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Chocolate
  • Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba Chocolate Cake)

    With a name like that, it must be good. Because it is. Julia (Child) proclaims it will be the *best* chocolate cake you've ever made and/or eaten (hopefully both, because it is so satisfying to make).Nutty almonds turned into pulverized-yet-still-coarse-flour, whipped egg whites, creamed butter, sugar and eggs...and rum (or brandy...). Melted butter meets more chocolate and more rum...skinned almonds adorn the top to remind you what awaits inside.Yes, it does take a touch of time, but by the time you reach slathering the rich chocolate disc in buttery chocolate icing (not really an icing at all, more like a butter ganache) and dotting the top of the whole works with toasted skinned almonds, you cannot wait to dig in.Aside of wanting to steer closer to my cookbooks and away from internet recipes lately (mostly because I love my cookbooks and they need some love), it feels good to try new things and experiment. But rest assured, this cake will become a favorite. 

    I could see it with grated lemon or orange zest in the winter; use hazelnuts instead of almonds; adorn the top with cherries or raspberries or blackberries; add a hint of peppermint for a refreshing zing. Change up the booze or add all vanilla (I opted for bourbon steeped with vanilla beans). Make this for you, call it self love. Make it for a friend, co-workers, a stellar significant other (for putting up with your angsty antics). Just make it and enjoy the nutty-chocolatey wafts of amazing-ness you are greeted with each time you cut a slice for yourself. Completely un-adorned, this cake would maybe be enhanced with a dollop of whipped cream for a contrast of color and flavor, but honestly, plain is how I prefer it (but who said no to a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate cake?). I may even like it better in the morning, with a fresh set of taste buds, along with my morning coffee. I'll let you judget when and how you like this cake best.So, with really no changes to Julia' recipe (found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, page 677), the Queen of Sheba lives on...Notes: you could most definitely make the cake ahead of time. Tightly wrap and refrigerate for a day or freeze for a month or so, and bring to room temp before slathering with chocolate icing and decorating with almonds. As mentioned, you can use almond flour in place of pulverizing almonds at home in a blender or food processor. 



    The Cake:

    • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (anything 60-70%)
    • 2 TB rum, bourbon or coffee
    • 1 stick softened unsweetened butter
    • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
    • 3 egg yolks
    • 3 egg whites
    • pinch of salt
    • 1 TB granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup pulverized almonds (almond flour, or make by blending 1/2 cup skinned or skin-on almonds with 1 TB sugar in a blender or food processor until cornmeal texture)
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract (I omitted)
    • 1/2 cup cake flour, scooped and leveled (I used AP flour with no issues)

    Chocolate Icing:

    • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
    • 2 TB rum, bourbon or coffee
    • 5-6 TB unsalted butter (ideally soft)

    To decorate: a handful of either skinned toasted almonds (make sure they are fresh, and not rancid), or raw almonds to skin and freshly toast at home (see below for my how-to).

    1. Butter and flour an 8 inch cake pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

    2. Melt chocolate and rum together: use a double boiler or gently use the microwave, stirring in the rum after the chocolate is melted. You want it luke-warm. Measure the flour, using the scoop-and-sweep method to preven overly compacting the flour in the measuring cup. 

    3. Cream butter and sugar together for several minutes until fluffy and pale. Add in the egg yolks until well blended.

    4. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks, adding 1 TB of the sugar and a pinch of salt once soft peaks are formed.

    5. Mix the melted chocolate and rum with the butter-sugar-yolk mixture. Stir in the pulverized almonds and extract (or rum or bourbon or vanilla). Gently mix in 1/3 of the whipped egg whites to lighten the mixture. Follow with 1/3 of the flour, folding gently, following with 1/3 of the egg whites. Repeat until the flour and egg whites are used, using a gentle folding action.

    6. Gently turn into the prepared pan; gently coax up the rim of the pan, leveling the top. Bake for 20 minutes, checking for doneness in the 2 1/2 to 3 inches of circumference around the cake pan edges (a toothpick will come out clean here, but if stuck in the middle, will come out oily, according to Julia; this helps retain a moist, creamy consistency to the cake).

    7. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan, then loosen around the edges with a thin knife or spatula. Reverse cake onto a cooling rack and cool compeletly.

    8. Prepare the icing by gently melting the chocolate, and beating in the butter 1 TB at a time, over medium heat or in a gently simmering water bath. 

    9. Ice the cake: to catch spills, cut 3 pieces of waxed paper or parchment, and make a triangle on the surface you plan to ice the cake on. Dollop a spoon of icing in the middle of the triangle (this helps prevent the cake from slipping when you remove the waxed paper strips). Set the cake in the middle of the triangle atop the dollop of icing "glue". Gently pour the icing over the cake. Allow it to cool for about 1 minute (this helps thicken in just enough so it doesn't run all over the sides too quickly). Then, gently coax it all around the cake, forming an even layer. Scoop up excess from the sides and coat the sides evenly if needed, working quickly while the icing is still warm. Allow the icing to cool for a minute or two before removing the waxed paper strips from the circumference of the cake.

    10. Dot with skinned, toasted almonds. Serve right away, or cover and serve when desired. We found that the cake kept beautifully in the fridge for 1 week, covered. Bring up to room temperature before serving, or eat cold (the chocolate flavors will be muted, but still delicious).

    How to skin and toast whole almonds: I have found that you can easily take the skin from raw, untoasted almonds by soaking in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, draining, and popping the skins off. Dry thoroughly, and toast the whole almonds in a 350F oven until fragrant and just starting to brown. Allow to cool before decorating cake.