Cakes and chemistry through the generations

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 04:58 PM

Bob Davies leads a brand strategy firm called Candescence. He’s also a father whose son baked a cake as a chemistry project – not to record the chemical interaction in cake batter, but as an artistic interpretation of the structure of an atom.

When my granddaughter, Evelyn, saw a picture of the cake, she said “It’s a way cool chemistry project because you can eat it.”

Cake making runs through the Davies’ family traditions. Mr. Davies’ father was an accomplished cake baker. I jumped on the chance to get the elder Mr. Davies’ Cuban Opera Cake recipe. Having spent many summers in Tampa, Florida, I adore Cuban food.

Bob Davies is also a foodie and cook. His favorite kitchen is in his North Carolina mountain home. There, he loves putting together his original dishes gathered from different recipes he’s either read or enjoyed in restaurants.

While in his Charlotte home, his cooking activities slow down. As husband of Queens University President Dr. Pamela Davies, he doesn’t get to be as active; they dine out quite a bit.

Note: His recipes include roasted beet quarters on his grill. An eggplant recipe - cut the eggplant length wise and you can stuff and roll up like a burrito. I need to get his exact recipe for that one.

I have Cuban relatives but had never tasted a Cuban Opera Cake. I wasn’t familiar with where the term “opera cake” came from. My research wasn’t definitive. Some references said that a type of multi-layered cake with different fillings was served in eighteenth century France at opera intermissions. It was believed that the cake provided a sugar high that kept the audience awake during the second act.

Don’t be dismayed by the length of the recipe. All the steps are fairly easy to follow and the results are worth the effort. It’s delicious. I had a few mishaps while making and it still turned out.


4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened or semisweet) chocolate, chopped

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups packed golden brown sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

3 1/2 vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1 cup of sour cream

1/2 cup creme de cacao

1/2 cup freshly brewed coffee


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter, line with parchment paper two 9-inch pans. Dust pans. Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until melted. Remove from water. Cool until lukewarm.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually beat in lukewarm melted chocolate. Beat in dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with sour cream in two additions. Begin and end with dry ingredients. Beat in cream de cacao and coffee. Divide batter evenly in pans. Bake until the centers come out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool completely on racks.


Butter cream


8 ounces imported milk chocolate chopped

1/2 cup of sugar

4 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons of water

2 tablespoons of light corn syrup

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature


Melt milk chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from water. Whisk sugar egg, yolks, 2 tablespoons of water and corn syrup in a medium metal bowl. Add 1/4 cup of butter. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; whisk constantly until mixture reaches 1700. Remove bowl from over water. Using electric mixer, beat until completely cool and thick, about six minutes. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of butter, about 1 tablespoon at atime fully incorporating each addition and stopping occasionally to scrape bowl. Beat in lukewarm melted chocolate.

Coffee Mouse


1/2 cup half-and-half

4 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or coffee powder

4 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, softened in 1 tablespoon of water for 10 minutes

1 cup a chilled whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Bring half-and-half, 2 tablespoons sugar and espresso powder to simmer in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Whisk egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot half-and-half mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat until thermometer registers 1600. Pour into large bowl. Add softened gelatin, stir until dissolved. Using electric mixer, beat until cool about 10 minutes. Using clean dry beaters, beat cream and vanilla until stiff peaks. Fold whipped cream into coffee mixture.

Chocolate glaze


1 1/2 cups of sugar

1 cup of water

1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

12 ounces of bittersweet (not unsweetened or semi- sweet) chocolate chopped


Stir sugar and one cup of water in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil. Whisk in cocoa. Remove from heat. Add chocolate whisk until smooth. Let stand until cool but still pourable, about two hours.

Cake Assembly

Cut each cake horizontally in half. Place one cake layer in the bottom of a 9 inch diameter Springform pan and cover with 3/4 cup of the buttercream. Place second cake layer on top buttercream, cover with mousse. Top with third cake layer and refrigerate one hour to allow mousse to set up.

Spread 3/4 cup of butter cream over third cake layer. Top with fourth cake layer (cake will rise above the rim of the pan), cover and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.

Run a knife around pan sides to loosen cake. Release pan sides, scrape excess moose from sides of cake. Transfer cake on Springform pan bottom to rack set over a baking sheet. Pour glaze over cake, allowing it to drip down the edges onto baking sheet. Use a spatula to spread glaze over any uncovered spots. Refrigerate at least two hours to allow glaze to set. Cake can be made one day ahead and kept refrigerated. Let it stand at room temperature one hour before serving.