Lemon Opera Cake

operacake1 Lemon Opera Cake

After seeing how much fun my fellow Gluten Free Bloggers were having with the Daring Bakers Challenges, I decided to join in the fun. And boy do they mean business when they say Daring! May’s challenge was to make an Opera Cake. When I read the ingredient list, the supply list, and scrolled down the list of instructions I knew I was in for quite an afternoon.

The Opera cake recipe is based on the Opera cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Timothy Moriarity’s Chocolate Passion.

The recipe itself was not hard to make gluten free. The joconde (cake layer) was already made primarily of nut meal and had tons of eggs, so I figured it would make a great gluten free cake. I chose millet flour and sweet rice flour to substitute for the 1/2 cup flour called for in the joconde (cake layer). I also added 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum.

Since we could personalize our Opera Cake, I chose to make mine lemon flavored. My only other problem was the jelly roll pan size. I did not have the right size nor could I find the right size (at two stores). I opted to make my joconde in one 12 x 17 jelly roll pan and bake the leftover batter in a smaller pan so I could taste the results before assembling the entire cake. I baked my cake layer at 400 degrees because of this change. This meant I had to make 2 squares and 2 rectangle cuts from the one jelly roll pan, which resulted in a cake that was half the size (still serves about 10, so I was glad it worked out this way). This actually made the cake easier to handle/transport because the layers were smaller. The cake actually wasn’t that hard to make, but the steps and bowls required were a little daunting. I really enjoyed this cake, but the white chocolate is sweet (although delicious). I think I will stick to the darker flavors next time, but there will definitely be a next time. I think an Opera Cake makes a wonderful gluten free cake! Next time I will work on making it look like a fancy Opera Cake. I think it will be easier with darker flavors and a more experienced baker (me)! I should have piled on more butter cream frosting between the layers. I need to get better at this food styling thing! Check out the Daring Bakers’ Blogroll for more Opera Cakes that look even fancier than mine. It is easy to swap out the flour (my recommendation is 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum), so go check out the flavor variations!

operacake Lemon Opera Cake

Lemon Opera Cake

Joconde (Cake Layer)

6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

2 cups almond meal/flour

2 cups icing sugar, sifted

6 large eggs (Note: You will need a total of 12 eggs but you will not use 6 of the egg yolks)

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons millet flour

2 Tablespoons sweet rice flour

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12 x 17 jelly roll pan (remember I had to change pan sizes from original recipe). You can also line with parchment paper but I did not have any handy. I also greased a small cake pan to pour the extra batter because of my pan dilemma. In your stand mixer (with whisk attachment), beat egg whites until soft peaks form and add the 2 Tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff and shiny. If you don’t have another bowl for your stand mixer, pour egg mixture into separate bowl and clean for the next step. Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix the 6 whole eggs, powdered sugar, and almond meal together for about 3 minutes. Once fluffy, add your flours and xanthan gum. Combine but do not overmix. Using a rubber spatula gently fold in the egg mixture and stir in the melted butter. Pour most of the batter into the jelly roll pan (3/4 full) and pour remaining batter into a small cakepan. I used the joconde from the small cake pan as a taste test because I did not want to continue with the recipe if I did not like the results of the cake. However, the cake tasted great so I moved on. Bake for about 10-14 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges and unmold on a piece of parchment paper. Let cakes cool to room temperature.

Lemon Syrup

½ cup water

⅓ cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let the syrup cool to room temperature.

Lemon Butter Cream Frosting

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup water

seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1¾ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

2 Tablespoons lemon juice


Combine the sugar, water and vanilla and lemon extracts in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
Cook the syrup until the syrup reaches 225F on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches 225 degrees, remove the syrup from the heat.

While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

Reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly pouring the syrup into the egg mixture- be careful not to get any of the syrup on the sides of the mixer bowl. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the egg mixture is thick and the mixture is cool to the touch. This will take about 5 minutes.

While you are waiting on the egg mixture to thicken, mash the softened butter in a bowl with a fork. Once the egg mixture becomes thick, add the butter in small chunks until is all incorporated. The buttercream mixture will be thick and shiny at this point.
Mix in 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1 Tablespoon lemon zest and beat for an additional minute or so.

Refrigerate the buttercream. Go back and stir it occasionally until it is firm enough to be spread on the cake- this will take about 30 minutes. Note: You can not use salted butter in this recipe!

Lemon White Chocolate Mousse

7 ounces white chocolate

1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice


Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream over a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Add the lemon juice and combine. Set aside to cool completely. In the bowl of a stand mixer (you have to wash this like 3 times), whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate. If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.

This was my favorite part of the whole recipe so don’t skip it!

White Chocolate Glaze

14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream

Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream in a double boiler. Stir the mixture gently with a spatula until smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled opera cake. Using a long cake cake spatula/frosting spreader, smooth the glaze into an even layer. Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.


Cut your joconde into four layers. In order to do this, I placed a piece of wax paper over the joconde layer. I measured the width of the cake with a ruler and marked the half way point. I took this measurement and marked it on the halfway point on the length side. I drew lines outlining my 2 rectangular and 2 square pieces and then cut them. Place one square of cake on your cake plate and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup. Spread buttercream frosting over this layer. Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Also Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup. Spread more buttercream frosting on this layer and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour). Do not add buttercream to this layer- this is where the mousse will go.

Spread the mousse over the top layer once the cake is firm. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours so the mousse will set.

Make the glaze right before you finish the cake. After the glaze has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 10 servings.

Candied Lemon Peels for Garnish

silueta 200px Lemon Opera Cake

Thanks to the hosts, Shea at Whiskful and Fran at Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie!

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30 Responses to “Lemon Opera Cake”

  1. I had to reread to make sure that this was gluten free…great job.

  2. How lovely! glad to know the DB GF contingent is growing =)

  3. This is so beautiful! Great job!

  4. Great job on the gluten free cake! Yours looks beautiful. My sister was diagnosed with celiac disease a few years ago and had to make the change to gluten free overnight. Thankfully she’s been very gracious about educating me when I cook for her!

  5. You cake is beautiful, your layers look so even. This was my first daring bakers’ challenge, and I definitely feel you on the “daring” part.

  6. I’m just amazed by all you GF bakers in our group. Just when I think as I read our monthly recipes, “oh oh, this one is going to be tough for the GF DBers”, you all go and blow me away!

    What a perfect piece of lemony delight.

  7. That looks lovely! I’ll have to join in one day, but my baking is yet to be quite that “daring.” Maybe by the fall. (it’s too hot to bake here in the South during the summer!)


  8. Your opera cake looks really good! I like the sound of a lemon version of this cake.

  9. Great job, looks delicious! Lemon is a timeless classic, I love it.

  10. Very pretty! How on earth do you find the time for such experimentation with two little boys running around? :) very impressive!

  11. You did a wonderful job on your Opera Cake. It looks simply beautiful. Welcome to the Daring Bakers Natalie!

    Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

  12. A great Opera cake, and such perfect layers.

  13. Looks great and it is wonderful you have decided to join Daring Bakers. I agree I think it is a wonderful cake to do Gluten free and I certinaly plan to make it again in different variants too.

  14. So very elegant! Congratulations on a wonderful cake!

  15. Wow natalie, that looks so good!! Great job!

  16. I didn’t even realize that this would be an easy one to make gluten-free! Your cake is lovely. I had a larger pan as well, but it all ended up working out!

  17. Your cake is so classy looking, just beautiful – great job!!

  18. Your cake looks great! Great job on the flavors as well, lemon is so refreshing & makes me think of spring.

  19. I think your cake looks plenty fancy!!! I love the little lemon rind at the top and it looks beautiful all towering!!!
    Oh.. can I come over for when you do the cake with the regular chocolate and coffee flavours?? pleeeease??!!!
    Congratulations on your cake!

  20. Yum, love lemon! Great job on your DB debut! Welcome!

  21. That icing just looks decadent!


  22. Gorgeous! I keep considering throwing my blog into the Daring Bakers’ ring but haven’t taken the plunge yet. This inspires me–maybe next month!

  23. Your cake is so pretty! Great job.

  24. [...] Gluten Free Mommy. While you’re there to look at the other menus, be sure to check out the gluten free Lemon Opera Cake that she made. It looks [...]

  25. Your cake turned out just beautiful! Love the lemon idea; think that’s what I would have gone for, too. Hope it tasted as great as it looks.

  26. That’s a fine looking cake! With hot weather just arriving, lemon sounds particularly refreshing to me.

    I can’t use icing sugar because of the cornstarch. Do you think I could substitute regular sugar in the cake? I might just give it a try. Yours looks so yummy!

  27. Thanks everyone!!

    Kay- Have you tried grinding regular sugar and arrowroot starch in a food processor? That might work as a substitution. Thanks! :)

  28. That is impressive indeed, Natalie. I find gluten-free baking daring enough without adding many pages of Daring Baker instructions, but you are a Master!

    Bravo on your opera cake!!!!!

    -Rachel (the Timid Baker)

  29. Your lemon opera cake looks delicious!
    Shari@Whisk: a food blog

  30. Congrats on completing your first DB challenge. The cake looks amazing; and I love the idea of using lemon flavoring to keep with the “light” theme. Hooray! I look forward to seeing more awesome bakes in the future!

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