Opera Cake: Tracing The History Of The Classic Layered Dessert
Image Credit: Freepik

Boasting the likes of crepes, croissants, soufflé, and mousses, the world of French desserts is rich and varied. A shining jewel in the crown of French desserts is the decadent opera cake. As touched on above, the name of this sweet treat is derived from the opera houses of France. That’s because the layered appearance of the cake resembles the multiple tiers of traditional French opera houses.

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Imbued with an elegant taste profile, the opera cake seamlessly blends different flavours, including coffee, almond, and chocolate to concoct a sinful sweet dish. An impressive work of art, each layer of this cake has been crafted with intricate care and detail. Apart from exploring the origin of the dessert and showcasing a recipe, this article will also closely examine each layer of the opera cake.

To start off, read about the origin of the opera cake, below.

Opera Cake: History

The opera cake dates back decades to the year 1955. A Parisian patisserie, known as “Dalloyau,” is believed to be the birthplace of the dessert; it was at this spot that pastry chef Cyriaque Gavillon weaved his magic and laid the foundation for the iconic cake. A true visionary, Gavillon aimed to craft a cake where every bite would take the consumer on a voyage of flavours. He experimented extensively with various textures and flavours, till the concept of the opera cake began taking root.

Image Credits: By takedahrs - https://pixabay.com/en/cake-patisserie-chocolate-opera-1775964/ archive copy at the Wayback Machine, CC0/Wikimedia Commons

Gavillon’s original version of the cake included an enriching coffee-based ganache. This ganache was garnished with velvety chocolate, and the alternate layers were constructed; the pastry was reminiscent of an artwork bearing three acts. It was Gavillon’s wife who, upon tasting the cake, first drew a comparison between the richness of the dessert and grandeur of the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris. And, just like that, the esteemed opera cake was born.

Now, let’s see what each layer of the opera cake is made of.

Deconstructing The Opera Cake

An enchanting piece of edible art, the opera cake consists of six carefully layered components. Joconde sponge cake, a soft and fluffy almond-based sponge, forms the foundation of the dessert. The cake’s first layer is drenched in succulent coffee syrup to dissolve some of its powerful flavour. Subsequently, a layer of smooth coffee-infused French buttercream is introduced; the creaminess of the buttercream wonderfully counteracts the coffee’s bitterness. Then, another slice of the almond sponge is doused in espresso syrup.

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The third layer of the cake comprises an enticing chocolate ganache, crafted from cream and chocolate. The ganache’s dulcet notes of grandeur lend a counterbalance to the coffee. Another almond sponge, also coffee-soaked, is arranged above the third layer. The top-most layer integrates the enthralling chocolate ganache with a velvety chocolate glaze. The glaze gives the cake a glistening appearance as well as adds some delightful crunch and bite to the dessert. The stunning intermingling of almond, coffee, and chocolate in every painstakingly built layer is what characterises the opera cake’s treasured status.

Now, check out a simple opera cake recipe.

The Opera Cake: Recipe

Ingredients for the Sponge

200 grams all-purpose flour

200 grams powdered sugar

200 grams ground almonds

6–7 egg whites

Pinch of salt

Ingredients for the Syrup

100 grams water

100 grams granulated sugar

Ingredients for the Buttercream

300 grams powdered sugar

150 grams softened butter

50 grams heavy cream

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

Ingredients for the Ganache

150 grams chopped semi-sweet chocolate

150 grams heavy creams

Ingredients for Assembly

Extra powdered sugar for dusting


Step 1: Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Step 2: Combine flour and powdered sugar in a bowl. Introduce the egg whites and salt, and with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until soft and airy, for about 5 minutes.

Step 3: Fold in the ground almonds until almost blended. Spread the batter equitably on the prepared baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, till the concoction becomes golden.

Step 4: Let the mixture cool on a wire rack. With a small knife, slice the sponge into 3 equal rectangles, and set aside.

Step 5: Mix water and granulated sugar in a pan to make the syrup. Boil the concoction, then remove from heat, and let it cool completely.

Step 6: Gently brush the syrup all over the sponge rectangles with a pasty brush. Set aside.

Step 7: Beat butter using an electric mixer until it becomes airy and fluffy to craft the buttercream. Slowly, add powdered sugar to mixture and beat until velvety.

Step 8: Let the espresso powder dissolve in the heavy cream. With the mixer on, carefully pour in the cream and beat until soft and airy.

Step 9: Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl to form the ganache. Boil the heavy cream and pour over the chocolate. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then whisk until shiny and velvety.

Step 10: To assemble, arrange one sponge rectangle on a serving plate. Spread one-third of the buttercream evenly. Top with another sponge and spread one-third of the ganache.

Step 11: Repeat layering method with the remaining sponge, buttercream, and ganache. Sprinkle the top liberally with powdered sugar. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.