Where does Opera cake come from?

There are so many competing stories about the origin of Opera cake, I doubt anyone will ever know the truth about it. I have a pet theory about such things, things like the Kennedy assassination, the Princess Diana conspiracy or the reason Brad Pitt left Angelina Jolie. They become so heavily investigated and so widely talked about that eventually a point of information density is reached, beyond which it’s impossible to know anything at all. Someday I’m going to publish this theory in an international epistemological journal. For now though, I’m going to use it to talk about Opera cake.

Maybe it’s a bit of an overstatement to say the controversy surrounding Opera cake resembles that of the Kennedy assassination. But in international pastry circles, people get worked up over these sorts of things.

A leading theory is that Opera cake started out as Clichy cake, invented by Louis Clichy, one of Paris’ legendary pastry chefs, around the turn of the last century. It’s said he premiered his famous gâteau at the Paris Exposition Culinaire in 1903, after which it became the signature cake at Clichy’s shop on the Boulevard Beaumarchais.

Not true, say the owners of pâtisserie Dalloyau, who claim to have invented Opera cake in 1955. According to their story, a pastry chef by the name of Cyriaque Gavillon invented the cake, which was subsequently dubbed “Opera cake” by his wife Andrée in honor of a prima ballerina at the Paris Opéra. Supports of Clichy claim Dalloyau stole it.

My favorite story of Opera cake’s origin is that it was invented by the Paris Opéra itself around 1890. Such a coffee-heavy preparation, it’s said, helped people stay awake through the final acts of lengthy Wagnerian epics.

Will we ever know who really created Opera cake? According to the Pastry Theory of Cognitive Entropy, no. However we can be certain that Opera cake will continue to be around, regardless of who first thought it up, for many years to come.

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