Well, Daring Bakers Challenge that is. Of course it's not really my first challenge ever, challenged people are blessed like that.
While blog stalking a lot of other food blogs, I'd continually see this picture and a link to some alleged "daring bakers blogroll" I was curious as to what it was and was delighted to find that it's a group of people who LOVE to bake and get together (virtually) each month to do a baking challenge. I decided I wanted to join because, heck, I LOVE to bake too! I may not be anything spectacular, but I love doing it. There's really something therapeutic about kneading bread, and making something from scratch that comes out warm from the oven. My brother says I love it because it's the method of cooking for people who can't pay attention to anything, or those who are easily distracted. "After you put it in the oven you're immediately distracted by something shiny until you hear your timer beeping." The tease.
Anyway, back to the story, so I signed up for this virtual baking group. I got to go on the DB forum and read what my first challenge would be for the month of may. Again, I was tickled pink to find that the month's challenge was something I've wanted to make for a long time, just simply didn't have the gumption to make the time and bake; L'Opéra.
The basic idea of this group can be read about here.
So, each month a different host (this month was Lis, Ivonne - the founders - and Fran of the blog Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of the blog Whiskful as co-hosts) chooses a baking challenge that everyone will make and then post on the reveal date. We meet in a "top secret" forum and discuss our fears, problems and such about the challenge and share our finished products to show off to each other. :) Basically it's a secret baking society that gets to share their love of baking while making friends and eating the baked spoils of their labor, super fun!
Initially, L'opera is a coffee/chocolate flavored cake and to change it up, the hosts gave it a special theme, specifically one to honor a fellow Daring Baker. I quote, ahem.
"The next very important detail we'd like to share is that Lis, Fran, Shea and I are dedicating this month's challenge to Barbara of winosandfoodies.com. While Barbara is no longer an active member of the Daring Bakers, as Lis so eloquently put it, she'll always be an honourary Daring Baker for her bravery and character in the face of a challenge. As many of you may know Barbara is the force behind the food blog event called A Taste of Yellow that supports the LiveSTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong. This year's LiveStrong Day is in May so we decided that we could show our support by dedicating our respective challenge posts to Barbara." So instead of a dark flavored/colored Opéra cake, they were all to be light in taste and flavor, perfect for Spring.
Since it was my first challenge as a daring baker, I didn't want to stray too far away from the original recipe, (I'm not as daring as I think I am at times...) the rules of the game are that you have to follow the recipe exactly unless otherwise stated. So for this challenge the changes we were given were for the flavorings/colorings, as afore stated, as well as using a different kind of buttercream recipe, changing the shape, we could use just about any type of garnish, we could add fruit, and make any changes necessary for allergies, altered foodstyle, etc. Luckily I have neither allergies or foodstyle preference so I didn't have to get my feet soaked on the first go, only a spritz. :)
For the original recipe visit Lis's blog: Cream Puffs In Venice
So here's what I did to make it my own, for the cake layer, or joconde, I added 2 tsp. ground lemongrass, 1 T. lemon juice, and was going to put lemon zest in as well, but I got really into other things and forgot - evidence of the truthfulness of my brother's statement at the beginning.
For the syrup I used my mothers lemon glaze cake as inspiration and used 1 T. lemon juice and 2 T. apricot nectar for the flavoring.
For the buttercream I followed the recipe to a T and didn't add a thing, I thought the vanilla would be a good compliment to the lemon.
With the mousse I added 1/2 T. lemon juice and nectar mixed.
Lastly for the glaze I added a butt load of lemon juice that really made it tasty. I think about 2-3 T, adding it in at the very end, after it was all melt-y.
My garnish was from our lilac tree that hangs over our back fence. I candied them one by one while watching P.S. I love you, cute movie. The method is at the end of this post.
I made mini circular Opéra cakes to take to my students for their end of the year party, they loved the little cakes, especially when they found out that the flowers were real, and edible! One of the students were amazed that I had made them, they thought I had catered them. ;)
The first few layers: jaconde, buttercream, a strawberry.
This is a shot of des petits in the freezer, it helped so that the buttercream and mousse didn't melt as I kept adding layers.
Each jaconde layer was dribbled with the apricot-lemon syrup.
Adding on the last layer! The white chocolate mousse is the top layer, and since the mousse was cold, it looked like a bunch of little turds, it was quickly fixed, who wants to eat something that looks like a turd? Even if it is delicious.
This turd-like looking top of a mousse-y layer became this:
Thanks to a slightly wet knife.
Then I topped them off with some candied lilacs, I didn't do the glaze layer for my petits Opéras, not enough time and I didn't want to make the glaze and have it wait for a few days until I finished the mother ship Opéra cake to take to my parent's.
Snug as bugs in rugs, or opera cakes in paper cups to be taken to my HS students.
This is the more traditional look of an Opéra cake with the layers and rectangular shape, I poked little holes in the frozen thing on the way to my parents for a bbq! Good thing AJ doesn't have road rage, my fumbling fingers were having enough of a hard time sticking the flowers in perfectly!
click the pic to see more incredible cakes du mois.