A friend of mine made a Queen of Sheba cake for Passover. I didn't think I'd ever made one, but as I started to do a bit of research, I remembered I had--a long time ago, and definitely more than once. I'm sure I watched the Julia Child episode when she made this cake (I watched them all many times), but I never really thought about this in terms of the perfect Passover cake. So I did a little research into this cake, not avoiding Mrs Child's classic recipe... just wanted a little history. In the course of my research, I found some very interesting articles and recipes including a very amusing article from Bay Area Bites that also went into the history of the Queen of Sheba, Come Back, Little Sheba and more.
Julia Child writes in "The Way to Cook" that this was the first French cake she ever ate, prepared by co-author Simone Beck, "and I have never forgotten it." Here's the recipe reprinted from Bay Area Bites for Reine de Saba. The recipe below does not include Julia Child's chocolate glaze. My feeling is you never have enough of a good thing--chocolate--so I've add it at the end.
The following will make one large Reine de Saba in an 8-inch cake pan, or make six petite versions in a large (3 1/2-inch diameter) muffin tin.
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate (bittersweet may be used)
2 tablespoons rum or coffee
1/4 lb butter at room temperature
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 egg, separated
2/3 cup finely ground almonds
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour, measured then sifted
one good pinch of salt
Pre-heat oven to 350F and place rack in the middle.
1. Melt the chocolate and rum or coffee (choose your poison) in a pot set over simmering (not boiling, please) water, stirring to combine. Cover, turn off heat, and leave alone. You'll come back to it later and it isn't going anywhere. Cream the butter and 2/3 cup sugar together until pale yellow and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks until paler and even fluffier than before. Add almond extract.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on low-to-medium until foamy, then increase speed as you like, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar until soft peaks form.
3. Return to your melted chocolate and give her a little stir. The consistency should be somewhat satiny and fluid. Beat in a bit of butter/yolk mixture at a time, stirring constantly so the yolks do not curdle. Repeat until all is one.
4. Combine almond meal, flour, and salt. Now add this dry mixture to your chocolate goo, incorporating bits at a time. When this has been accomplished, gently fold in egg whites, starting with about 1/2 a cup and working the rest in ever so skillfully.
5. Immediately set to placing about 1/2 cup of your batter into each of the six muffin tins. Give her a good, hard bang or two on your kitchen counter to level and remove any bubbles in the batter. Bake for 12 minutes, then begin to peek into your oven obsessively until finished. A pale, chocolaty crust should form, but the cakes should jiggle a wee bit, too. Ideally, a toothpick inserted about an inch from the edges should come out dry, but one poked into the center should not. When this has been achieved, remove from oven and let cool for, oh, I don't know, let's say an hour, because you've got other things to do. When ready to remove from pan, run a sharp knife around the edges of the cakes, invert onto a tray, and you're done.
Not exactly. At this point, you may either top them with a chocolate glaze or simply dust them with powdered sugar.
I do like the personal baking comments in the recipe above, but the writer does not include Julia Child's chocolate glaze. My feeling is you can never have enough of a good thing--chocolate--so you can add it.
For the Icing from Julia Child's original recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking:
2 ounces (2 squares) semisweet baking chocolate
2 Tb rum or coffee
5 to 6 Tb unsalted butter
Place the chocolate and rum or coffee in the small pan, cover, and set in the 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 the ice and water until chocolate mixture has cooled to spreading consistency. At once spread it over your cake with spatula or knife, and press a design of almonds over the icing.
And, you can add a few dark chocolate squares to the top, too!