Level-Up Tiramisu Bread Pudding — Reworking a Classic French Opera Cake with Bread Crusts

Flipped Opera Cake Tiramisu Bread Pudding from Trifle Dish Bake This Cake

Ready to rock the house with some old-fashioned game-forward refrigerator cake?  Level-up a country bread pudding, cross it with Italian tiramisu and a French opera cake (also known as a joconde) — and you’ll have our no-bake Level-Up Tiramisu!  whoo hoo!

Chilled Opera Cake in Trifle Dish Bake This Cake

History Thoughts:  Culinary historians argue wildly about the origins of these types of soaked custard cakes. Recent invention? Turn-of-the-Century basis? Ancient dessert?

Sweet Bread Pudding: Sweet bread pudding has that old-fashioned comfort quality — and it feels so Americana — but it has ancient roots in Rome and Egypt…or wherever stale crusty bread needed a sweet pick-me up (think raisins, nuts, dried bread and honey). Add some ancient sweet custard between the bread layers, which historically might have been made from something like rice or tapioca (cassava root), and you’ve got yourself an historic layered custard cake. haha!

Chocolate Bread Pudding in the oven BakeThisCake

Testing Old-Fashioned Chocolate Bread Pudding – not there yet 🙂

Tiramisu: The tiramisu  (teer-uh-mee-soo’) is a favorite lift-me-up cake, layered with espresso and a mascarpone cream and sweet Marsala wine filling, sprinkled with chocolate bits.  But, of course, this likely began with dried Italian cookies (like Savoiardi) dunked in sweetened coffee. 🙂

Tiramisu close up

Opera Cake:  Dalloyau Bakery in Paris has been famous for their Opera Cake since 1955.  This type of cake has that same general Tuscan trifle or tiramisu  feel, with open layered edges and creamy coffee layers in between, but it uses an almond sponge cake instead of lady fingers and usually has a buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache topping instead of a powdered chocolate “top”.

Our Combo Refrigerator Cake: From that classic cake genre known as an icebox cake, our Level-up Tiramisu Bread Pudding Cake requires no baking (the way a bread pudding would) and soaks chilled overnight like a classic refrigerator cake. But it combines parts of all 3 classic desserts (bread pudding, tiramisu and opera cake) to morph into a moist and sweet layered dessert.

Bread Pudding Tiramisu in the garden Bake this Cake

Additional Reading:  You may want to check out the 2004 Gourmet Magazine recipe for a French Opera Cake if you want to go that route.  Also, you may enjoy reading Joel Robuchon’s “Larousse Gastronomique” recipe for Opéra gateau  (page 595, 2007).

Cake Development — haha!

This cake started with tea sandwiches.

Yeah. I know.  What??

Cucumber Tea Sandwich Collage Bake This Cake

My sister, Christine Murphy, was about to host a photo gallery reception of her amazing nature photographs for her company, LifeForcePhotos.com and to promote book, “While Wandering: A Photo-Poetic Journey Through California Landscapes“.

LifeForcePhotos Gallery Reception Crowd photo by Leslie Macchiarella

So I offered to bring a gazillion tea sandwiches…like a good sister would, right?

I cut the crusts from about 5 loaves of country white bread and I was left with a huge pile of soft bread crusts.

Bread Crusts cut off for tea sandwiches Bake This Cake

I couldn’t bear to throw the crusts out!  But I had no clue what to do with them.

So I asked our BakeThisCake Facebook followers for suggestions.  And they are SO clever! They thought of so many things to do with bread crusts…

…bread pudding, tiramisu, toffee tiramisu trifle, turkey dressing, spinach dippers, mushroom bread pudding, toasted bread crumbs, french toast, chocolate brandied caramel bread pudding, figgy bread pudding, old-fashioned cheesecake with the bread crumbs in place of potatoes,  croutons, banana bread pudding, New Orleans style pull-apart pudding, meat loaf lining, meat loaf filler, countrified tirimisu…and more.

And just as I was pondering the possibilities, I learned that my talented and beautiful niece, Carmel Helene, was about to arrive home from 3 months in France.

Carmel Helene on Stage w Johhny Halladay in France photo by LifeForcePhotos

She’s been performing to incredible crowds as a back-up singer for Johnny Halliday (he’s known as the Elvis Presley of France).

Johnny Halliday is such a cool guy!

Carmel is so inspiring to me because she is such an amazing talent and such an awesome new mom.  She even took her hubby and her 6-month-old baby with her to France. AND the baby got the chicken pox between performances. Of course, right? Luckily, she didn’t miss a beat and she was able to nurse her baby back to health before the next train ride to perform for a crowd of 90,000! You go girl!

Carmel and Cole by drums in France Life Force Photos

So I decided to make something French-y to celebrate Carmel’s homecoming.  Thinking scratch cake and old-fashioned.  Thinking rich and decadent.  Thinking special and elegant with a vintage edge…

…AND using a pile of bread crusts as the main ingredient. haha!.

Luckily, my family lets me use them for cake experiments. 🙂

So the cake creation began, resulting in a very unusual and fun cake for a dozen guests at Granny Vi’s house

Yellow and White Tulips on the Dining Table Bake This Cake

SLOW FOOD WARNING! There’s no baking involved (yoo hoo!) but this cake does require stove-top work and some kitchen crafting (dip-and-place work) and an overnight chill…so prepare for a relaxing and leisurely kitchen project.

Okay!  Let’s get this puppy rockin!

It starts with a bright Chocolate Coffee Syrup that has just a hint of almond and vanilla in it. (I used the leftover coffee syrup to drizzle on top of morning cappuccino, but you could even drizzle it over vanilla ice cream or any dessert that needs a little kick-me up).

We’ll be dipping bread into the syrup, layering it in a trifle dish, spreading cream on the bread layer and continuing for a number of layers. Then we’ll flip it upside down and dollop it with some optional goodies: a coffee buttercream frosting and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

Chocolate Coffee Syrup Bake This Cake

Coffee Chocolate Syrup:  This is a special ingredient of this cake (and most opera cakes) and distinguishes it from a tiramisu (which uses a sweetened espresso dip versus a syrup dip).  It is rich and sweet and dark and results in a syrup with the consistency of maple syrup.  You can also dot the plate with a quarter teaspoon of this syrup at serving time just to kick it up a tad.

Tools Need for Coffee Chocolate Syrup:
Small pot
Whisk (or spoon)
Measuring cups and spoons
Temperature device (highly recommended)
Small pitcher (or other pouring device)

Ingredients for Coffee Chocolate Syrup:
2 cups strong coffee
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cups cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

In a small pot, boil on medium to low heat for 15 to 20 mins to 215 degrees about 15 minutes):
2 cups strong coffee
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cups cocoa powder

Stir to cool mixture, then stir in:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, fine quality
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, fine quality

Place a little of the syrup in a rimmed plate or bowl in order to get ready to soak the bread crusts.

Coffee Chocolate Syrup Collage Bake This Cake

Ricotta-Hazelnut-Coffee Cream Filling:  This is the rich and creamy coffee filling that is smoothed between the layers of soaked bread crusts. We elected to use ricotta but you may substitute mascarpone if you like. You may also substitute a different flavor of coffee (or just use “regular” instant coffee).

Ingredients for Ricotta Hazelnut Coffee Cream:
15 oz (2 cups) ricotta
4 oz (1/2 cup) cream cheese
1 teaspoon instant hazelnut coffee (no need to use Hazlenut if you prefer a different flavor)
1 cups powdered sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat on high for 3 minutes:
15 oz (2 cups) ricotta cheese
4 oz (1/2 cup) cream cheese
1 teaspoon instant hazelnut coffee
1 cup powdered sugar

Tiramisu Cream Part 1 Collage Bake This Cake

Using an electric mixer, beat (separately from the ricotta mixture) on high-speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes):
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the ricotta mixture and the whipped cream mixture together until light and fluffy (about 30 seconds to 1 minute).

Now this is ready to spread between the layers of soaked bread crusts.

Tiramisu Cream Collage Part 2 Bake This Cake

Bread Crusts:

Okay, now for the star attraction! It’s time for the bread crusts!

You could use dry crusts, although they might not form so nicely round the corners of a trifle dish or bowl (but if you try them, comment below and let us know how it goes). 🙂

This is a 2-quart measuring cup, with the bread crusts gently pushed down for a general measurement idea for:
about 3 loaves of white bread crusts

Bread Crusts Measured in 2 Quart Bowl with artwork Bake This Cake

Trifle Dish or Bowl with Straight Edges: The is the bottom of a trifle dish with the shape of the flower that we’ll be creating. It’s just a circle but it’s cute…and it works in pretty much any bowl so a trifle dish is not really necessary but a trifle dish has straight sides so that is useful to get the cake to flip upside down. So a regular bowl will work, hoping for flatish sides. And you don’t have to flip it over. This dessert can be spooned directly from the bowl.

Bread Crusts Lining Trifle Dish for Bread Pudding Tiramisu Bake This Cake

Start by dipping the bottom of one crust into a little bowl of room temperature Chocolate Coffee Syrup

This is a one-at-a-time event. 😀

Dipping bread crust for tiramisu in chocolate coffee syrup Bake This Cake

Tip: Don’t try to soak the entire crust of bread.  Aim for a couple of seconds of soak for just the bottom of the bread. The bread will soak up the sauce and the cream layer soon enough.

Create a circular pattern on the bottom of the trifle dish or bowl as you place each dipped bread crust.

Then spread the coffee cream about 1/4 inch thick on top of the soaked bread layer.

Repeat layering for 4 to 6 layers.

So it’s: 1) dip  2) place 3) form a circular layer of soaked bread crusts 3) cover the layer with cream 4) repeat 5) end with a top layer of cream

Layering Tiramisu Cream Bake This Cake

Tip: Don’t worry if it gets a little messy or sticky. Rinse your fingers from time to time and treat it like a fun little kitchen crafts project. 🙂

We’re just about done. We’ll top the final layer with a layer of cream.

Tiramisu Bread Pudding in Trifle Dish without top layer Bake This Cake

Now we’ll place a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the uppermost layer of cream and pop this little baby in the fridge overnight.

Refrigerating the Opera Tiramisu Bread Pudding Cake Bake This Cake

Next Day:

Here is the refrigerator cake as it comes out of the fridge the next day.

Refrigerated Tiramisu Opera Cake in Trifle Dish Bake This Cake

Before the cake is flipped onto a platter, I cut around the edges of the cold bowl with a sharp knife and also used a hot sponge on the bottom of the bowl to release any sticky coffee syrup.

Slicing around edge of trifle dish to flip tiramisu Bake This Cake

The cake releases like a charm onto the platter — whew!

Do you think it looks cute?  I like seeing the bottom syrup-soaked layer…now as the top of the cake. 🙂

Flipped Tiramisu Opera Cake rock background Bake This Cake

STOP HERE IF YOU LIKE!  You may stop right here and be very proud to serve this cake without any frosting dollop or chocolate sauce. It’s rich and moist and lovely.  But follow us along if you want to ratchet this thing up big time for a way-special event…

Hazelnut coffee french buttercream frosting Bake This Cake

Optional Hazelnut Coffee French Buttercream Frosting: This will be a side frosting or a small dollop for a dozen servings. It requires pouring a boiled molten-hot sugar syrup into whipped yolks with the electric mixer beating.  It’s so fun to make as a kind of kitchen science experiment.

Tools Needed for Hazelnut Coffee French Buttercream Frosting:
Small pot
Small heat-proof pitcher or pouring device
Whisk or fork
Large mixing bowl
Electric mixer
Thermometer or temperature gauge (highly recommended for cooking egg yolks to a safe temperature)
Measuring cups and spoons

Ingredients for Hazelnut Coffee French Buttercream Frosting:
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon hazelnut instant coffee
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (1 cube) unsalted butter

Boil on medium-low heat to 240-degree temperature (about 15 minutes):
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon hazelnut instant coffee

Molten Syrup for French Butter Cream Hazelnut Frosting Collage Bake This Cake

While the syrup is boiling, using an electric mixer, beat on high-speed until creamy (about 3 minutes):
4 large egg yolks

With the electric mixer on low-speed, slowly pour the molten-hot liquid into the whipped yolks (trying not to pour it onto the blades or the sides of the bowl), then beat on high-speed for about 5 minutes.

When the mixture has cooled by beating to room temp, beat into the yolk mixture on high-speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy:
1/2 c (1 cube) unsalted butter, room temperature and rough chopped

French Buttercream Hazelnut Coffee Frosting Bake This Cake

The finished frosting is light and lovely with just a hint of hazelnut coffee.

Hazlenut Coffee French Butter cream Bake This Cake

You can use a piping bag with a rosette tip to create a little flower rosette on the plate placed next to or on top of a slice of the cake on the serving plate

I used a Wilton Tip Number 30 to create the frosting flower — but you can use any tip that you like. Or just cut the corner off a plastic bag filled with frosting — or just use a teaspoon dollop to place a bit of extra goodness to the side of the cake slice.

French Buttercream Frosting Piped for Decoration Collage Bake This Cake

Optional Easy Chocolate Glaze: Just continuing to ratchet it up another notch with a little drizzle on the plate or a baste on top of the cake with a little chocolate syrup.

Tools Needed for Chocolate Glaze:
Small pot or saucepan
Whisk or fork
Optional: Squirt bottle (if you want to drizzle the plate with a bit of this syrup)
Optional: Basting brush (if you want to brush this syrup over the top of the cake)

Chocolate Glaze Ingredients:
6 Tablespoons (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or combination of your favorite chocolates)

In a small pot, melt on low heat, stirring continuously for a few minutes:
6 Tablespoons (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or combination of your favorite chocolates)

Stir to cool slightly and then bottle it for squirting later or, using a little basting brush, brush the top of the cake with a little of the sauce.
Note: I used a combo of European white and dark chocolate (and the white chocolate had nuts in it (surprise!), so I had to strain the nuts in order to be able to squirt it from a squirt bottle).
Allergy alert! If you have any guest who might be allergic to nuts, squirting a little on to each serving plate (omitting the serving plate of the allergic person!) is a good way to prevent an allergy catastrophe. Here’s a discussion we had on our Facebook page about allergies and nuts.

Making Chocolate Glaze Collage Bake This Cake

Here is one version of the finished cake (this one has a little layer of chocolate sauce instead of a squirted drizzle) without the rosette of the Hazelnut Coffee French Buttercream or the little drop of Chocolate Coffee Syrup…

Slice of Bread Pudding Tiramisu Opera Cake Bake This Cake

Thank you for joining us on this refrigerator cake adventure!

And THANK  YOU for your amazing suggestions and tips for this recipe exploration!

It’s been so much fun to create this cake! I hope you’ll be pleased with your own results should you decide to make it (and I hope you’ll send us a photo and leave comments about your cake).

Please join us on Facebook where we post photos of vintage cakes-in-progress and follow us on Pinterest for some inspiration fun!


Leslie Macchiarella photo by Julie Macchiarella

Related articles you may enjoy:

Carmel Tye and Cole photo by LifeForcePhotos

Carmel with her hubby and baby

Crowd Shot of Johnny Halliday show in France photo by Tye Gaddis

Crowd Shot of Johnny Halliday show in France

Carmel Helen's album cover

Carmel Helen’s album cover

Carmel with Miley Cyrus

Carmel on the Miley Cyrus tour

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