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
- adapted from award winning baker, Eileen Gannon’s Chocolate Opera Cake
serves about 10-12 people
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
- 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
- 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
- 1/4 cup coffee, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur like Kahlua
- 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
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.