lemon opera cake

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Two days ago, walking home from doing moderately strenuous exercise at my old junior high, my sister and I caught a fruity scent in the winds. Much to our surprise, we looked down and found fallen, bruised star fruits on the pavement. There had been a wild fruit tree behind our house and we never knew for 10+ years. We (well, me) jumped as high as we could but could only literally get the low-hanging fruit, the baby ones.

 

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bottom to top: base chocolate, joconde biscuit, lemon buttercream, jb, lemon ganache, jb, lb, chocolate glaze

 

Having two homes on either sides of the equator is a curious thing. It means that instead of spending Christmas in the heat waves of Australia, we get to experience winter twice. Not that it gets particularly winter-y here for the best part of December and even January, but I am one that prefers slightly cooler weather. Something having to do with hot baths, I imagine, but it is also excellent conditions for baking. Instead of standing in 40C Australian kitchen watching room temperature butter melt and fighting away flies, I can do what I like most in peaceful solitude.

 

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look who’s mastering the art of cutting even pieces… not

 

The cake came out really well, I thought, the tangy buttercream refreshing against the dark chocolate and roasted almond. I could’ve just made the buttercream and be more than satisfied, but now there’s a whole cake to go with it! You don’t have to use roasted almond meal, of course, as it has a much more pronounced flavour than raw, I’m just going through an obsessive phase with that stuff right now.

 

lemony opera cake (6 servings)

For the joconde:
83g almond meal (I roasted mine beforehand, just to experiment)
50g icing sugar
80g whole eggs
16g cake flour
2 egg whites
12g sugar
13g butter

For the lemon ganache:
55g dark chocolate (or mixture of dark & milk)
35g heavy cream
10g fresh lemon juice
8g honey
10g butter

For the lemon buttercream:
2 egg yolks
80g sugar
15g heavy cream
30g lemon juice
150g unsalted butter
25g egg whites
vanilla extract and salt to taste

For the base chocolate:
60g dark chocolate
1 tsp flavourless oil

For the soaking syrup:
30g sugar
30g water
1tsp lemon zest

For the chocolate glaze:
100g dark chocolate
170g heavy cream
15g unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 180C and line an eighth sheet pan (or 24 x 34 cm). To make the joconde biscuit, sift the almond meal and icing sugar together, and whisk in the eggs, followed by sifted cake flour. Melt the butter and leave to cool. Beat the egg whites until foamy and gradually add the sugar to form medium-stiff peaks. Introduce the whites to the almond mixture in stages, trickling in the cooled butter, and mix until just even. Spread onto the sheet pan and bake for approx. 10 minutes until the centre springs back to the gentle touch. Lift out cake with parchment and cool completely on wire rack before slicing into 3 equal rectangles (cuts parallel with shorter edges).

For the ganache, boil the cream and lemon juice and pour over the chopped chocolate. Don’t disturb for a minute then stir to mix, add honey and butter, mix again. Cover and set aside at room temperature.

For the buttercream, whisk the yolks with half (40g) the sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has turned pale and fluffy. Boil the cream and lemon juice in a pot, and slowly stream into the yolk mixture while whisking the yolks constantly. Pour everything back into pot and whisk on low heat until the mixture reaches 82C, or thickened to leave an open channel when you drag a finger through the back of your spoon/spatula. Put plastic wrap directly on the surface and cool completely. Beat the butter until lightened in colour and airy, then add in the cooled lemon curd and beat together. Make an Italian meringue with the egg whites and remaining 40g of sugar by beating the egg whites to soft peaks and slowly adding sugar syrup (sugar cooked with enough water just to wet it to 115C) while still mixing, and whisk further until stiff peaks form and the bowl is no longer hot. Fold the meringue into the butter and lemon curd mixture, cover and set aside at room temperature.

Add the oil to the melted dark chocolate to make the base chocolate.

Boil the water and sugar together, then add in the zest. Cool to room temp.

For a simple glaze (traditionally a mirror glaze but I’m opting for a ganache type glaze to make a pattern), boil cream and pour onto chopped chocolate. Stir to combine, add butter, stir again.

Assembly: brush the bottom of one of the joconde strips with the base chocolate, in an even thin layer. Flip the strip upside down so the melted chocolate is in contact with a lined surface. Chill to set the chocolate. Then, brush the cake with lemon syrup, and spread half of the buttercream on top in an even layer, about as thick as the cake layer. Gently place a second strip of cake on top and chill to set the buttercream. Once set, brush the second piece of cake with syrup, and spread the lemon ganache on top (should be spreadable, not runny or solid). Place another piece of cake on top. Chill to harden ganache. Brush on syrup. Spread on the remaining buttercream (needs to be as smooth and even as possible, especially if just pouring glaze on top and not making a design like I did). Chill the entire cake thoroughly before pouring the glaze. Warm the glaze to about 44C, and pour over the entire cake. Quickly level out with a straight spatula twice (back and forth). Should set almost immediately if the cake is cold. Trim off the edges to reveal the layers and cut to desired sized pieces.

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citrus curd

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witness the tiny bubbles of airy-ness

Or rather, citrus cream, since it is unusually high in butter content than the more sour, traditional recipes out there. Also, it’s based on Pierre Hermé’s (who else!?) lemon cream recipe that I adore so much and love maybe even more than ice cream.

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relatively runny before chilling

It’s creamy, as you might expect from the butter, but also surprisingly light – texture wise, obviously, decadence is often accompanied by a high calorie count, but hey. This is probably due to the way the butter is incorporated: emulsified in its solid form, instead of melting it with the rest of the ingredients.

It’s perfect for a simple elegant lemon tart, which is what Hermé originally had in mind, and sets beautifully in an almond crust. I made a small batch of it this time to go into a white coconut cake for my mum’s impending birthday, just one whole egg plus a yolk, but you can multiply up to 4 times the amount.

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Cultured butter was on sale today, even cheaper than the regular kind, so of course I grabbed some to try baking with for the first time. My first impression was that it smelled like margarine, which I have an aversion to. However, as I tasted it, I found it a little tangy, as you might expect, with a more complex aftertaste. I don’t think it made a noticeable difference in the cake, but certainly well went with the citrusy theme in this curd and helped lift the flavours.

If you don’t feel like storing extra egg whites, feel free to use Hermé’s original recipe (which I’ll also include), which only uses whole eggs and has always turned out incredibly for me. I’m enriching mine with yolks today as I happen to have some left over from the white coconut cake.

[Insert your fav citrus fruit] curd (makes 4 cups)

165g granulated sugar
zest of 2/3 citrus fruits, ~ 2 tbsp
4 eggs + 4 yolks
180g fresh citrus juice
226g unsalted butter

Pierre Hermé’s lemon cream

200g sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
180g fresh lemon juice
298g unsalted butter

The method is the same for both recipes.

First make sure the butter is at room temperature and in 1 tbsp chunks, for easier incorporation later on. Place some water in a pot, about a knuckle deep is fine, and bring to a simmer.

In the meantime, in a bowl larger than the pot that doesn’t touch the water when you place it on top, rub the sugar and zest with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Whisk in the eggs (and yolks), followed by juice. It’s okay to have pips and pulp in the mixture at this stage, it’ll all be strained out later anyway.

Place the bowl on top of the pot of simmering water and start whisking slowly to avoid making sweet citrusy scrambled eggs. You may want to wear gloves or hold the bowl through a towel on the other hand, as the bowl heats up. Once in a while check that the water beneath doesn’t exceed a simmer, add more water if you need to to avoid burning the pot.

Keep whisking slowly until the mixture comes to 82°C/180°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, it’s possible to do this by looking at the texture. But if it’s your first time or want to ensure food safety (at least 60°C is needed to eliminate harmful bacteria), it’s handy to check the exact temperatures. The mixture at this point will have considerably thickened so that when you coat a spatula and run a finger down it, there will be an open channel.

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Also, if you’re whisking as vigorously as I was, you’ll notice the bubbles go from quite big to fine and foamy, then start to leave tracks as the mixture thickens. The whole cooking process takes about 10 minutes.

Once the mixture is at 82°C/180°F, strain into a clean bowl and put cling film directly on the surface to cool to 60°C/140°F, or about 10 minutes. When it’s slightly cooled, remove the cling film and blend in the butter a few pieces at a time. Hermé recommends a blender to maximise aeration, but an electric mixer is okay too. Beat for 3 more minutes after all the butter has been mixed in to achieve that airy mouth feel.

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It now needs a minimum of 4 hours in the fridge to reach its final custardy consistency. Cover with cling film on the surface so it doesn’t form a skin, and to stop condensation forming which could drip down and change the consistency.

When you’re ready to make a lemon tart, or fill a cake, or do some face-painting, give it a little whisk before using.

blueberry riviera

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Sometimes I feel I’m at the absolute mercy of parental authority, and sometimes I feel like a grown-up capable of making important choices. Like today when I decided to have nothing but lollies for lunch (with a few almonds thrown in, so not entirely junk food). Don’t tell my mum, she has this vision of me being some sort of super health-conscious, cringe-at-the-sight-of-fried-food, vegan wannabe, which I can be, but not when I’ve been chocolate-deprived for a week. I also picked up a bar of lemon chocolate, which is how the idea of making Pierre Hermé’s Riviera came to be.

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Dat non-existent food styling… I tried.

Chocolate is awesome, obviously. And unlike some I have no problem with a dessert made entirely with chocolate and nothing else to cut through the richness, which is why I was originally intent on replicating (crudely, for sure) Hermé’s Carrement. But there’s something about the combination of chocolate with lemon that is so enticing, neither overwhelming the other but existing in a mutualistic relationship. The lemon cream deepening the dark chocolate flavour, and the almost bitter 72% chocolate bringing out the tartness of the lemon.

An unprecedented rarity – blueberries are on sale for $5 for 2 pints. So of course I did the unnecessary thing and dotted as many as I could onto the lemon cream layer – I can never resist ̶r̶u̶i̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ tweaking a tried and tested recipe, from a master no less. I also swapped the flourless chocolate cake layer for the rich chocolate cake in Carrement, just because it uses exactly one egg and not parts of several eggs. Just to echo the lemon cream, I chopped up pieces of my lemon white chocolate bar (with bonus popping candy) and threw that in, as well as almonds for crunch. As the cake layer has a fair amount of butter in it, I didn’t feel the need to douse it with simple syrup.

I used to feel dismayed at not being able to try my hand at recipes requiring pastry rings for assembling different layers, particularly entremets. My baking cupboard is already cluttered as hell and my occasional $25/wk tutoring salary is never going to afford me every piece of equipment that every recipe calls for. So at first I tried stapling cardboard together to make a framework then covered with foil, but it wasn’t really stable and had to go on top of a tray, which is hard to fit in our perpetually bursting fridge. I think the way I did it this time – building everything in the tin I baked the bottom cake layer in, lined by clingfilm of course, then freeze the whole thing till solid before lifting it out by the clingfilm – was a bit more reliable and works just as well as a pastry ring once the edges are trimmed. A lot of improvisation is involved when you’re a broke student trying to replicate professional work in a home kitchen. Heck, I don’t even have a square tin, I literally just use leftover cardboard boxes from chocolates or whatever, it even prevents the sides from browning too much.

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Blueberry Riviera cake (makes one 12x20cm cake)
(adapted from Pierre Hermé)

For the rich chocolate cake:
62.5g dark chocolate (at least 60%)
62.5g unsalted butter
1 egg
55g sugar
17.5 flour
pinch of salt

For the dark chocolate mousse:
125g dark chocolate, chopped
60g heavy cream
1 egg yolk
20g sugar
1/2 tsp powdered gelatine
1/2 tbsp cold water
175g heavy cream

For the lemon cream:
55g sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 egg
75g softened unsalted butter

handful of blueberries (~1/2 cup)

~1/2 batch chocolate glaze

Preheat the oven to 170C/350F and prepare 12x20cm (or similar capacity) baking tin (line, spray or grease & flour) or tray if using pastry ring later.

Melt the chocolate with butter gently in a microwave or on a bain marie. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Beat the egg and sugar just till combined, sift in the flour and salt, whisk them in. Mix in the chocolate mixture and bake for 10 minutes then leave to cool completely.

For the mousse, sprinkle the gelatine over the cold water evenly and leave to bloom for 5 minutes. In the meantime, heat the 60g of heavy cream in a decent-sized pot till just simmering. While heating, Beat the yolk and sugar together until pale and the sugar is dissolved, then stream in the hot cream a little at a time, whisking vigorously to avoid curdling. Return the yolk-sugar-cream mixture to the pot on medium heat, whisking all the time, until thick enough to leave an open channel when you draw a finger through it on the back of a spoon. Stir in the lump of gelatine, then pour the mixture through a sieve onto the chopped chocolate. Stir to combine and leave to cool to room temp. Whip the 175g of heavy cream to soft peaks, and fold it into the cooled chocolate mixture a bit at a time till homogenous. Cover and store in fridge.

For the lemon cream, rub the zest and sugar together until moist and fragrant. Put the egg, zesty sugar and juice in a bowl atop a pot of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t come into contact with the water. Whisk, whisk and whisk for about 5 minutes until pastel yellow in colour and substantially thickened (doesn’t drip when you dip your finger in to…quality control). Cool to room temperature then blend in the softened butter ideally with an emulsion blender but electric whisk is okay too (Hermé stresses the incorporation of air in this step to give the cream its light yet luscious texture). Put clingfilm directly onto the surface and store in fridge until ready for assembly.

To assemble, spread 2/3 of the mousse evenly onto the cake base. If the mousse isn’t quite thick, return to fridge to firm up or the layers will mix. Then spread on the lemon cream, and scatter over a handful of blueberries, pressing them to submerge into the cream. Flatten the top and chill if wobbly. Spread on the last of the mousse and smooth the top as much as you can as bumps and voids will show up underneath the final glaze. Freeze the whole cake until rock solid, preferably overnight before glazing. To glaze, transfer the cake onto a wire rack on top of a tray, warm up the glaze to about body temp. or 40°C and pour excessively over the top. Quickly flatten out the top with a flat spatula once or twice. Trim off the sides with a hot knife and eat.

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*Oh! In case by some miracle my changing the name of the blog has gone noticed, it was because the previous name felt pervier the longer I looked at it, so I made it the tagline instead. Fine, it also made me feel clever to make the world’s most obvious pun. Whether you noticed, whether you skip my text altogether, I want to thank you for tolerating me. Every single view, like, and comment means an enormous deal to me. I’m still learning and navigating through the dark, but I’ll keep trying to put as much truth and passion into my writing as I can.

lemon blueberry poppyseed madeleines

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I love using lemon in baking. Lemon tart, mousse, curd, cake, meringue pie, cheesecake… you name it, just sign me up already please. But eating it straight up unprocessed in all its sour, erosion-inducing glory, is just a no. Studying dentistry has ruined lemonades and lemon-infused drinks in general for me, even vitamin C pills. I had a major cringe by the poolside the other day seeing the lady in my lane had a healthy bottle of lemon water, wedges and all. I was compelled to educate her about the adverse effects of acidic beverages on teeth especially while dehydrated during exercise. But alas, I can’t even get my own family to brush their teeth longer than ten seconds.

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check out them photoshop skills

You’ll notice there’s a fair bit of inconsistency among the final products. That’s because I baked them in 3 batches, or 3 experimental groups, if you like. Group 1’s batter was baked straight away without chilling at 220°C all the way through until done. Group 2 chilled in the fridge for ~20mins, and were baked at 220°C at the start, then reduced to 180°C once they puffed up. Group 3 chilled in the freezer and were baked at 180°C all the way through.

Yes, I realise there are 2 independent variables and no control group, but I wasn’t going to sit around 3 hours testing. Maybe I will one day once exams are done. Basically the results were as follows: group 1 puffed up the highest thanks to the high initial temperature, had the most golden exterior, if not just a tiny bit drier than the others. Group 2 was paler, the blueberries efficiently burst and kept more moist. Group 3 had less distinct grooves, still rose high but not as much as group 1 and were done before they turned golden all over.

Conclusion: they were all delicious and I’d eat any of them, however turning the temperature down halfway seems to ensure maximum puffing and moisture retainment. Chilling and freezing didn’t make much of a distinct difference IMO, but I’d like to investigate the duration in the future to see whether it helps the flavours mature.

Last time I made madeleines, they turned out delectable (how could they not? they were filled with caramel), but less so once they cooled down. To extend their best-before date, I adapted Blé Sucré’s (crowned by many as the best in Paris) method of dipping the madeleines in citrusy syrup to form a sugary crust, and it worked! (I checked) It’s everything in one bite: the tangy, sweet crust met by buttery soft cake with added texture and complexity of flavour from the poppy seeds; and best of all, a burst of blueberry balancing the tartness. I die.

Lemon blueberry poppyseed madeleines (makes 30 medium-sized)
(glaze adapted from Blé Sucré)

For the madeleine batter:
2 eggs (115g)
75g granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
145g self-raising flour
110g unsalted butter
1 tbsp poppy seeds
30 blueberries

For the lemon glaze:
65g sugar
20g fresh lemon juice

Prepare a madeleine pan by lightly greasing (no big chunks of butter in the grooves) and flouring it.

Rub the zest and sugar together until moist and fragrant. Add to the eggs and beat until paler in colour, about 3 minutes if using an electric whisk. Gently fold in the lemon juice, sifted flour and poppy seeds. Cover and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Close to the hour mark, start melting the butter. When it’s warm and not hot, drizzle into the chilled batter, folding at the same time to incorporate. Scoop the batter into the holes about what you imagine would fill 3/4 when spread out, but don’t spread it (or about 1 tbsp). Add a blueberry in the centre if you like, but make sure to press it down so it doesn’t pop right out after baking. If you can wait, freeze for half and hour. If not, bake in an 260C/500F oven for 5 minutes, then a further 7 minutes at 180C/350F.

For the glaze, boil the sugar and juice together until the sugar has dissolved. When both the madeleines and the glaze have cooled, place the madeleines on a wire rack with a tray underneath to catch the drips. Dip and leave to dry.