Monday, April 23, 2007


Today our UPS man. Tommy, (He's incredibly wonderful--he remembered my poor, old Lucy and expressed sadness that he had not seen her lately, and expressed sincere relief that my neighbor's son was okay after the V-T shootings) delivered to me my chocolate order.Yeah, you read it right: Chocolate. 17.5 lbs of chocolate. 11 lbs of Guittard melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate and 6lbs 9 oz of Valrhona bittersweet chocolate from Madagascar. I should refer to it in kilos to give some weight to the decadence of my purchase.

Why? Chocolate is like wine. Now, I'm not a chocolate connoisseur nor am I a wine connoisseur. I'm not a snob in any sense of that word. But...I know what I like. And I've been without fine chocolate for some time now. Most importantly, I miss being able to make decadent delicacies that render my dinner guests speechless and cause their eyes to roll back in their heads. (Sounds like a power trip!).

So now, I'll be able to make the most exquisite chocolate dessert known to humankind: Cuban Opera cake. See the recipe below from Imagine, if you will, 4 layers of cake. Just look at the sumptuous ingredients for the cake. You could stop there and be done.

Now, imagine a silky, luscious layer of milk chocolate buttercream. I promise you, you've not had anything like it! Stack on layer two. Slather on a divinely inspired chocolate, coffee mousse filling that on it's own would cause one to lose consciousness. Then it is layer 3 of cake, layer 2 of milk chocolate buttercream and layer 4 of cake.

The whole divine cake is then wrapped in a chocolate ganache. I will never make a finer dessert than this. And now I have all of the ingredients. With this much chocolate, chocolate is the center stage. When chocolate is the center stage, you need to good stuff.

If you were a guest at my home for an extra special dinner, I would serve you this cake. To me, making a dessert such as this is a person-to-person act. Like my UPS driver, Tommy. I'll remember his good service. You will remember my dinner--especially the dessert.

Food, friends and family. Hopefully the markets are just a diversion from the things that are really important.


4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup crème de cacao (I use Kahlua as it is handy!)
1/2 cup freshly brewed coffee, lukewarm

8 ounces imported milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Coffee Mousse
1/2 cup half and half
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or coffee powder
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin softened in 1 tablespoon water 10 minutes
1 cup chilled whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Glaze
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
12 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped


For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; line bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Dust pans with flour; tap out excess. Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool to lukewarm. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Gradually beat in lukewarm melted chocolate. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with sour cream in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Gradually beat in crème de cacao and coffee. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto 9-inch cardboard rounds or removable tart pan bottoms; cool cakes completely on racks.

For buttercream:
Melt milk chocolate in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from over water. Whisk sugar, egg yolks, 2 tablespoons water, and corn syrup in medium metal bowl to blend. Add 1/4 cup butter. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; whisk constantly until mixture reaches 170°F, about 4 minutes. Remove bowl from over water. Using electric mixer, beat until completely cool and thick, about 6 minutes. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, fully incorporating each addition and stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Beat in lukewarm melted chocolate.

For coffee mousse:
Bring half and half, 2 tablespoons sugar, and espresso powder to simmer in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot half and half mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat until thermometer registers 160°F, about 2 minutes. Pour into large bowl. Add softened gelatin; stir until dissolved. Using electric mixer, beat until cool, about 10 minutes. Using clean dry beaters, beat cream and vanilla in medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into coffee mixture.

Cut each cake layer horizontally in half. Place 1 cake layer in bottom of 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Cover with 3/4 cup buttercream. Place second cake layer atop buttercream; cover with mousse. Top with third cake layer. Refrigerate 1 hour to allow mousse to set. Spread 3/4 cup buttercream over third cake layer. Top with fourth cake layer (cake will rise above rim of pan). Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

For chocolate glaze:
Stir sugar and 1 cup water in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high; bring to boil. Whisk in cocoa; remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth. Let stand until cool but still pourable, about 2 hours.

Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake. Release pan sides. Scrape excess mousse from sides of cake. Transfer cake on springform pan bottom to rack set over baking sheet. Pour glaze over cake, allowing glaze to drip down edges onto baking sheet (use spatula to spread glaze over any uncovered spots). Refrigerate at least 2 hours to allow glaze to set. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)

Bon Appétit, September 2003

Mondrian, Los Angeles, CA


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