Classic French Opera Cake

A slice of Opera cake on a plate.

The Spruce/Cara Cormack

Prep: 90 mins
Cook: 7 mins
Chill: 2 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 37 mins
Servings: 16 servings
Yield: 1 cake
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
657 Calories
49g Fat
43g Carbs
13g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 657
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 49g 63%
Saturated Fat 25g 125%
Cholesterol 184mg 61%
Sodium 245mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 16%
Dietary Fiber 6g 21%
Total Sugars 31g
Protein 13g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 107mg 8%
Iron 5mg 30%
Potassium 402mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

There is much debate as to who, exactly, invented the original opera cake recipe and where. Some culinary historians have set it as far back as the 1890s, while others put its creation at a Paris shop in the mid-20th century. Most opera cake enthusiasts agree that the best—to some, the only—place to buy opera cake is at Dalloyau, where it was named L'Opera in honor of the Paris Opera.

Whichever camp you fall into, the delicious taste of coffee and chocolate makes this opera cake recipe well worth the time investment. It includes a total of six layers made of light almond sponge cake (joconde in French), coffee buttercream, and dark chocolate ganache, and it's all topped with a chocolate glaze. If you'd like to give it an authentic finishing touch, pipe the word "opera" on top of each piece using any glaze you have leftover.

Do not be put off by the number of ingredients or steps. Read through the recipe at least twice so that you have a good understanding of the ingredients and processes that you'll need to use, then simply take your time. It may seem daunting, but you will be rewarded with the effort you put into this showstopping French dessert

"This cake is honestly so good! It definitely feels like I was transported to a Parisian bistro for dessert! And even though there are a lot of steps and elements to the recipe, it definitely is worth it! " —Kiana Rollins

Classic French Opera Cake/Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Almond Cake:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, more for the pans

  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 2 cups blanched finely ground almonds, or almond flour

  • 2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

  • 6 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup (60 g) all-purpose flour

For the Coffee Buttercream:

  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso

  • 2 tablespoons boiled water

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 3 tablespoons water

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 18 tablespoons (9 ounces) unsalted butter

For the Dark Chocolate Ganache:

  • 1/2 cups whole milk

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

For the Chocolate Glaze:

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this dessert is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for baking.

Make the Almond Sponge Cake

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make almond sponge cake.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  2. Position two racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and heat to 425 F. Line two 15-inch by 12-inch rimmed pans with parchment paper and brush the surface of the paper with butter. Set aside.

    Baking sheets lined with parchment and oil.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or an electric beater on high speed, beat the egg whites until they become foamy and start to expand. Sprinkle in the sugar, one teaspoon at a time, beating between additions, until all of it is incorporated into the egg whites. Continue beating the meringue until it is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

    Whipped meringue in a stainless steel bowl.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  4. In a separate large bowl, beat the ground almonds, confectioners' sugar, and whole eggs on medium until the mixture becomes light and foamy.

    Almond sponge cake batter in a glass bowl.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  5. Gently stir the all-purpose flour into the almond batter.

    Almond sponge cake batter.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  6. Gently stir 1/4 of the almond batter into the whipped egg whites. Fold the remainder of the almond batter and the 3 tablespoons melted, cooled butter into the egg whites.

    Almond sponge cake batter in a stainless steel mixing bowl.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  7. Divide the sponge cake batter between the two prepared pans and bake the cakes until the surfaces spring back from a light touch, 5 to 7 minutes.

    Almond sponge cake on a baking sheet.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  8. Cool the cakes slightly. Cover the top surface of each cake with a fresh piece of parchment and carefully invert them onto a clean surface. Slowly peel back the old parchment and allow the paper to rest loosely over the cakes to prevent them from drying out.

    Parchment paper being removed from almond sponge cake.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

Make the Coffee Buttercream

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for coffee buttercream.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  2. Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together until the powder dissolves. Set aside.

    Dissolved instant coffee in a bowl.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar, water, and vanilla to a boil. Continue cooking it until it reaches 255 F on a candy thermometer. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

    Sugar syrup in a pan.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the egg and egg yolk until they begin to get fluffy.

    Beaten egg mixture.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  5. While continuing to beat the mixture, pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl in a steady, slow stream.

    Egg mixture with syrup.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  6. Once the syrup is incorporated, beat in the reserved coffee mixture.

    Coffee syrup mixture.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  7. While continuing to beat on medium-high speed, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated into the buttercream before adding the next addition. The coffee buttercream is complete once it turns thick and fluffy.

    whipped coffee buttercream.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

Make the Ganache

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for making ganache.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk and cream to a boil.

    Heavy cream in a saucepan.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring the chocolate until it is melted and the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.

    Chocolate ganache in a saucepan.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  4. Add the butter and continue stirring until fully combined with the ganache.

    Chocolate ganache in a saucepan.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

Assemble the Cake

  1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut one 10 x 10-inch square from both layers of cake. Place one square on the baking sheet. Set the other aside.

    Almond sponge cake on a baking sheet.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  2. You should have two 12 x 5-inch rectangles remaining. Cut both down to 10 x 5-inch rectangles. Set aside.

    Almond sponge cake cut in half.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  3. Carefully spread 3/4 of the coffee buttercream over the surface of the cake layer on the baking sheet.

    Almond sponge cake with coffee buttercream.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  4. Lay the two 10 x 5-inch cake rectangles (so they make one 10 x 10-inch square) side by side on top of the buttercream layer. 

    Almond sponge cake on a baking sheet.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  5. Spread the ganache over the cakes in a smooth, even layer.

    Almond sponge cake with ganache.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  6. Place the remaining 10 x 10-inch cake on top of the ganache. Spread it evenly with the remaining coffee buttercream. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 1 hour before glazing it.

    Almond sponge cake with ganache.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

Glaze the Cake

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for chocolate glaze.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  2. Clarify the butter by melting it in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue heating after the butter melts, skimming off and discarding any solids until you are left with a clear yellow liquid.

    Clarified butter in a pan.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in short bursts. Whisk in the clarified butter until the glaze is smooth. Pour the chocolate glaze evenly over the entire cake.

    Glazed almond cake.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

  4. Allow it to set in the refrigerator to firm up, about 1 hour. Slice off the 4 edges before serving. Enjoy.

    A slice of opera cake on a plate.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

Raw Egg Warning

Consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs poses a risk of food-borne illness.

Tips

  • Make this cake over two days by baking the cakes and preparing buttercream the first day, then the ganache and glaze when you're ready to assemble.
  • The finished opera cake will keep for 1 day in the refrigerator. Make sure to keep it away from food with strong odors.

Can Opera Cake Be Frozen?

The assembled cake can be frozen for up to 1 month when wrapped tightly. If the cake is too large to consume at one time, cut it into smaller squares and freeze those individually. To thaw, keep it wrapped and place it in the fridge overnight.

What's the Difference Between Opera Cake and Tiramisù?

Tiramisù is an Italian dessert that is similar in flavor to opera cake. While it's also layered, there are distinct differences. Both desserts combine chocolate and espresso, though opera cake has more chocolate, and the ladyfingers that act as tiramisù's cake layer are soaked in brewed espresso. Additionally, tiramisù is not baked, and the cream layer uses mascarpone cheese.

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