Julia Child’s famous Reine de Saba or Chocolate Almond Cake is an elegant dessert to serve with your holiday meals. The recipe is featured in Volume 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In her later book, The Way to Cook, Julia says that this cake, prepared by her French co-author Simca, was the first French cake she ever ate.
Ingredients for Reine de Saba:
Like many of Julia’s recipes, this cake involves several steps, and a lot of kitchen ware. I used the following ingredients. The ingredients for the cake include semi-sweet chocolate, coffee, butter, granulated sugar, eggs, blanched almonds pulverized with sugar, almond extract, and cake flour.
Making the Batter for Reine de Saba:
The first thing that I did was to blanch the whole almonds. To do this, I added whole almonds to boiling water. I boiled them for 1 minute, and then drained them. At this point, I could easily slip the skin slipped off when I pressed the almond between my fingers.
Because the almonds were still wet, I placed them in a 350° F oven for around 8 minutes to dry them off. After they cooled, I placed the almonds in my blender along with several tablespoons of sugar. I processed them until they were pulverized.
The next thing that I did was to melt the chocolate and coffee in a double boiler placed over simmering water. Then, I removed it from the heat and covered the pan until the chocolate melted. This took around 5 minutes. I removed the chocolate from the simmering water, and allowed it to cool a bit.
Assembling the Batter for the Reine de Saba:
I started by separating the eggs. I beat the egg whites, a pinch of salt and a little cream of tartar until soft peaks formed. Then, I sprinkled on some sugar, and continued beating the egg whites until stiff peaks formed. I creamed the butter and added the sugar and egg yolks. Next, I added the melted chocolate, and beat the mixture until all of the ingredients were well combined. Then, I added the pulverized almonds and vanilla extract. After that, I folded in 1/4 of the egg whites to lighten the mixture. Finally, I folded in the remaining egg whites alternately with the flour until both were well incorporated.
Finishing the Reine de Saba:
At this point, I turned the batter into a buttered and floured 8-inch cake pan.
I baked the cake in a 350° F oven for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, the cake had puffed and was partially set in the center. I removed the cake from the oven, and allowed it to cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Then, I ran a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, and turned it onto a wire rack to cool completely.
I was surprised at how crumbly the sides were. Therefore, I decided that I needed a crumb coat before attempting to ice it, even though the recipe didn’t call for this. Fortunately, I had some butter cream frosting in the refrigerator. I allowed it to come to room temperature, and beat in a little bit of unsweetened cocoa powder. Using a knife, I placed a very thin layer of the frosting on the cooled cake to “trap” any loose crumbs.
After the crumb coat had dried, I made Glaçage au Chocolat (chocolate-butter icing) from page 684 of Volume 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I melted chocolate and coffee in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. Then, I removed the chocolate pan from the simmering water and added butter. Finally, I beat the mixture over ice and water until the chocolate had cooled to spreading consistency.
I finished the cake by spreading the icing over it with a knife. The result was incredible – dense and somewhat moist in the center. Yum!