Opera Cake: The Spongy, Layered Dessert That Will Have You Singing Its Praises

Of all the decadent Parisian pastries, the French opera cake is a downright heavenly one that coffee lovers can't resist. Much like tiramisu, Italy's most popular dessert, opera cake is known for its layers of luscious cream and coffee flavors, making for a delightfully complex tasting experience. Unlike its java-soaked Italian cousin, which has ladyfingers for its base, the French one uses an almond sponge cake called joconde that's soaked in coffee syrup. It's a balancing act of various textures and flavors that can be an ambitious labor of love for home bakers to create. However, the ultra-moist results make it worth all the effort. Since almond-based joconde is the opera cake's main ingredient, it's also an ideal treat for gluten-free eaters.

An opera cake has six layers that include coffee buttercream flavored with instant coffee or espresso powder and chocolate ganache, and it's topped with chocolate glaze icing. Traditionally, French bistros and patisseries will pipe the word "opera" in pretty lettering on the surface, and even fancier versions will have a dusting of edible gold leaf or other intricate designs. The origins of the opera cake aren't exactly solid, as a couple of bakeries claim to have first conceptualized it. Despite its hazy backstory, one theory that seems to be generally accepted is that this beloved cake received its name because its layers resemble the inside of a Paris opera house.

The many sides of the opera cake story

If only you could eat an opera cake while at the opera. As perfect as that sounds, it would be quite the crumbly, messy affair for such an elegant locale. The French opera cake's history is similarly messy, as we only have crumbs and stories to trace its actual history. The two names often associated with the creation of this dangerously delicious cake are Louis Clichy and Cyriaque Gavillon of the historic Maison Dalloyau dessert empire. Some conclude that Clichy, a famous pastry chef, showcased the cake at a culinary expo with his own name piped onto it. Other bakeries have also tried to take credit for creating the opera cake, but it's widely thought that Gavillon popularized it in the '50s.

The Maison Dalloyau has a long history that dates as far back as 1682 at the royal court of Versailles. Centuries later, Dalloyau is one of France's biggest names in the world of sweets and is constantly expanding its reach, even opening shops in other countries like Japan. It is said that Gavillon created a coffee-infused, multi-layered cake that was dubbed the opera cake after his wife mentioned its resemblance to the tiers lining the inside of the Palais Garnier opera house. Even if the origin story of this tiramisu-adjacent cake pulls us in different directions, one thing's for sure: Many would probably burst into song at the very thought of tasting an opera cake.