I marvel at the specialized knowledge of some people. After reading my post on the history of Opera cake last night, Jim Chevallier of www.chezjim.com went to work checking sources. His response this morning was: “Like I don’t have enough to do with baguettes and such… But you know, those unresolved culinary mysteries are hard to resist. Certainly it wasn’t Dalloyau who invented the gateau opera and almost certainly not Clichy.” As evidence he offers this clip from the French newspaper Le Gaulois, dated 1899. It shows Opera cake being advertised by a Parisian pâtisserie:
I’d have liked to have also tried one of those plum cakes. But why, I wonder, were they advertised in English? Were there enough English-speaking tourists in Paris at the time to justify that? Or did English plum cakes themselves have some sort of caché among Parisians? Hm…another mystery reveals itself. But anyway.
Assuming that’s the same cake — not another one simply called “gâteau Opera” — it does indeed blow both the Clichy and Dalloyau claims. Jim also points out that Opera cake is not mentioned in Urbain Dubois’ Grand livre des pâtissiers et des confiseurs from 1896, which tends to at least undermine the Paris Opera story as well. So it appears that Opera cake was invented sometime in the very last years of the 19th Century. By whom, it remains unclear.
But you heard the news here first, kids! And thanks Jim!
UPDATE. Jim Adds:
I’m not necessarily convinced the Opera cake (if, as you say, it was the same) wasn’t invented before Dubois’ book – sometimes these things took a few years to make it into the printed literature. Also, the French probably said “plum cake” for the same reason we say “creme brulee” (which the English once knew as “burnt cream”) – it sounds sexier in a foreign language (just like, in the same ad, “Five o’clock Tea”). Les muffins had long been known, for instance, in France at that point (though one work calls them “mophines”, phonetically).
Nice to have you around, Jimbo.