In my opinion, there are 3 things that soothe the soul: good company, good wine, and good chocolate. I can’t imagine my life without either of these.
A cake like this reine de saba will remind you just how important the chocolate part of this life equation is.
Reine de Saba
Named after the Queen of Sheba, this chocolate and almond cake is said to be one of the first French cakes that Julia Child ever ate. If this is indeed true, then it’s no wonder she fell in love with French cuisine.
A reine de saba is gloriously French in concept and execution. You have what the French would deem a simple chocolate cake, made with plentiful butter and the finesse of a lovely meringue.
It’s important to use quality chocolate here, although, if you ask me, it’s always important to use quality chocolate. I’m making a point of saying it here, however, because this is a chocolate cake.
If good chocolate isn’t used here, then where should it be?
I like to use 72% dark chocolate. It’s got that perfect balance of rich cocoa flavor and sweetness, unlike darker chocolate bars that can end up tasting a bit too bitter.
Those just won’t do for a cake like this.
Fit for a Queen
A reine de saba is made with typical baking ingredients – nothing peculiar – and yet this cake is definitely luxurious. Simply put, it’s fit for a queen. The reason is, it’s got remarkable texture.
A reine de saba is typically much lighter and spongier, thanks to the almond flour and meringue that’s used in the batter. And if you bake the cake like Julia Child instructs, you’ll get a slightly underdone quality that lends creaminess to it.
I’ve baked a reine de saba the way Julia Child advises, and I’ve also baked it till it’s perfectly done. How long you decide to bake the cake really depends on what kind of person you are: do you like your brownies super fudge-y, or do you prefer them cake-like?
I’m the latter, so you’ll notice my cake has a tender, yet fully baked crumb.
Why Less is More
For me, the appeal of this cake is in its simplicity. I love the idea of a single-layer cake. It’s a vintage idea that brings nostalgia for what home baking used to be.
The chocolate glaze on top is nothing but melted chocolate and softened butter stirred together to create one glossy coat. The only artful task in decorating this cake was the careful placement of shaved almonds along the sides of the cake.
This reine de saba proves that, more often than not, less can be so much more.
Reine de Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake)
A delectable, yet simple chocolate and almond cake with a light, spongy crumb and sinfully good chocolate glaze. A recipe adapted from Julia Child.
- 3 egg whites
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar (15 grams)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (115 grams) softened
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar (150 grams)
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 oz dark chocolate (72%) (114 grams) melted
- 2 tbsp brewed coffee (30 grams)
- 1/3 cup almond meal (26 grams)
- 1/4 tsp almond extract (1.25 grams)
- 1/2 cup cake flour (62 grams)
- 2 oz dark chocolate (57 grams)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (57 grams) room temperature
- shaved almonds for garnishing
- unsalted butter softened, for pan
Create the meringue
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). In the bowl of a stand mixer, brush a 9" cake pan with softened butter. To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites and the pinch of salt. Whisk on high speed until the eggs lose their yellow appearance and begin to foam.
Sprinkle the tablespoon of granulated sugar over the egg whites and continue to whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form. The egg whites should stick to the whisk when the whisk is held upside down, and they should look just a bit more firm than shaving cream.
Transfer the egg whites to a medium bowl and temporarily set aside. Rinse out the stand mixer's bowl.
Create the cake
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the unsalted butter and granulated sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. To the mixer, add the egg yolks and mix until the batter is light yellow (vanilla-colored).
Add the melted chocolate and coffee to the batter, then mix just to incorporate. Then mix in the almond meal and almond extract. Finally, on low speed, mix in 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten up the batter.
Now, use a rubber spatula to stir in half of the cake flour. Fold to incorporate. Add another third of egg whites to the batter, and very gently fold the whites into the batter to incorporate. Add the remaining cake flour and gently fold to mix. Finally, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold to incorporate. There shouldn't be any unmixed egg whites.
Gently pour the cake batter into your prepared pan, using a light hand to evenly spread out the batter in the pan. Bake the cake for 16 to 20 minutes. If you want a fudgey texture, the center of the cake should slightly wobble. Otherwise, remove once cake is set all over. Let the cake rest in the pan for 10 minutes before running a sharp knife along the edges. Flip the cake out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
Create the glaze
Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl in the microwave in 30 second intervals. Use a rubber spatula to stir the chocolate and make sure it's smooth. Add in the butter and stir until the butter has melted as well and the glaze is smooth.
Place the cake on your serving plate, then pour the glaze over the cake. Smooth the glaze across the top of the cake first, giving time for the chocolate to somewhat set before smoothing down the sides. As each minute passes, the chocolate will set more and more, making it less runny. Gently press shaved almonds along the sides of the cake.
If you want to make this cake gluten-free, you can substitute the cake flour with almond meal too. Follow the directions exactly the same way.
Almond meal can be substituted with almond flour or pulverized almonds.
Coffee can be substituted with rum or water.