To accompany the duck a l’orange I made this past weekend for my parents’ visit to Pittsburgh, I wanted a fabulous dessert. Although I’ve somewhat shied away from Julia Child recipes this year having in the past become much too exasperated with her lengthy recipes and on occasion disappointing results, I figured making something a la Julia was long overdue. I settled on Reine de Saba which she writes about it- “This is a very special cake of rum, almonds, butter and chocolate; it is somewhat moist in the center, and literally melts in the mouth. Like most French cakes, this one is only an inch and a half high, which makes it easy to cut, serve, and eat.”
I’m not quite sure why I never tried making this before as it was excellent (but then what chocolate delight isn’t?). It also I feel is my most successful Julia Child dessert in terms of look and presentation. I did forgo making icing as I just didn’t want to bother and figured the dark, creamy chocolate icing I bought from the store would be much better anyways.
Queen of Sheba-Reine de Saba
Recipe courtesy of The French Chef Cookbook
(for an 8-inch cake serving 6-8 people)
A round one-piece cake pan 8 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep
1/2 tsp softened butter
3 tb flour
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate morsels or 4 ounces (4 squares) semisweet baking chocolate broken into small pieces
2 tb dark rum
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Set rack in middle level of oven. Prepare the pan for the cake by rubbing inside of pan with softened butter, then roll the flour around so that entire bottom and sides are covered with a thin layer; knock out excess flour.
To melt the chocolate, place it with the rum in a small lightweight saucepan. Fill another and slightly larger saucepan with water; bring to the simmer and remove from heat. Set the chocolate pan in the hot water and stir with a rubber spatula until chocolate begins to melt, then set aside; it will be almost melted and smooth when you return to it later.
Measure out all the rest of the ingredients listed in the next step before you start preparing the batter.
The Cake Batter
a 2 1/2-quart mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, or an electric mixer and its large bowl
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, soft if possible
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
A scant 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
2 tb sugar
1/3 cup pulverized blanched almonds
1/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup bleached cake flour
Either by hand or in your electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Beat in the yolks of the 3 eggs.
You may prepare the batter in advance to this point, beating before your proceed, so mixture is again soft and fluffy. From now on, you must complete the batter and get the cake into the oven; this is so that the batter will remain soft enough for easy folding in of the beaten egg whites.
To whip the whites of the 3 eggs, place them in a very clean dry beating bowl and with a very clean dry beater start whipping them at low speed for a moment or two until the egg whites begin to foam. Then add the cream of tartar and salt, and gradually increase beating speed to fast. As soon as the egg whites hold their shape in a soft mass, beat in the two spoonfuls of sugar and continue beating for a moment. The egg whites are done when you can left a bit in a rubber spatula and they hold their shape, dropping off into a little point with curling tip. The texture should be smooth and shiny; do not over beat. Set aside.
Stir up the chocolate, to make a perfectly smooth soft cream. (You may have to reheat the water, if chocolate has cooled too much; if by any chance it has turned granular, beat in a few drops of warm water.) Stir the chocolate into the butter, sugar, and yolk mixture. Stir in the almonds, almond extract and flour.
With a rubber spatula, stir in one fourth of the beaten egg whites to soften the batter, then scoop the rest of the egg whites on top of the batter. Still using a rubber spatula, rapidly and delicately fold the egg whites in by cutting straight down through them to the bottom of the bowl, drawing scraper quickly toward you against edge of bowl, turning, and lifting it out; you thus bring a bit of the batter up over the egg whites each time. Continue rapidly, revolving the bowl as you go, until egg whites and batter are blended. The whole process should not take more than a minute.
Turn the batter into the prepared cake pan, tilting pan in all directions to run the batter up to rim of pan so cake will bake evenly and not hump in the center.
Set cake in middle level of preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Cake is done when it has puffed to top of pan, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a toothpick plunged into that area comes out clean. The center should move slightly when pan is shaken. If not quite done, bake a few minutes more. Then remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, turn a rack upside down over cake, and reserve the two to unmold cake on rack. Remove pan, and let cake cool for 2 hours before icing.