As an average baker, it was a little overwhelming to see The Daring Bakers‘ latest challenge. As a vegan, it was absolutely frightening. Two words: Opera Cake. Don’t know what an Opera Cake is? Well, essentially it is a lot of layers of cake and cream and sugar topped off with a glaze. If you’re lucky it will take approximately four hours to construct, and if you’re good it will look perfect when cut.
And why was this frightening for me as a vegan? Well, aside from the necessary endurance factor, it had around 14 eggs in the original recipe (six of those are egg whites, so if you want to get really technical…). It was pretty clear that this cake depends heavily upon our fine feathered friends. But what is a challenge if it is not challenging?!
First, a disclaimer. My vegan version was quite tasty, but not very cake-like. If you follow my recipe, then keep in mind that I did what I thought would work. So, you may want to experiment with my recipe and not follow it exactly.
The final cake is comprised of four recipes. So follow along. :)
Vegan Opera Cake
Note that you can make the joconde with other nuts/seeds if you don’t want to use almonds.
What you’ll need:
- 2 12 1/2 x 15 1/2-inch jelly-roll pans
- A few tablespoons melted vegan butter
- Parchment paper
- Mixing bowl
- 1/2 cup water or almond milk (I used more than this, but soon regretted it because the batter wound up too runny. You may want to add 1/4 cup at a time until the batter is at a good thickness.)
- 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 2 cups ground blanched almonds (I blanched these myself. Here’s a good post on how to blanch almonds)
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Vegan substitute for two eggs (I used Ener-G egg replacer)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp. vegan butter, melted and cooled
Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line two jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted vegan butter.
Mix all the ingredients together except for the butter and egg replacer, then add the egg replacer last.
Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
Place one pan in the middle of the oven and the other in the bottom third of the oven. Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from five to 15 or 20 minutes (I think it took mine longer because it was more liquidy).
Take the pans out of the oven and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, then turn the pans over and unmold.
Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.
Note that the syrup can be made up to one week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. of the flavoring of your choice (I used vanilla)
Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.
Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Note that the buttercream can be made up to one month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to four days after making it. To use the buttercream, simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.
What you’ll need:
- A small saucepan
- A candy or instant-read thermometer
- A stand mixer or handheld mixer (I used our food processor)
- A bowl and whisk attachment
- A rubber spatula
- 14 Tbsp. or 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. vegan butter
- 1 pkg. Tofutti cream cheese
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract or powder
Beat the vegan butter and Tofutti cream cheese together in your mixer or food processor until well combined.
Combine the sugar, water, and vanilla in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, turn on the mixer or food processor to a low speed. Begin pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl very slowly and being careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment or blade. Make sure it mixes well with the vegan butter and Tofutti cream cheese.
If you want to do a flavored buttercream, add it now. Some people have done fruit flavorings or rum or just plain vanilla.
Put your buttercream in the refrigerator, and it should thicken over the span of about 20 minutes to an hour (I found longer was better). Stir it a few times while it is setting.
Note that it is best to make this right when you’re ready to finish the cake.
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp. almond milk or another vegan milk
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract or powder
- 1 tsp. vegan butter
Melt the vegan butter and add to the rest of the ingredients. Mix until creamy.
Let it cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake or cakes if you are doing several smaller cakes.
Now, the original directions said to create one large cake, but I decided to go with individual round servings of cake. It was likely more involved, but at the same time I think that they turned out pretty well.
I would suggest letting the buttercream sit in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to an hour before you begin to assemble, otherwise it will be too runny. You’ll see I was too impatient in just a moment.
First, I used a cookie/biscuit cutter to cut round pieces out of the joconde.
Then I decided to experiment. I used the same cookie cutter and placed it on my pan (now covered in foil as you can see).
I placed the first round piece of joconde into the cookie cutter.
Then I added a little syrup to the top of that first layer. I will say that my cake wasn’t very absorbent, so it may have been just as well to leave the syrup out of the recipe.
Now I added a layer of buttercream.
Finally I add the next round piece of joconde on top of this.
Repeat this process again, then add a final layer of buttercream to the top. You should have the following:
As you can see, I was a bit anxious to get started on assembling, so it kind of looks like a creamy puddle of sugary blobs.
I got my act together, though, and the rest were beginning to look like cake! Finally, when they were all assembled I added the final layer of glaze.
First off, let me say that while this was challenging, I do think that the end product was truly a lovely indulgence.
I will give a couple of observations, however.
1. This was way too sugary. I like sweet, but my palate enjoys a subtler sweet. Even my husband, who doesn’t mind really sweet things thought that this was way too sweet. I discovered that if I took off the glaze, it tasted much better.
2. The original recipe says to serve this cake slightly chilled, but I found that it tasted better after sitting in the refrigerator overnight.
Overall I’d say that this cake was pretty amazing. Definitely my joconde was not cake-like, but the taste was still quite good – especially so since I blanched the almonds myself.
A quick word on the vanilla. I was in Whole Foods a few weeks ago in their spice aisle and saw some jars of powdered vanilla. I had never seen vanilla in this form, so decided to grab it – and it was approximately the same price as the extract that they had on the shelf, so I thought, why not?
It seems to work comparably to vanilla extract, however it is better mixed with other dry ingredients. It tends to clump if you add it to wet ingredients.
I also just want to say congratulations to all my fellow Daring Bakers. I was peaking at your blogs today, and my – what beautiful cakes you all have made!