An Operatic Bake-Along: Le Gâteau au Chocolate l’Eminence Brune

Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook as Julia Child in Opera Colorado’s 2021 production of April in Paris. Photo: Opera Colorado/Rock Mountain Public Media

By Suzanne Whitney

“Today, we’re going to make chocolate cake!” With those words the one-woman comic opera, Bon Appetit! begins. Julia Child was larger-than-life, iconic, and even had a remarkably memorable voice. These traits made her a perfect operatic muse for composer Lee Hoiby and librettist Mark Shulgasser. The chamber opera is a bite-sized piece, only about 20 minutes long, but there is still plenty to chew on! Food puns aside, this chamber opera is filled with delight and whimsy and is a wonderful vehicle for an operatic comedienne, such as Catherine Cook in our 2021 production. 

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This piece is based off an episode of Julia Child’s beloved television series The French Chef where she bakes Le Gateau au Chocolat ‘Eminence Brune.’ While the music is all original, the words came straight from Julia’s mouth. Librettist Mark Shulgasser adapted the episode’s dialogue to be set to music.

You can sit back, relax, and enjoy the program—but you can also learn some of Julia’s tips and tricks for producing this beautiful and decadent cake! It is hard to watch this production without dreaming of tasting the cake, so we are here to help. Below is Julia’s original recipe found in her 1975 cookbook Julia Child’s Kitchen. Are you going to give into your sweet tooth?

Le Gateau au Chocolat ‘Eminence Brune’

Adapted from ”Julia Child’s Kitchen,” Alfred Knopf, 1975

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients for the cake:

2 teaspoons instant espresso
1/4 cup boiling water
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup extra fine sugar plus 2 tablespoons
4 ounces soft unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup cornstarch

Ingredients for Chocolate Filling and Glaze

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon instant espresso
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsalted butter

Bake the Cake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch cake pans; place wax paper in bottom of each, and then butter and flour.

2. Blend coffee and water in top of double boiler over simmering water. Remove from heat. Add chocolates; cover and set aside to melt.

3. Beat yolks and gradually add 1 cup sugar. Continue beating until yolks are thick, pale yellow.

4. Beat melted chocolate until smooth. Beat in butter, 2 tablespoons at a time; gradually beat chocolate and butter into yolk mixture.

5. Beat whites until foamy; beat in cream of tartar and salt. Continue beating until whites form soft peaks; gradually beat in 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat until whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Sift on 1/4 of cornstarch and scoop on 1/4 of whites; stir with spatula. Scoop rest of whites on top; sift on 2 of remaining cornstach and fold. Sift half of remaining cornstach on top and fold in; sift on remaining cornstarch and fold to blend.

6. Spoon batter into pans and smooth. Bang once on work surface to settle batter, then bake for 15 minutes. A cake tester inserted near the edges should come out clean. Cool pans on racks. Wrap and chill for an hour before unmolding.

Make the Glaze

1. Melt chocolates with coffee and water; beat in butter. If mixture is too liquid to spread, beat over cold water until lightly thickened.

2. Unmold one layer of cake onto serving plate and spread top with 1/4 inch of icing. Unmold second layer on top of first and cover top and sides with remaining frosting. Serve, refrigerate or freeze. Return to room temperature before serving.


Let us know if you try out Julia’s fabulous cake! Share your successes or even your collapsed cakes on social media and tag us @operacolorado and use the hashtag #ocbonappetit. We can’t wait to see what you make!

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