until smooth.

Chocolate Glaze

To make the chocolate glaze, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until it comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the chopped bittersweet chocolate and light corn syrup. Whisk until you get a smooth and glossy glaze.

Take note that the chocolate glaze will only come into play after you assemble the cake, so make sure to do this after you’ve assembled the cake. Otherwise, it may harden too much.

Assembling The Opera Cake

It’s now time for the main event! To assemble the opera cake, cut the Joconde sponge into three equal pieces. Brush the top of each piece with the coffee syrup.

Place one piece of the Joconde sponge on a serving plate or cake board. Spread a layer of the buttercream filling over the cake, followed by a layer of the ganache. Repeat with the remaining cake layers, ending with a layer of ganache.

Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours. After that, take the cake out from the refrigerator and pour the chocolate glaze over the top, spreading it evenly with a spatula.

Refrigerate the cake again until the glaze is set–go for at least an hour.

Once the glaze has set, use a sharp knife to trim the edges of the cake to create clean lines. Cut the opera cake into slices and enjoy!

What’s an opera cake success story?

Want to make sure you succeed in making one of the most famous French desserts ever? Here are some tips to ensure you do!

  • Make sure to measure your ingredients carefully for the Joconde sponge, as the ratios are important for achieving the right texture.
  • When making the buttercream filling, make sure to beat the mixture until it is thick and pale before adding the butter, as this will help the buttercream come together smoothly.
  • When assembling the cake, use a cake ring or acetate strips to help keep the layers even and straight.
  • For the best results, refrigerate the cake overnight before serving to allow the flavors to meld together.

What’s an opera cake taste like?

An opera cake has a complex and rich flavor profile that combines the sweetness of the almond sponge cake with the bitterness of the coffee, the chocolate filling, and the glaze. The almond sponge cake is light and airy, while the coffee syrup adds a subtle sweetness and enhances the flavor of the coffee buttercream filling. The ganache layer is dense and fudgy, providing a deep chocolate flavor and a smooth, velvety texture.

Bite into it, and you’ll get a well-balanced flavor that’s not too sweet, not too bitter, and not too rich. The combination of textures and flavors creates a decadent and indulgent dessert that’s perfect for special occasions or as a treat for yourself!

What’s an opera cake recipe variation?

While the classic opera cake recipe is still the most popular, there are many variations that you can try, such as:

  • If you want an opera cake without coffee, swap out the coffee syrup for a different flavor, such as raspberry or orange.
  • You can also use white chocolate ganache instead of dark chocolate for a different look and different flavor profile.
  • Since it’s technically a layer cake, you can add a layer of fruit or jam between the sponge cake and ganache.
  • You can also try making an opera cake without almond flour. Use a different nut flour in the sponge cake, such as hazelnut or pistachio.

What’s an opera cake best paired with?

When it comes to drink pairing, you have two options. One, you can eat it with a strong cup of coffee or espresso since the coffee flavors in the cake work well with the bitterness of the coffee. The other option is pairing it with a sweet dessert wine.

Final Thoughts

The French opera cake is a classic dessert that has stood the test of time. Its rich, complex flavors and elegant presentation make it a favorite among pastry lovers around the world. Whether you’re a fan of the classic recipe or want to try a new variation, the opera cake is a must-try dessert that’s sure to impress. 

So why not try making it and bring a taste of France to your next dinner party or special occasion?

Speaking Of Making Opera Cake…

We know we gave you the process of how to make an opera cake above, but do you want a recipe for an opera cake that you’re sure will be delicious and of very high quality? Well, look no further than chocolate expert Chef Ely Salar’s latest class at The Bailiwick Academy: Opera Gateaux!

If you’re ready to explore the art of French pastry making, there’s no class better than this! You’ll learn how to make this elegant and sophisticated French dessert the Chef Ely way. And that means a sure restaurant-quality cake, all while learning his top secrets and tips!

As we said, he’s the expert in chocolates–after all, Chef Ely has his own chocolate restaurant! There’s no better person to learn from than him when it comes to chocolate-related desserts.

After this course, when people ask, “Is opera cake hard to make?” you’ll say, “No!” with a smile!

And with people always ready for chocolate, opera cakes can make an easy transition to your food business menu! 

So what are you waiting for? Sign up at The Bailiwick Academy today and experience making one of the best French cuisine pastries today!


Keep coming back to The Bailiwick Academy blog for more kitchen tips, tricks, and much more!

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