No. 57-58: l’Opéra (gâteau) & l’Opéra (Palais Garnier)
I am crazy for the opéra, both the one with the colorful Chagall ceiling and the one with six layers of divine chocolate and coffee cream.
I started buying l’opéra when we first came to Paris because it was the easiest thing to pronounce (and read) at the pâtisserie. Thank goodness for bad handwriting and a language with strings of silent letters, without which I may have never ordered this yummy chocolate prize.
There are several different theories about who invented l’opéra cake and where it was first served. But whether it made its debut in 1890 at the Paris Opéra itself (filled with coffee to keep the audience awake) or in the early 1900s under another name (the Clichy cake), or did not arrive on the pastry stage until the pastry chef at Dalloyau introduced it in the 1950s (honoring a ballerina or the Garnier itself), I’m just glad that some brilliant chef pâtissier came up with this tasty cake recipe.
The gâteau opéra is a great piece of theatre—a work in six acts, you might say. The play begins with three thin layers of sponge cake soaked in a heady coffee syrup and in between those scenes, a layer of espresso-flavored buttercream, followed by a layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache and concluding with a topping of chocolate glaze. Et enfin, l’opéra is always crowned with some subtle jewel, usually a bit of gold leaf, often toasted almonds, and sometimes the word opéra is delicately penned across the glaze.
My other great love is the real opéra, le Palais Garnier (Garnier Opera House) in Paris. Built on the orders of Napoleon III and carried out by Baron Haussmann as part of the “great Parisian reconstruction”, the opera house is one of the greatest legacies of Napoleon’s reign. Unfortunately for Napoleon, his empire fell before he ever got to ride up in his carriage or had the chance to use his personally designed box seats.
Completed in 1875, the Garnier was the place to see and to be seen. The sweeping staircases were designed so that two finely dressed nineteenth century women could make their grandiose entrances in their grandiose gowns at the same time. Aside from the velvety red theatre, there is a grand foyer that resembles the hall of mirrors at Versailles and is often used by Hollywood when they can’t secure the real deal. If you are a fan of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera this is the place for you; the opera house, rumors of haunting, and a vault lake, inspired his story. Marc Chagall’s vibrant ceiling playfully dancing around an 8-ton chandelier is one of my favorite bits of “decoration” is this wildly over-the-top French treasure.
Looking through my pictures this morning of my two beloved opéras, I came up with another theory of why the opera cake was created. I think the two actually resemble one another. Layer after luxurious layer. What do you think?
chef pâtissier: pastry chef
et enfin…and finally
gâteau opéra: opera cake