I used to love the opéra… Daring Baker’s May Challenge

NB: The following is the désastre of a very new baker (vegan or otherwise!)…but please go visit some of the other Alternative Daring Bakers & traditional bakers, my misery is the result of my inexperience, but there are some great success stories out there in Veganland!

Riding my (sugar) high from last month’s challenge, I was really looking forward to this month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge which was an opéra, a lovely French patisserie usually composed of three thin layers of almond sponge cake-ish cake, with a coffee flavoured syrup poured over each layer (or often soaked in the syrup), between the cake layers is a buttercream or mousse generally coffee or orange flavoured, then it’s topped with a chocolate ganache and often dusted with cocao powder. It is a very rich and decadent treat that is oft sold here in France as a whole cake, or as individual servings in the boulangeries or patisseries. I’ve had them (it’s been a while, but the memory was clear). They’re crazy rich, but good. Part of the challenge was that we couldn’t use the traditional choco-café flavourings… all the better!

The day the challenge was posted I went out in search of all I’d need to make my vegan version for the challenge. I managed to get my hands on some vegan white chocolate, which was my main concern, and a back up bottle of Lemoncello just to be sure (since I couldn’t remember how full our bottle at home was!). I knew right away what I wanted for my flavours : almond & rose water for the cake (I’ve been on a bit of an eau de rose thing lately), lemon & coconut for the buttercream, lemon for the syrup, and coconut & lime for the white chocolate ganache. It seemed the perfect idea (that’s usually a warning sign, when things just seem a little, you know, too, perfect).

I’m having a rather hard time being a good sport about my échec or failure here, so I won’t go into detail about all the horrible things that could-and-did-go-wrong. Some real basic issues should have set off warning signals in my head, but I was really naive (I’m so new to baking, and have had really good luck, so thought this would be no problem!), and I did learn some valuable lessons from this recipe (like not not having a jellyroll pan is problematic for some recipes & vegan white chocolate doesn’t harden up, at all, unless refrigerated for 24 hours…)

I’m mostly disappointed because of the huge amount of waste I managed to create. I love buttercream & sweets in general, but this cake is just horrible. I have forced down two pieces and they have each made me feel nauseated. Even the Guppy, who loves loves loves anything remotely too sugary only managed a few bites and was done. Being a neophyte baker, I opted for my favourite – but not cheap – flavourings, and that was my biggest mistake of all. I guess it would be like using your fave material for your first attempt at sewing yourself a pair of pants – better get the muslin out first baby before you regret it!

So I did indeed learn a lot from this challenge, and if I’m angry/frustrated/disappointed/a bit ashamed, well, it’s with myself for my silly mistakes, and I humbly thank the ever talented hosts of this month’s event : Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, Shea from Whiskful, and Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venise and Lis from La Mia Cucina. It’s thanks to lovely ladies like this that I am pushing the envelope of culinary catastrophes and learning & trying new things. And hey, it’s the Daring Bakers – I’ll get a new chance next month to kick some buttercream!