If, like us, you’re a fan of The Great British Bake Off then you may have heard of the famed French Opera cake. A decadent concoction made with layers of almond sponge, coffee syrup and chocolate ganache. Doesn’t it sound amazing? Yet, we reckon it would sound even better if it were made of music. So, follow along this week’s playlist and below we’ll explain exactly how we’ve cooked up this musical cake!
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The Opera Cake
No one’s exactly sure where the Opera cake originated. Like many famous cakes, there’s an ongoing feud about which patisserie was the creator of this luxurious treat. The origin of its name is also up for debate. Was it that the many layers were reminiscent of the Paris Opéra house? Or out of admiration of the prima ballerina? Or because a coffee filled cake helped patrons of the Opera stay awake? One thing is sure, it’s delicious, beautiful, and still very popular today.
Yet, we’re sure no one’s actually tried to make one using music.
The Opera Cake
First off, we’re going to need some eggs
Satie, a true eccentric, famously claimed that he only ate white food. He mentions eggs in particular. Since the opera cake needs egg whites whipped to stiff peaks for an airy sponge, we thought the dreamy Gymnopedie No.1 should help make it nice and fluffy.
We’re using Satie for the eggs. Here’s Suzanne Valadon’s 1893 portrait of Erik Satie.
It wouldn’t be a cake without a sweetener
Honey was actually Stravinsky’s favourite food, the Royal Jelly brand especially. Rachmaninov on learning this and in admiration of Stravinsky’s work decided to bring him a huge jar of honey as a gift in 1942. However, it may have been a sweeter gift if Rachmaninov hadn’t personally delivered it to Stravinsky’s door in the middle of the night.
We’ve included Stravinsky’s Lullaby of the Firebird, a sweet treacle like melody.
An almond sponge requires almonds…
So we thought that ‘The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker was an apt selection. Wait a minute, you may be thinking, what do sugar plums have to do with almonds? Well, rather than an actual sugar coated plum, ‘sugar plum’ refers to a ‘comfit’, a seed, nut, or spice with a hard sugar coating. A large comfit to be specific, of which almonds were and still are particularly popular.
Sugar plums are actually sugar coated almonds (left). Tchaikovsky by Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kuznetsov, 1893 (right).
Chocolate is the best part of any cake
Which is why it’s upsetting to think that too much chocolate could be fatal! It was rumoured that Henry Purcell died of chocolate poisoning after drinking a particularly strong cup of hot chocolate. Rest assured this is quite unlikely. Other possible causes of death range from exposure when his wife locked him outside after a late-night theatre visit, through to Tuberculosis, which may be the most likely cause of death.
Either way, I gave her cakes and I gave her ale provides a humorous desert themed song for the chocolate ganache, an essential ingredient for our opera cake.
Henry Purcell’s tragic death provides us with the chocolate for this cake, how bittersweet.
What else does a ganache need? Whipping cream of course
Richard Strauss conveniently wrote an opera called ‘Schlagobers’, whipped cream in English. As you may expect, the ballet takes place in a cake shop and involves dancing confectionary. Unfortunately, the first production in 1924 was a flop, ironically the opposite of the image the title conjures. Be that as it may, the two-part score itself is rather short and sweet, perfect for our cake.
The all-important coffee syrup
Bach’s Coffee Cantata ‘Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht’ translates to ‘Be still, stop chattering’ and is more like a comic opera than a true cantata. It turns out that coffee addiction isn’t just a modern-day problem. Bach details the efforts of a daughter to convince her father that she needs three cups of coffee a day to avoid becoming ‘a shrivelled-up roast goat’. So, we’d better not leave the coffee out.
Finally, a drop of brandy, but watch that you don’t get too ‘Brahms and Liszt’
No, we don’t mean that drinking will turn you into two great composers. In Cockney rhyming slang when you drink too much you’ll be ‘Brahms and Liszt’ or…drunk. It turns out that Liszt was rumoured to have drunk a bottle of cognac a day in his later life. Whether this was known before the rhyme was created is anyone’s guess. Yet, it does make a perfect addition to an already luxurious cake.
Conveniently Brahms composed Akademische Festouvertüre, a piece inspired by numerous student drinking songs. Followed by Liszt’s The Dance in the Village Inn inspired by Lenau’s Faust which conjures images of an acoholic dance with the devil.
Brahms drinking songs and Liszt’s alcoholic Devil’s waltz should be perfect for the cake’s boozy element.
Our cake is ready! It’s a little eccentric and the layers may be a bit wonky but it’s full of personality. Even so, you’ll probably be able to do a little better. If you fancy trying, here’s the recipe for a physical Opera Cake. Since music is a great motivator, why not listen to the playlist while you’re baking!