Although not as well-known as Boeuf Bourguignon, Reine de Saba is another Julia Child classic that I have been making for 20 years now. I love the way the chocolate and almond flavors enhance each other, and the rich, moist middle achieved from slightly underbaking the cake.
Julia has published two versions of this recipe, one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol I and the other in The Way to Cook. My take is a combination of the two that I've been playing with over the years. The absolutely most important thing to remember is DO NOT over bake this cake! The center must be soft and a little shiny when you pull it out of the oven.
This recipe a little more complex to pull together than your average American-style cake. The sugar is divided between the egg whites, the egg yolks and the ground almonds, for example, as opposed to being added all at once. But it's worth it. Trust me.
Reine de Saba
based on Julia Child's recipes
serves 6 to 8
The Way to Cook recipe calls for 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate and 3 oz of sweet chocolate. But I keep things simple by using 4 oz of one of the nice, dark chocolates we are seeing these days. I've found that Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate bar does nicely for the cake. You can use a premium bar for the frosting, as the flavor and texture really show through here. Recchiuti is a good choice, or the classic Valrhona. I also sometimes continue to use the Trader Joe's chocolate, with no complaints so far.
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons strong, hot coffee
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup almonds pulverized with 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup flour
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Set the rack to the lower middle level. Butter an 8- by 1 1/2-inch round cake pan, place an 8-inch piece of parchment paper in the bottom, brush with butter and coat the whole pan with flour.
In a small bowl, combine the chocolate and the hot coffee. Set aside for a few minutes for the chocolate to melt. (If the chocolate doesn't melt down completely, place the bowl in a few inches of hot water for a minute or two.)
Meanwhile, beat the whites until foaming, add the salt, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until shiny peaks form. Don't make the whites too stiff or they'll be difficult to incorporate. Set aside while you go on to the next steps but don't dawdle, as you want to use the whites as soon as possible.
In another bowl, using the same beaters, cream the butter until soft, add the 1/2 cup sugar and beat until fluffy. Then beat in the egg yolks.
Stir the warm chocolate into the yolk mixture, then add the almonds and almond extract. Gently stir a dollop of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Add the remaining whites and, alternating with sprinkles of the flour, gently but quickly fold in the whites.
Turn the batter into the prepared pan and spread the batter evenly over the bottom. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges of the cake are set about 3 inches in but the center is still a little soft and shiny.
Remove from the oven and place on a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges and unmold onto the rack, peeling off the parchment paper. The center may want to stick to the pan. If so, just use a knife to scoop it back into the center of the cake. This little blotch will be covered with the frosting. Let it cool completely.
For the Frosting
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons strong, hot coffee
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
pinch of salt
1 cup of slivered almonds
Place the chocolate and the coffee in a bowl, stir, and set aside in a warm place for the chocolate to melt. You may have to place the bowl in a few inches hot water if the chocolate doesn't melt completely. Stir until smooth.
Whisk the butter, one cube at a time, into the chocolate along with the salt, until all of the butter is incorporated. The mixture may be a bit runny. If so, set it on the counter until it thickens to spreading consistency.
Frost the top and sides of the cake and decorate the top with a swirl if you'd like. Picking the cake up in your left hand, press the slivered almonds into the side of the cake with your right hand, tilting the cake slightly so the excess almonds fall off.
Serve with pride and joy!
The lovely cake plate is from Nikole and her father at herriot grace.
(Image: Dana Velden)