Friday 29 June 2012

Reine de Saba - Julia Child's 'Queen of Sheba' Cake

Most accounts of the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon speak of their interaction as strictly platonic - a matter of state and trade agreements, not seduction. I don't see how that's possible if this rich, dense, chocolate cake named in her honour was amongst the gifts she brought to him. It remains a mystery how this cake is actually connected to its namesake, but it's so delicious you too would give the Queen "whatsoever she desired" (1 Kings 10:13) once you had a bite.

The Queen of home kitchens, Julia Child, was also enamored of this cake, calling it "extremely good." It is.

This recipe is one of 100 of Julia's recipes selected by well-known chefs and food enthusiasts to celebrate what would be her 100th birthday on August 15th. Amongst the contributors are: Judith Jones; star chefs Thomas Keller, Danny Meyer and Jacques Pepin; and Anne Willan, to name a few. The 'JC100', as it's called, introduces one new recipe a week to a crowd of eager home cooks and bloggers who honour her legacy by following and posting about her recipes. Restaurants around the world are also honoring her by creating special tasting menus based on her famous recipes. Julia-Child-themed tribute dinners, cooking classes and video testimonials are also part of the programming. This is my first contribution to the celebration. Happy Birthday Julia!

Both the Queen of Sheba and her cake have a standing invitation to my kitchen boudoir (not to mention future dinner parties). They are both beautiful, compelling, and unbelievably seductive.

The Queen of Sheba's beguiling outfits are held together with wisps of transparent gauze, while her cake is held together with chocolate and barely any flour, folded into clouds of whipped egg whites and ground almonds. The recipe gives the option of flavouring the cake and the frosting with either coffee or rum. I chose coffee, loving the way it deepens the chocolate flavour. The two flavour options also provide an excellent excuse to make this cake again - you know, to decide which I like 'better'.

The recipe is simple, despite the amount of dishes it employs ...

Butter, sugar and egg yolks are beaten together and combined with coffee-spiked melted chocolate. Stiffly beaten egg whites are then invited in, alongside ground almonds, to form the cake's batter. It is baked just enough so that the outside edge of the cake is firm, but the centre is creamy and chocolatey.

Once cool, the cake is glazed with a gla├žage au chocolat - essentially melted chocolate and a shot of coffee that is fed butter until sated and glossy. The mixture is then whisked and thickened over an ice bath before being spread indulgently over the top of the cake.

The rich, buttery icing then meets the crunch of sliced almonds and an arc of ripe red raspberries that form a decorative crown to embellish this queenly cake. A dollop of freshly whipped organic heavy cream is the perfect accompaniment to this sultry dessert.

Forks cherish each crumb: from the cake's slightly under-baked centre to its brownie-like edge. Its deliciousness wields a power strong enough to secure international trade agreements and practically guarantees any 'negotiations' will take place not only across one's table, but also on top of it.

REINE DE SABA (CHOCOLATE & ALMOND QUEEN OF SHEBA CAKE) - Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

This extremely good chocolate cake is baked so that its center remains slightly underdone; overcooked, the cake loses its special creamy quality. It is covered with a chocolate-butter icing, and decorated with almonds. Because of its creamy center it needs no filling. It can be made by starting out with a beating of egg yolks and sugar, then proceeding with the rest of the ingredients. But because the chocolate and the almonds make a batter so stiff it is difficult to fold in the egg whites, we have chosen another method, that of creaming together the butter and sugar, and then incorporating the remaining items.

The chocolate icing is butter beaten into melted chocolate, and forms a tender coating over the chocolate cake.

Recommended Equipment: 

A round cake pan 8 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep.
A 3 quart mixing bowl
A wooden spoon or an electric beater
A rubber spatula
A cake rack


For the cake:
4 ounces or squares semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 tbsp rum or coffee
1/4 pound or 1 stick softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/3 cup pulverized almonds
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour (scooped and leveled) turned into a sifter  

For the icing:

2 ounces or squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
2 tbsp rum or coffee
5 to 6 tbsp unsalted butter


For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Butter and flour the cake pan.

Set the 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 and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the 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 the 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 for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.

For the icing:

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 a bowl with a tray of ice cubes and water until chocolate mixture has cooled to spreading consistency.  At once spread it over your cake with spatula or knife. 

To serve, use the butter icing and press a design of almonds over the icing.


  1. Your Reine de Saba looks absolutely seductive!

  2. OMG!!! Absolutely divine!!! I'm officially drooling over this cake.

  3. I love the dessert, looks delicious. Cant not wait to try the same during christmas....i keep trying the chocolate and almond but it has been coming out worse!

  4. If you prefer large milk drinks, you will most likely need a dual boiler or heat exchanger machine, unless you are only making one drink at a time. chaosandcoffee