I post a picture of pickled Jerusalem artichoke or marinated peppers (canned last summer) or wheat berry salad on Facebook. Do I get request for recipe? hahaha… However, I post – as an after thought really – a photo of an almond and chocolate cake… and I get no less than 3 (3!) requests for recipe. My friends like chocolate.
But who indeed does not like chocolate?
I would normally not post a recipe for Reine de Saba cake, because, really, it’s such a classic. And it’s a classic for good reason: it is such a very good cake – beautiful, dark and tender; it’s also balanced: not too dense, not too intense, just right. After a bite, you’ll understand its name.
For someone like me who cooks for others it’s a versatile and practical cake to know how make. Practical because there are few ingredients, all easily obtainable (and that I generally have around), all easily remember-able (it does not look good to pull a recipe when cooking for others) – and because there is a lot of room for personal interpretation and “field adjustments”. Meaning – for example – that any nuts ground very finely will do; sure it won’t be a Reine de Saba (almond, chocolate & whipped egg whites make it so), but you’ll end up with a very good walnut & chocolate cake or pecan & chocolate cake – at least fit for a princess. You can adjust the quantity of almond meal up, and flour down, and I suspect you may replace all the flour by almond meal, and you’ll still have a very good cake – a flourless chocolate cake. They are quantities of chocolate & nut cakes around after all – from the Italian, Spanish and French countrysides – at least those are the ones I know. So you know failing is unlikely.
You can tell it’s an old cake because there is no baking powder: the only levening is egg white beaten very stiff – and I mean very stiff (so stiff that if you turn the bowl upside down, the egg whites remain in there). The Reine de Saba calls for being iced – a classic butter-chocolate icing – and for some decoration with almonds. Julia & al (you knew I would get to Julia, didn’t you?) sparingly write: “press a design of almonds over the icing” – giving free rein to your decoration fancies. Simple is fine. Really, unless you are really skilled, simple is much better.
In fact you don’t even have to ice – it’s still a fine cake without it. But without its icing it’s a fairly rustic country cake (albeit very good with vanilla bean ice-cream or raspberry sorbet or fresh berries in season). But it looks quite sophisticated with icing and restraint decorations. Not unlike an elegant scarf can transform a simple dress… I did say it was a versatile cake, didn’t I?
For those who saw the movie “Julie, Julia” do not expect that your Reine de Saba will look like what Julie brings out on one of the last scene in the movie. A typical French cake is thin (brownie-thick I would say). Julie’s cake was towering – more like an American cake. To get that tall cake, you would have to stack two Reine de Saba.
But you should make 2 Reines anyway – the cake freezes beautifully (I freeze without icing).
So below is the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck & Louisette Bertholle. (in italics are my comments).
Reine de Saba
Yield: For an 8-inch cake serving 6 to 8 people
For the Cake:
- 4 ounces semisweet chocolate melted with 2 Tb rum or coffee (bittersweet chocolate works too)
- 1/4 lb. or 1 stick softened butter (very very soft)
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 egg whites (for those of us who get eggs from our hens, use eggs at least 3 days old or you may have trouble beating them stiff – also the eggs should be at room temperature)
- Pinch of salt (I also use a pinch of cream of tartar)
- 1 Tb granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup pulverized almonds
- 1/4 tsp almond extract (or vanilla or appropriate nut extract if you use nuts other than almond)
- 3/4 cup cake flour (scooped and leveled) and returned to sifter (I have used all purpose and it’s fine – double sift it)
- Note: I have also used instead of the above proportions: 2/3 cup pulverized almonds and 1/2 cup flour double sifted
For the Icing:
- 2 ounces (2 squares) semisweet baking chocolate (or bittersweet)
- 2 Tb rum or coffee
- 5 to 6 Tb unsalted butter
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Cut parchment paper circle to fit the bottom of an 8″ round cake pan: believe me it will make unmolding the cake a lot easier. Butter and flour the cake pan (I use cocoa powder instead of flour). Melt the chocolate (and rum or coffee) over of almost simmering water. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.
Beat the egg whites and salt (and cream of tartar if using) in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Set aside.
In a vary large bowl (you’ll need room to add the egg white), cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture. Beat in the egg yolks one by one until well blended.
With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in almonds, and almond extract. Immediately stir 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. Be careful not to deflate the whites: they should be folded in. It’s better to have a few streaks of egg white than to overdo the mixing.
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 about 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 center should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a needle comes out oily. Don’t overcook it: she says 25 minutes and she means it.
Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. (and if you use the parchment paper, peel it off, and see: perfect smooth top) Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.
For the Icing:
Stir chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan set in a larger pan of almost simmering water – until chocolate has melted into a very smooth cream. Remove pan from the hot water, and beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time. Let cool to spreading consistency, stirring. At once spread it over your cake with spatula or knife, and press a design of almonds over the icing. (in this particular version, I used remaining pulverized almonds and flat chocolate chips)
Locavore Log: eggs from the henhouse, butter from Trickling Spring Creamery.