Baking adventures with a tiny Asian wannabe pastry chef/physicist

Thursday, 16 January 2014

An Ambiguous Lemon-Raspberry Gateau Opéra for My 20th Birthday

An Ambiguous Lemon-Raspberry Gateau Opéra for My 20th Birthday

Happy new year to anyone that reads this! This post has been a long time coming, and I would make the excuse that "I've been busy" or "not had access to the computer" but all of this is a lie. I've been wasting time watching every season of both Breaking Bad (greatest TV show ever made. Peep Show is a close second. And an American cooking competition show called Chopped) and Game of Thrones. And those of you who ask "after all this time?" I reply thusly:

So last year for my 20th birthday I made my own take on a gateau opéra, which traditionally is a French dessert made with 7 alternating layers of Jaconde (super light almond sponge) cake, coffee mousse and chocolate ganache. My version is similar in none of these ways and is just an opéra-like in the way that it layers of light cake (in this case a genoise sponge, my favourite sponge of all time. Subtle lemon flavour and feather-light texture), and various fillings and jams. I also added raspberries and mini meringues for a textural contrast. I believe that the inspiration for doing a take on an opéra came from the opéra episode of Great British Bake Off that was on at the time (where that lady made the beautiful but soap-reminiscent lavender and white chocolate version).

I get so much stick for making my own birthday cake every year, but think of it like so: if a designer can make her own dresses, an interior decorator can decorate his own house, why can't I make the cake that I want? I would rather you buy me more cookbooks than a cake. Each year I seem to use a genoise sponge in a different way because I love the flavour so much, I have done one set in chocolate filled with whipped cream and raspberries before, one layered with vanilla cream and coffee mousse and topped with sugar dasises, for example (also these photos show how my decorating skills have hopefully improved with practice, also it is clear that I love raspberries at this point):

So this recipe has a fair few processes in it, with a few ingredient lists. They can be easily tweaked with different soft fruits paired with different citrus flavours, and also made easier with shop-bought fillings such as custard or whipped cream. The only essential, unchangeable element in my eyes is the glorious sponge which is well worth making. I used to use the classic recipe from my well-used copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (the recipe may be in Volume 2), but I decided to take a risk and try a more modern recipe that partially cooks the eggs first to increase the stability when later whisking them to ribbon stage. I followed this recipe: This recipe requires 13 eggs (a baker's dozen! hehe) as well so be prepared on that front! As usual key hints and tips will be highlighted in red, so off we go!

Lemon-Raspberry Mock Opéra

Ingredients: (it looks daunting but the same ingredients appear repeatedly in multiple lists!)

For the mini meringues:
- 50g caster sugar
- pinch salt
- tsp vanilla bean paste
- 1 egg white

For the cake - see above link to recipe. In with the eggs, add the finely grated zest of one lemon.

For the Italian marscapone mousse filling:
- 6 eggs
- 10 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 600g marscapone cream

For the lemon icing:
- 80g softened unsalted butter
- 250g icing sugar
- 25 ml milk
- 2 tbsp lemon curd
- few drops yellow food colouring

- 3 tbsp seedless raspberry jam
- 3 tbsp lemon curd
- 1 punnet fresh raspberries
- a few squares dark chocolate (optional)


First, make the mini meringues. Preheat an oven (preferably a fan oven) to its lowest setting.

Put the egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, along with the vanilla and salt.

I tried a new brand of vanilla bean paste, and it annoyed me greatly that a teaspoon won't even fit in the jar!

By hand, whisk the white until frothy all over the surface.

Begin whisking starting on speed 1, and increasing the speed gradually over a few minutes until the "soft peak" stage is reached (when the whisk is lifted, the egg white forms a peak that folds over on itself).

Turn the speed up to high and gradually sprinkle over the sugar whilst the motor is running. Do this until the stiff peak stage is whisked (the aforementioned peak does not flop over) but the mix still is glossy looking.

Prepare a baking sheet by dotting the corners with the meringue mix and using this to adhere a sheet of baking parchment to it.

Fit a disposable piping bag with a medium star nozzle and pipe stars onto the prepared baking tray.

To pipe stars, place the nozzle of the piping bag vertically above where you want them to be and apply even pressure, lifting off and releasing pressure when finished. This technique is shown well in this video

Place the meringues in the oven and leave to dry out for at least a few hours, or until crisp and easily removable from the baking parchment. When done, leave the meringues in the oven and turn it off until you need to use them. This results in minimal colouring and brilliant white meringues. If time is an issue, you can go up to 140 degrees on the oven temperature, but watch the meringues carefully in order to prevent burning. The oven door can be held slightly ajar with a wooden spoon if the heat gets too much.

I luckily have two ovens, so I could bake the cake at the same time as the meringues at a different temperature. (:

Now, make the sponge. I will not go into detail with the recipe and method as those are detailed on the link, but here are a few pictures to help!

 The eggs, sugar and vanilla mixture at the ribbon stage. When this is reached successfully, a figure of 8 drawn with the falling mixture over its own surface will hold its shape. The eggs will have at least tripled in volume.

Fold in the butter and flour alternately, starting and ending with the butter in order to minimise air loss.

Once the mixture is in the tin, tap it sharply on the work surface to get rid of any large air bubbles.

Whilst the cake is baking, make the lemon icing.

Beat the butter and sugar with an electric handheld whisk, beater on a stand mixer or wooden spoon, until it reaches a sandy consistency.

Then gradually mix in the milk.

Finish by mixing in the lemon curd and food colouring. More or less curd can be added depending on your preference.

Now, make the Italian marscapone mousse filling. Separate the eggs and add half the sugar to the whites, and half the sugar to the yolks along with the vanilla.

Whisk the whites to the stiff peak stage. 

Whisk together the yolks mixture until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the marscapone and mix until combined and smooth.

Fold the whites mixture into the yolks mixture, cover with cling film and leave aside until needed. If your kitchen is hot, you may want to leave the mousse in the fridge. This mousse is so good as a filling for cakes, trifles, profiteroles, you name it. It is just a lovely light creamy texture and not too sweet. I adapted it from an Italian recipe for tiramisu.

The baked cake! I love how light and airy it is, with that desirable pale golden colour. leave the cake to cool completely on a wire rack.

And then split it in two. This is a good video of how to split it in half:

Now... Prepare for... CAKE ASSEMBLY TIME!

Wash the ring of the loose-bottomed cake tin you used to bake the cake and place it in the centre of your serving plate. Put the bottom layer of the cake, cut side up, and use the back of a teaspoon to "squish" it out to the edges. Spread this layer generously with lemon curd.

Fill another piping bag with the raspberry jam and leave aside for now.

Place a border of raspberries around the edge of the cake, touching the sides of the cake tin. Try to use raspberries of the same height.

Spread half of the pre-prepared mousse onto the cake and top with more raspberries, reserving 10-15 for decorating the top of the cake.

Then spread the rest of the mousse evenly over the whole lot, levelling it as much as you can. I find a flexible flat rubber spatula is an ideal tool for this job.

Top with the other layer of cake and then spread the lemon icing on top.

For the feathered icing decoration: snip the end of the piping bag off and pipe parallel lines of jam across the top of the cake.

Drag a skewer or toothpick in perpendicular lines first in one direction, then the other through the lines of jam.

The finished mini meringues.

Set the cake for at least 4 hours in the fridge, but preferably overnight.

Before serving, decorate the cake with the reserved raspberries and mini meringues (I didn't use all of the mini meringues, but they keep well in an air tight container for a good month or so), and chocolate shavings if desired.

To unmould, use a chef's blowtorch to lightly apply even heat around the ring, say a prayer, then lift it off. If you don't have a chef's blowtorch, a kitchen cloth soaked in hot water, wrung out, wrapped around the ring and held there for a minute will do the same job.

Enjoy the cake with family and presents. (:

I hope you enjoy the recipe! It is one that I feel is well worth the effort. 

Happy baking!


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Using My Loaf!

Apologies for the pun. It is entirely appropriate here though, because not only have I made my first artisan bread loaf (for which the recipe will follow) but I also just commenced my Undergraduate study. :D Before this post's recipe, I have news! I went to the London Cake and Bake Show, and MET ERIC LANLARD! Such an amazing patissier, and he even signed my copy of one of his books:

I am a bread-making newbie and was just inspired by the Bread episode of this series of The Great British Bake Off (which my mother, among others, keeps insisting I apply for! Tell me if you think I should... I have inhibitions tbh) to get some bread flour and yeast and give it a go. After all, my dream Patisserie degree does have a module on Boulangerie. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I will not be overflowing with hints and tips on this post as my experience is minimal! However my few tips will be highlighted in red in the recipe, as usual. The recipe is from Angela Nilsen (original at and I followed it pretty much to-the-letter aside from adding half a tablet of crushed Vitamin C, and a bit of brown sugar. I read in an article in the Guardian that this tenderises the crumb more easily in recipes using wholemeal flour. Also, sugar acts as food for the yeast, encouraging it to work. (:

By now you must be wondering: what a risk taker this girl is! She attempts recipes and techniques she's never tried before so readily, when they could so easily end in disaster. She trusts in random recipes from random websites and sources and hopes they wont result in a waste of ingredients, time and money. To this remark, you n00bs, I say:

WHY do I disagree? There are a few simple precautions that you can take to avoid recipe disasters when trying new things. This minimises the chance of disaster. My culinary disaster count against time graph can be modelled with an  e^-x curve (#wannabephysicist #iactuallysuckatmaths) and has steadily declined over the years. In my younger years disasters included a cake-omelette that made the house smell of egg, stuck and burnt meringues, soufflé soup etc etc etc... However I have learnt. I have grown (not literally. I'm still 5ft1). And I will share my wisdom with you, because I love you:

How to Try New Cooking Styles and Recipes:
  • Read recipe comments and reviews: often these contain essential alterations and variations and if a recipe has a low rating/many negative reviews maybe it won't work for you.
  • If you don't know about an area, research! Maybe the inner physicist in me has emerged, but I like to read articles in lifestyle magazines and read a few recipes to get the feel of what I'm doing, before I do it. Cooking shows and YouTube are also a great resource for techniques; for example I use YouTube for a lot of sugarpaste/chocolate/gumpaste/marzipan modelling and decorating tutorials.
  • If you're unsure whether a recipe is going to work or not, scale the ingredient quantities down and try it with a small amount in order to avoid too much waste if it all goes pear-shaped.
  • Try to use trusted sources like well-known chefs and publications to ensure the recipe isn't a load of bullplop.
  • Use common sense! I once read a recipe that involved putting blobs of jam into a cake mix. Logic dictates that would have sunk to the bottom and made a biiiiig mess, or leaked out of the tin!
So now, without further distraction, here is the recipe:

Wholemeal Loaf (Makes 1)


  • 400g wholemeal bread flour
  • 100g white flour, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ½ a vit c tablet, crushed
  • ½ tsp brown sugar 
  • 7g sachet easy-bake dried yeast (or 2 tsp quick dried yeast)
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp soft butter
  • Mixed seed topping

Add all the dry ingredients to a large bowl with the softened butter, then rub in the butter with your fingertips (here is a good video of this technique until the mixture is a sandy texture with an even colour.

 Like this!

 Make a well in the centre of the mix using the tip of a round-bladed knife. Make sure you can see a patch of the bottom of the bowl in order to avoid dry bits of flour being left at the bottom when you add the liquid.

Mix in almost all of the water and gradually mix in using a figure-of-8 motion with the knife (also I forgot to add the sugar! Whoops.)

Finish bringing the dough together by hand. Messy messy messy!

Set a timer for 10 minutes and prepare to knead, knead, knead. Push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then pull it back, rotate 90 degrees and repeat. 

Sprinkle the absolute minimum amount of flour to stop the dough sticking to the counter, in order to avoid a dry crumb. Once kneaded, dough should be smooth and elastic. Form it into a ball.

Lightly flour a clean bowl, place the dough in it and cover loosely with cling film. Leave to double in size in a warm place (I use my airing cupboard), about an hour.

Only use the proving time as a rough guide! The rate at which the dough will rise depends on the yeast, and the room temperature. Make sure to wait until it is actually doubled in size.

Meanwhile, grease a 450g loaf tin and line with baking paper in the base. I find that upwards strokes with a pastry brush encourages things to rise when greasing tins.

When doubled in size, lightly knead the dough 3-4 times and reform into a ball. Leave to prove again in the same way as before for 15 mins.

Using your knuckles (imagine boxing fists here!) press out the dough into a rough 25x19cm rectangle. Fold the shorter ends into the centre and rotate the dough by 90 degrees.

Then press out the dough to the same size...

... And roll it up tightly, starting from a short end.

Roll the dough in your seed mix, pressing firmly so they adhere. Avoid sun dried tomato! My mix had bits of it and it burnt in the oven so I had to pick it off after the bake :(

Place the dough in the prepared tin.

Cover the dough loosely with a clean tea towel and prove for around 45 mins, or until risen to about 5cm above the top of your tin. At this point, preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius and place a roasting tin on the oven's bottom shelf. Measure out 250ml cold water.

Pour the water into the pre-heated roasting tin to create a burst of steam, then immediately put the loaf in a shelf above it to bake. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden. Cover the loaf with foil whilst baking if the seeds are browning too fast.


Sandwiches and toast were delicious using this homemade bread, which turned out to be a lot more flavourful than shop-bought. When warm out of the oven, it made the cheese in my sandwich melt slightly... Mmmm.

That ends this post! I intend to bake a brioche loaf next (I've decided I like making bread. :D). Tomorrow I will bake a self-compiled recipe for a rather complicated cake to surprise my sister and future brother-in-law with this weekend. Next blog sorted!

Take care and happy baking!


Hadia x