Julia Child’s Reine de Saba cake

It’s 2005 and I’d just heard of a new book about Julia Child. It was called ‘Julie & Julia’, and was written by Julie Powell, who was inspired to cook her way through Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ in one year. That’s 524 recipes in 365 days, and, with a few disasters along the way, she did it. Back in 2005, there was no Book Depository. Shipping from Amazon cost around $30, more than the actual book, so I set an alert on trademe and once a copy finally showed up, I made sure I was the highest bidder. Once the book arrived, I devoured it. Reading it made me hungry, planted the seed to one day have a blog, but also started my love for foodie books. Fast forward 12 years and my collection has grown. Any book about chefs, restaurant critics, people who love food – I will read it. My top 5 desert island reads? Toast, Born Round, Garlic & Sapphires, Blood, Bones & Butter, and Sacre Cordon Bleu.

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One of the recipes in ‘Julie & Julia’ is the Reine de Saba. This cake, also known as the Queen of Sheba cake, is super moist and very rich. It’s important to not over bake it, lest you lose the creamy texture. The icing is simply chocolate, butter and coffee. After always making cakes with such large quantities of ingredients, it’s surprising at just how delicious this simple chocolate cake is.

As Julia says, let’s make the best chocolate cake you ever put in your mouth. Bon appetit!

For the cake

Ingredients

115g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Whittakers 72%)
2 tablespoons rum or coffee (I used espresso)
115g butter, cubed and softened
140g sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
35g ground almonds
¼ teaspoon almond extract
70g flour, sifted

*½c sliced almonds, toasted (optional)

Method

Preheat your oven to 180°C and grease and line a 8″ cake tin. (See notes.)
Place the chocolate and coffee (or rum) in a small bowl set inside a small saucepan of simmering water. Allow to melt while you proceed with the recipe.
In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes.
Add the egg yolks and beat until well combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt together until soft peaks
form.
Sprinkle over the tablespoon of sugar and whisk until stiff peaks are formed. Set aside.
Add the chocolate mixture to the creamed butter and blend with a rubber spatula, then stir in the ground almonds and almond extract. At this point, it’ll look like this:

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Quickly stir in ¼ of the egg whites to lighten the mixture.
Very gently fold in 1/3 of the egg whites, and when they are nearly incorporated, sprinkle over 1/3 of the flour and continue folding gently. Repeat until all of the egg whites and flour are incorporated.
Gently tip the batter into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes. The cake is done when the outer 2½-3″ are set and a cake tester comes out clean. The middle should still move slightly if you shake it. My cake took 24 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Gently run a knife around the edge and reverse the cake onto a rack. Cool completely before icing.

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For the icing

Ingredients

60g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons coffee or rum (I used espresso again)
85g unsalted butter, cubed and softened (see notes)

Method

Prepare a large bowl by covering the bottom with ice cubes and then enough water to cover the ice, set aside. (You’re going to sit the smaller bowl of chocolate inside it.)
Place the chocolate and coffee (or rum) in a small heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted.
Remove the bowl from the saucepan and whisk in the butter, one cube at a time.
Once the butter is fully incorporated, sit the bowl in the larger bowl of ice and water, and beat until the chocolate mixture has cooled to a spreading consistency.

Immediately spread it over your case. Decorate with sliced almonds, if using.

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Notes

  • Julia says to use a cake tin 1½” deep but I only had my standard cake tin which turned out fine.
  • I actually used salted butter in the icing, and it was quite nice to have a bit of salt in such richness.

 

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