Finally (finally) spring break has come! I have spent five glorious days sitting on the sofa, fulfilling my secondary dream of becoming a potato and regret absolutely zero seconds of it. It’s also almost St. Paddy’s day again, which means it’s time for the obligatory green dessert of the year. This year, though, we’re doing one better and fully embracing the imagery of the Irish flag. As a twist on the classical combination of chocolate and coffee, we’re celebrating this week with a pistachio apricot opera cake for a delightfully orange-white-green striped treat.
Although I generally love to ramble on about random facts and whatnot pertaining to the dessert of the week (or holiday), there’s really not terribly much for me to say this week (or rather, Wikipedia has a rather disappointing dearth of information on gateau opera). I will, however, say that the lemon syrup in this recipe is possibly the closest thing to creating magic that I have ever come in my entire life. While this recipe only makes about 1 cup of lemon syrup (which is, granted, way more than enough to candy your pistachios and brush your joconde with plenty to spare), I almost always keep a 12 oz jar in the house because a spoonful of this liquid sunshine makes pretty much everything better. Swirl it into tea, drizzle it onto waffles and crepes, or use it in place of sugar for the lemon frosting of your dreams. Make plenty – I promise you won’t regret it!
On a less pleasant note, the joconde is honestly a bit of a pain to make. The batter is nearly impossible to spread but needs to be smeared in a uniform, thin layer across the bottom of the pan. My recommendation is to grease the bottom of the pan well before adding the parchment paper to keep it in place, then dump the batter into the center of the pan and smooth gently with an offset metal spatula (not a silicone spatula). Also, watch to make sure that the edges are not substantially thinner than the center of the batter, which often happens when we try to eyeball the thickness of the batter as we spread. At the end of the day, it’s always best to err on the side of a slightly overbaked cake, since we’re brushing with so much lemon syrup.
All that aside, if the endeavor doesn’t seem too terribly daunting, try your hand at this multilayered treat. Even if the edges don’t turn out exactly perfect, you can be sure that your end product will be delicious no matter what. Hope you enjoy!
Happy almost-St. Patrick’s Day,
Pistachio Apricot Opera Cake
Makes one 4 layer 6″ cake
50 g almond flour
50 g raw pistachios
25 g all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
3 egg whites
40 g granulated sugar
2 tbs butter, melted
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup raw pistachios
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean pod, cut in half and scraped for seeds (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1 tbs milk
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1 tbs pectin powder
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbs granulated sugar
Extra lemon syrup
- Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Generously grease a half sheet pan with oil, then line with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, process the pistachios to a roughly ground powder. Add in the almond flour and all purpose flour and process to a fine flour. Set the flour mixture aside.
Tip: Try to grind the flour as finely as possible, but a few smaller granules around 1 mm in diameter are okay. Just don’t go overboard with the processing – you don’t want to accidentally make nut butter!
- In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs and egg yolk until foamy and well mixed. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer in a large bowl, beat the egg whites and sugar to firm peaks. At this point, when you lift out the beaters, you should see peaks that gently curl over slightly at the tip.
- Fold about 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the whole egg mixture until fully incorporated, then transfer the mixture back into the remaining 2/3 of the meringue mixture and fold just until fully incorporated.
- Fold in the flour mixture in 3 additions, and then the oil all at once, mixing each time until just until fully incorporated.
- Spread the batter into the sheet pan with a metal spatula to make a thin, even layer. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the center of the joconde sets and the edges begin to brown. Set aside to cool completely!
- Line a large plate with parchment paper.
- In a small saucepan, heat together the lemon juice and sugar until fully dissolved. Reserve all but 3 tbs of the lemon syrup in a small jar.
Tip: This recipe makes plenty of extra syrup, which is fantastic because lemon syrup is delicious on basically everything. Use in place of sugar in buttercreams, whipped creams, beverages, etc. for a hint of lemony goodness!
- Add the pistachios to the remaining syrup in the saucepan. Stir the mixture over low heat, evaporating out the water just until the syrup begins to darken slightly, then immediately remove from the pan and spread over the parchment paper to cool.
Tip: Using your wooden spoon or spatula, gently separate the pistachios out as far away from one another as possible to prevent them from sticking. Also, if you have excess syrup at the bottom of your pan, do not pour it out onto the plate.
- When the pistachios cool completely, separate out any pistachios that are stuck to one another and set aside in a dry place until you are ready to assemble.
- Beat together the butter, sugar, and scraped vanilla beans, as well as milk as needed, until the mixture is fluffy and smooth. Set aside for assembly!
Tip: Keep the buttercream chilled until about 20 minutes before you are ready to assemble, then allow the mixture to soften until it is easily spread at room temperature.
- Mix the pectin powder into the apricot preserves, then heat in the microwave until the pectin is fully dissolved. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, then set aside to cool slightly before assembly.
Tip: The mixture should be warm enough to spread, but not cool enough to be completely set during assembly. Chill or warm the mixture as needed to adjust.
- In the microwave, melt together the chocolate chips and cream by heating in 20 second intervals and stirring in between. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Using a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream and sugar to stiff peaks. At this point, when you lift out the beaters from the bowl, you should see sharp peaks that do not bend over. Load into a piping bag fitted with a large petal tip (I used the Wilton #104!), and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to use!
- Line a large, flat plate with parchment paper.
- Thin about 4 tbs of your excess lemon syrup by adding 8 tbs warm water.
- Slice the joconde into 3 equally sized pieces by dividing it along the longer side (in other words, you should end up with short, squat rectangles instead of long, thin ones).
- Spread an even layer of chocolate ganache on the top of one of your joconde layers, then invert the layer so that it rests chocolate-side down on the parchment paper. Brush a generous layer of thinned lemon syrup over the joconde. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes, or until the chocolate sets.
- Remove the first joconde layer from the refrigerator, then spread a thin, even layer (about 2-3 mm thick) of vanilla buttercream on top. Set the second layer of joconde on top of the buttercream, brush with lemon syrup, then top with a thick layer of apricot gelee (2-3 mm thick). Freeze for about 20 minutes to completely set the apricot gelee.
- In the meantime, spread a thin layer of vanilla buttercream on top of the last layer of joconde, then chill for 20 minutes to set.
- After freezing and chilling, invert the third joconde layer buttercream side down onto the frozen layer of apricot gelee.
- Brush the joconde with lemon syrup and top with a final layer of vanilla buttercream. Chill for 10 minutes for the buttercream to set.
- After removing the joconde from the refrigerator, pour a thin layer of chocolate ganache over the buttercream, and chill again until the chocolate is set.
- Using a sharp knife, trim off the edges of the cake, then cut into six evenly sized pieces.
- Top each slice with a squiggle of whipped cream, then top with lemon zest and candied pistachios. If desired, plate onto dessert plates decorated with excess apricot gelee, then serve immediately. Bon appetit!