Hello and welcome to Week 6 of the JC100 Celebration where, for the first time since the countdown began, we’re baking! This week’s special recipe is Julia Child’s Reine de Saba, a delightfully decadent chocolate and almond cake named for the mysterious Queen of Sheba.
In The Way to Cook, Julia Child wrote that Reine de Saba was the first French cake she had ever eaten and that she had never forgotten it, but what she didn’t say was how it got its name.
Although the subject of fiction, film, and song, there are very few historical facts about the female monarch who once ruled the ancient kingdom of Sheba. She is widely assumed to have been one of the most powerful women of the biblical era, the founder of a great Ethiopian dynasty, and an ally (if not lover) of Solomon, the King of Israel. But there doesn’t seem to be anything on record saying she had a thing for chocolate cake.
Julia Child’s recipe for Reine De Saba
|The JC100: Reine De Saba|
- 4 ounces or squares semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 Tb rum or coffee
- 1/4 lb or 1 stick softened butter
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 1 Tb granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup pulverized almonds
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 cup cake flour (scooped and leveled, turned into a sifter)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter and flour the cake pan. Set the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.
- Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.
- Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.
- Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
- With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds, and almond extract. Immediately stir in one-fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one-third of the flour and continue folding. Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.
- Turn the batter into the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cake is done when it has puffed, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a needle plunged into that area comes out clean; the centre should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a needle comes out oily.
- Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.
- To serve, use the chocolate-butter icing recipe below, then press a design of almonds over the icing.
Glacage au Chocolat (Chocolate-butter Icing)
– 2 ounces (2 squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate
– 2 Tb rum or coffee
– 5 to 6 Tb unsalted butter
– A bowl filled with a tray of ice cubes and water to cover them
Place the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and set in a larger pan of almost simmering water. Remove pans from heat and let chocolate melt for 5 minutes or so, until perfectly smooth. Lift chocolate pan out of the hot water, and beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time. Then beat over the ice and water until chocolate mixture has cooled to spreading consistency. At once spread it over your cake with spatula or knife.
I followed Julia’s recipe closely but did make two small changes. First, I swapped ground pecans for the pulverized almonds, and second, I replaced the almond extract with a teaspoon of Bourbon Vanilla Powder.
And I decided to decorate with fresh berries instead of nuts.
After tasting this deliciously dense brownie-like cake, I wonder if it was named after the Queen of Sheba because it shares so many of her purported qualities. It’s exotic, rich, irresistible, and quite possibly, the stuff legends are made of.