As a child, opera creams were frequently a part of Easter for my family. My Grandma S. faithfully sent a huge opera cream egg for each member of the family when we couldn’t make it to Northern Kentucky for the holiday.
If I close my eyes, I can remember the scent that filled the air as I opened the package. It was one pound of creamy candy goodness, coated in chocolate and decorated with flowers and my name, spelled out in pastel sugar paste.
I would eat the sugar paste first, nibble away the chocolate coating from part of the egg, and then roll the cream part into a ball and pop it into my mouth. This went on, piece by luscious piece, until the whole egg was devoured. It would take at least a month to eat. It was so delightful and reminded me of home and her with every bite.
When I set out to make these, I didn’t have a family recipe to use as Grandma purchased them from a local sweet shop. After researching recipes and blog posts and attempting the candies four times I finally met with success. The recipe that follows is based on the French Cream recipe from the 1887 White House Cookbook and the Opera Creams recipe on the blog Easybaked at Easybaked.net, where there is a wonderfully helpful video of the pulling process posted.
Homemade Opera Cream Candy
Grease a shallow casserole dish with butter, break a few small pieces of butter off the end of the stick (about 2 teaspoons total) and leave them to sit in the bottom of the dish. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt and shake the pan around so the vanilla extract will dissolve the salt. Set aside.
Put 2 cups of granulated sugar and 1 cup of heavy cream in a large saucepan. Add a tablespoon of light corn syrup. Place over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, wet a pastry brush with warm water and go around the inside of the pan just above the liquid line to dissolve any sugar crystals that have formed. Cover and let simmer on low for a couple of minutes. Remove the lid, increase heat to medium, and let boil while stirring slowly to keep the mixture from browning.Use either a long wooden spoon or a long silicone spatula for this.
Boil for 5-7 minutes. If it starts to brown, lower the cooking temperature. Use a spoon to do a drop test. Drop a small amount of the candy onto a cold plate, or stainless steel utensil. If it forms a ball and doesn’t move, it’s ready. You can also use a candy thermometer. Take the mixture off the heat when it hits 238 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour the mixture out into your prepared shallow dish. DO NOT STIR. DO NOT SCRAPE THE PAN (you don’t want any crystals that have formed along the sides of the pan getting into your candy). Let sit in the shallow dish until it is still warm but cool enough to handle (about 30 to 40 minutes).
When it is cool enough to handle, have a seat and put the casserole dish in your lap. Knead, pull and roll the cream around with your hands for 20-30 minutes. It should start to thicken and turn creamier and the color will lighten.
If you have a marble or granite counter top or pastry slab, turn the mixture out onto it and keep kneading. If not, either keep kneading it in the shallow dish, or turn it out into the large bowl of your mixer and mix on low with the paddle attachment. See photos of that process in my post Pulling Sugar – Opera Cream Dreams.
If the opera cream doesn’t seem to be getting to the cream stage, you may have overcooked it. Try adding a tablespoon of very hot water, stirring it in with a heat safe spatula or spoon until it’s cool enough to handle again. If that doesn’t work, you’ve just invented a new candy! Knead in some flavoring and pull or score off pieces of the candy to wrap in waxed paper squares. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
When the cream gets lighter, thicker and shaggy looking you are almost done. Keep kneading or mixing until the cream doesn’t stick to your fingers and can easily be formed in a ball. If you wish to add other flavoring extracts or food coloring wait until the dough is at this last stage and knead it in.
The whole kneading process may take over an hour. Keep going and it will get there. Form into the shape of a ball or disc, cover in plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator until cool or you are ready to use the dough, up to 3 days.
You can also place the wrapped opera cream in a ziptop bag and freeze it. Just remember to give it time to thaw in the refrigerator a few hours before you need it.
Bring the opera cream to slightly cooler than room temperature when preparing to do your chocolate coating. When ready to form candies, either use your fingers to form small balls, or flatten your disc and cut into square or diamond shapes. Coat the cream with melted chocolate, let set at least 6 hours before serving.
If you have any scraps or small pieces left, roll into small balls and sandwich between toasted pecan or walnut halves. Dip in chocolate and let set. This recipe will make 5-6 dozen opera cream candies, depending on the size of your shapes.