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.
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!
Reine de Saba (Julia Child’s Chocolate and Almond Cake)
- 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 Tablespoons rum or coffee
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup 3.5 ounces granulated sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cup blanched almonds* pulverized with 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (2.5-ounces) cake flour, scooped and leveled, and turned into a sifter
- Glaçage au Chocolat Chocolate-butter Icing - recipe follows
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour 8-inch round cake pan. Set aside.
- Set chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.
- Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture. Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.
- Beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on 2 Tablespoons of sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
- With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture; then stir in the almonds and almond extract. Immediately, stir in 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.
- 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.
- Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. Allow it to cool an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced. Ice with chocolate-butter icing. Yield: Serves 6 to 8 people.
- Glaçage au Chocolate (Chocolate-butter Icing from page 684 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1): 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate; 2 Tablespoons rum or coffee; 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature. Place the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan; cover and set in a larger pan of almost simmering water. Remove pans from heat and let chocolate melt for 5 minutes or so, until perfectly smooth. Lift chocolate pan out of the hot water, and beat in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. Then beat over ice and water until chocolate mixture has cooled to spreading consistency. At once, spread it over your cake with spatula or knife.