Chocolate Opera Cake

As you may know, I work at a chocolate factory. That means I get to taste a lot of things made of chocolate. Some things are pretty delicious other things are amazing and a couple of things are beyond words….one of those things is this chocolate cake.

Not too long ago we received an email at the factory from a competition baker in Iowa. She said she had been gifted our chocolate and was excited to use it in her baking. We offered to send her our Natural Cocoa Powder to try and she gladly accepted. A few days later she received the package and the next part is what has changed my cake history: she said she would bake her signature cake over the weekend with our products and send it to us.

Four days later Dexter, our UPS man, delivered a box that felt cool and a bit heavy. I wondered what might be in this box, stamped largely with the word ‘overnight’. My memory was quickly jogged to the previous week. I carefully opened the box to discover a beautiful, dark and serious chocolate cake. The cake arrived with explicit directions to ensure the best tasting experience which included allowing the cake to come to room temperature before enjoying. Unbelievable. We had to look at this cake for what seemed like hours before sinking our teeth in. I am pretty sure I walked by the cake no less that 12 times to “check it”.

Oh man, was it worth the wait. The three-layer cake was more moist than any other cake I have ever tasted. In between one of the layers was a chocolate charlotte, similar to a chocolate mousse. The other layer included a coffee buttercream, which was one of my favorite parts. The cake was topped with a chocolate ganache accented by roasted cocoa nibs.

Eileen Gannon is a name I will never forget. She is the creator of this delicious piece of art. Turns out I am not her only fan. She has won more than 200 ribbons for baking and cooking at the Iowa State Fair. She’s been featured in major publications like The New York Time, Wall Street Journal Online and Better Homes and Gardens. And after all of that she was still willing to share her recipe with me and with you. So I took it as my duty to give the recipe a try. It’s a keeper. I made it with no problem. It isn’t a quick recipe but it is worth every hour. I ended up using instant coffee instead of her recommended instant espresso and it still worked great. I LOVED making this cake. I was able to try new, challenging things while still creating a delicious cake. In other words, despite the challenge it still came out beautifully. Another bonus is that with this recipe you will have extra chocolate charlotte and coffee buttercream, leaving you enough to make a second cake. You can easily freeze the leftover fillings for up to 6 weeks until you want to make another cake. I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did. It is a recipe I will make for many years to come. Thanks Eileen!


    Chocolate Opera Cake

  • Ingredients

    chocolate cake layers
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder (I used Askinosie Natural Cocoa Powder)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • coffee buttercream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon coffee, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • chocolate charlotte
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped in small pieces (I used Askinosie 75% Soconusco Dark Chocolate)
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • coffee sauce
  • 1/4 cup coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur like Kahlua
  • chocolate ganache
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped in small pieces (I used Askinosie 77% Davao Dark Chocolate)
  • 6 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur like Triple Sec
  • 1 cup roasted cocoa nibs

  • Directions

  • make the cake layers

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut out wax paper the size of three 8 or 9-inch cake pans. Line the pans with the wax paper and butter and flour the bottom and sides of the pan. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and mix together. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil.

    In a large bowl, beat eggs on medium speed with an electric mixer (use paddle attachment if you have the option). Slowly add the oil, milk and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Then add dry ingredients and beat on medium just until combined. Add boiling water and stir by hand until combined. Divide the batter between the three cake pans. The pans won’t appear very full but the cakes will rise in the oven. Bake cakes for 18-24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost clean. Try to pull the cakes from the oven before the toothpick comes out clean, a few crumbs on the toothpick are good. Cool cakes on rack. Once completely cooled, run a knife around the edge of the pans and turn the cakes out on to cooling racks.

    make the coffee buttercream

    While the cakes are baking, you can make the buttercream. In a medium bowl, mix the egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of sugar with an electric mixer until thick and pale. This will take about 5 minutes or more. In a small saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil. Stir in the rest of the sugar, the coffee and instant espresso or instant coffee. While constantly whisking the yolks, pour in 1/3 of the hot milk mixture. Then pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly and cook on medium until you seem small bubbles. Remove from heat and pour into a clean mixing bowl and bean on medium to high until the mixture thickens and doubles in size, about 5-6 minutes. Beat in butter one tablespoon at a time until the mixture turns white and fluffy.

    make the chocolate charlotte

    Melt chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments; set aside. Whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer until it holds soft-medium peaks.

    Place the eggs yolks in a double boiler with water in the bottom pan. Heat yolks over low to medium heat, keeping an eye that they don’t get to hot and scramble. In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Whisking yolks constantly, stir in the sugar syrup. Continue whisking quickly until the mixture thickens. Pour mixture into a medium bowl and mix on medium until it cools to room temperature. Beat in melted chocolate until it is very well combined. Then, using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped cream until the charlotte is all the same color. Chill until ready to use.

    make the coffee sauce

    In a small bowl, combine the coffee and coffee liqueur. Set aside.

    make the chocolate ganache

    In the microwave, melt the chocolate in 30 second increments. Add the butter and stir until well combined. Whisk in the corn syrup and liqueur. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes before using.

    assemble the cake

    The easiest way to assemble is by using a spring-form pan lined with plastic wrap. Place one layer of the cake in the spring-form pan. Liberally brush on the coffee sauce. Top evenly with one cup of the mousse. Place the second cake layer on top of the charlotte. Liberally brush the top of the cake with the coffee sauce. Top with 1 to 1-1/2 cups of the buttercream. Stack the third cake layer on the buttercream and liberally brush the cake with the coffee sauce. Chill the cake for 10-15 minutes.

    Once the cake is chilled, turn the cake over onto a plate. Pour the ganache over the cake starting in the middle and spreading it out over the cake and down the sides. Spread the ganache evenly on the sides of the cake. Sprinkle the sides and/or top of the cake with roasted cocoa nibs. Chill the cake for at least four hours or overnight. Before serving, brink cake to room temperature. Store the cake in the refrigerator for up to two days.

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  1. Posted February 25, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Oh my. I need this cake. It looks gorgeous!

  2. michelle
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    OH MY GOD, seriously, this IS THE BEST CAKE EVER! thankyouthankyouthankyou for bringing me a piece. I can’t wait to make it at home with my parents, who died and went to heaven when they tried it with me.

  3. Posted February 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    WOW! Oh my god those pictures are amazing. And with askinosie cocoa, I’m sure it tastes like chocolate heaven.

  4. Posted February 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    This does look like a taste of heaven! That’s awesome that you work at a chocolate factory! That would also be heaven for me. It’s wonderful she was willing to share her recipe. I’ve made chocolate mousse layered cakes before, and they definitely take some time and patience, but sooo worth the work!

  5. Posted February 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous cake and photos! Can I have a slice? :)

  6. Posted February 25, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Eileen!! haha This cake looks AMAZING!!! Wow. Your photos are so stunning and tantalizing. I must make this cake soon. It reminds me of my chocolate mousse cheesecake. Goodness me!!

    You’re so lucky to work for a chocolate factory!! Are there any job openings? hahaha

  7. E
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous photos! Love your site.

  8. Posted February 25, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    what a gorgeous cake!

  9. Posted February 26, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    this, my friend, is one amazing creation. the two different types of filling excite me, as does that awesome ganache. what a beauty!

  10. Posted February 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Now that is a labor of love, but what an incredible and beautiful result! What a gem that woman is and terrific job!

  11. Posted March 9, 2010 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    oh my, just found your blog and want to eat my screen. this looks amazing!

  12. angie
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I am making this cake tonight. I’m following the recipe exactly (even the Askinosie!) except i’m just going to use Kahlua in the ganache too. Can’t wait to taste it!

  13. Stephanie
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I can’t wait to try this cake!!! It looks so yummy, I’ll have to find a reason to make it soon~

  14. Posted March 11, 2010 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Angie, I hope it goes well! Can’t wait to hear!

  15. angie
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I’m eating a slice as we speak! It’s soooo awesome. The cocoa nibs are great! I used Kahlua for the ganache instead of the orange. And I accidentally used the kahlua that was supposed to be for the ganache as the coffee sauce to moisten the cake, so I used the coffee sauce in the ganache. Oops. But it didn’t effect the outcome- it’s delicious. And I didn’t heat the egg yolks over the double boiler for the charlotte. I just tempered them with the hot mixture. I also wasn’t sure if I did the buttercream correctly because my egg yolk mixture didn’t really get much volume, but when I started adding the butter it all came together and was very tasty.

    I also like that there is alot of the chocolate charlotte left over :)

  16. Posted March 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Angie, sounds great! I am glad it all came together. I was exhausted after making this cake but every bite made up for it!

  17. Eileen
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I am so happy that you are all enjoying my cake. I used to call it my 4-hour cake because that is how long it takes to me to make it. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is worth the work. I also freeze the leftover coffee buttercream and chocolate charlotte so the next 1 or 2 cakes can be made easily. There are a few tricks to it so keep trying if you have trouble at first. Do not over bake the cake!

  18. Beth
    Posted April 15, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    This cake does look SO good… I’m trying to decide on a cake for my birthday and it’s between this one, or a black magic cake. I’m almost tearing my hair out just trying to make a choice. Everyone who sees/makes this one seems to adore it, though, so I’m sorta leaning in this direction… Has anyone any experience with a black magic cake? How it compares with this opera cake taste- or texture-wise?
    Once again, this cake looks positively spiffy!

  19. Posted April 25, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    OMG, Stephanie made this cake last night for Lee’s birthday and I can not stop thinking about it! She did a great job although it’s not as pretty as the one here :)

  20. Stephanie S
    Posted April 26, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Ha, I just read Andrea’s post above! My cake was a little ugly, but in my defense I had no idea it would take four hours – I was making my spicy chili at the same time (which ALSO takes four hours) so I was bouncing back and forth between the cutting board and the electric mixer. On the plus side, the cake tasted INCREDIBLE and was the perfect reward for all that hard work! This was honestly one of the moistest cakes I’ve ever eaten – it was so delicious, I’m eating a slice right now (I don’t even want to guess how many calories it could be – but damn it’s tasty). I didn’t have all the ingredients so I did sub some things, but it still tasted great – I think next time I’m going to try to do a raspberry buttercream with all the coffee flavors or maybe incorporate a raspberry topping somehow? I don’t know why, I just was craving raspberries with all the dark rich chocolate flavor of the cake.

    YUMYUMYUM! Thanks for the great recipe!

  21. Posted April 26, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Steph & Andrea, I am so glad you got to experience the cake! I agree about the moist part, pretty unbelievable. The four hours got me too but totally worth it. The raspberry sounds like a perfect addition, if you have the stamina to make the cake again:)

  22. Missy T.
    Posted May 8, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    This cake is AMAZING!!! Everyone I served it to said it was the best chocolate cake they’ve ever had. I’m planning to make another one in a few weeks with the leftover filling. I was suspicious about it being worth the 3 1/2 hours and little more expensive ingredients, but it totally was. Thank you thank you!!!!

  23. Posted June 26, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    found your site on today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  24. Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    you work in a chocolate factory? how lucky are you? this cake looks delish and i can’t wait to make it!!!

  25. Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    what’s the chocolate charlotte for? I didn’t see it used in the instructions! thanks

  26. Posted August 21, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    The chocolate charlotte is for the first filling for the bottom layers of the cake. I referred to it as mousse, so that is why it is confusing. I will make that change! Let me know if you make it! Thanks for your feedback.

  27. Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    What a sinful delight! Om nom nom…

  28. Rachael
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    hello this cake is wonderful and i made it so many times but this time i put gumpaste on the cake. My question is how long the cake can stay out of the fridge at room temperature or cooler place?
    I’m very thankful if you have time to answer.

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    The cake breaks on me. The mousse is so light and did not set up good, I think that’s why the cake split. In any case, this is my best cake yet although rustic in look. The hours spent in preparing and baking is sooo worth it. I first saw the recipe in Irish Chef Kevin Dundon’s show but can’t find the recipe. Chance upon your site and so thankful for the recipe wnd wonderful instructions. I substitute Grand Marnier for the Kahlua. One should taste to believe.

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