I was moved to make the Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba aka chocolate and almond cake) after watching "Julie & Julia" during which Julie makes this simple, but chic, cake for company.
After a pregnancy-long drought of chocolate, I am getting back on the cocoa bandwagon.
I know, I know, I have been neglecting my blog readers. The truth is that over the past six weeks, our household has grappled with my infant cutting three teeth, getting over a feverish virus, three ear infections, and countless sleepless nights. I've lost a bit of my joie de vivre, it's true.
So you will forgive me for not being in the mood to bake.
I made this cake on Mother's Day for dessert following a late luncheon with my mother and mother-in-law. It was probably not the best choice for that morning, as my son was cranky (we would later find out he had an ear infection), and this took longer than I would have liked.
But everyone (yes, everyone) complimented me on the cake, and I can see how it would be a crowd pleaser even beyond my picky circle, which includes eaters who can be unadventurous at the best of times.
For another take on making this cake the authentic way, read this blog post from the Julia Child recipe series from the Smithsonian.
The following recipe is from Julia Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1"
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, plus
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons dark rum or strong coffee
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup blanched almond (pulverized in blender or food processor with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set the oven rack in lower middle level.
In a saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate in the rum or coffee. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cut butter into pieces and cream it. When soft and fluffy, add sugar and beat 1 minute. Beat in egg yolks until well blended.
In another bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar and salt and continue beating until soft peaks are formed. Gradually beat in 2 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until stiff, shiny peaks are formed. Blend melted chocolate and coffee or rum into yolk mixture, then add almonds and almond extract.
Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate using a rubber spatula. Scoop the rest of the whites over chocolate and, alternating with sprinkles of flour, rapidly and delicately fold in the egg whites. Turn batter into buttered and floured 8-by-1 1/2-inch round cake pan, tilting it in all directions up to the rim all around. Set in preheated oven. Bake 25 minutes.
Cake is done when puffed to the top and a toothpick inserted 2 to 3 inches from edge comes out clean. The center should move slightly when the pan is gently shaken. Remove pan to a rack and let cool 15 minutes. Unmold onto rack. Let cool 2 hours before storing or icing.
Substitutions: Well, I didn't cream or beat anything by hand. I used my electric mixer. Do yourself a favour and do the same. I also used the coffee rather than the dark rum, although I can imagine the rum being a sharp and tasty addition. In the interest of full disclosure, I will also admit that I added the almond extract to the egg whites by mistake. I think this may have taken some of the air out of the light batter. I guess I will find out next time I make this, which leads me to...
Would I make this again? Indeed, I would. But maybe in a couple of years when I am not so frazzled about my son waking up. You need a couple of undisturbed hours for this if you want to do it properly.
Grade: Four-and-a-half stars out of five. A simple, delicious, unforgettable chocolate cake. But I docked half a point because it is missing a bit of a wow factor. And the directions are so finicky I can see it going wrong if you don't read them carefully.