As Katharine Shilcutt noted this morning, today is Julia Child's 100th birthday, and in honor of this special day, I have made one of her best cakes, Reine De Saba, as seen in Julie & Julia. It's a semisweet chocolate cake with pulverized almonds and rum.
I love everything about French food: the way it's cooked, the ingredients used and, most importantly, the way it tastes. Julia Child brought us an exciting view on cooking, showed us how to enjoy the food we make and eat, and left her mark on the culinary timeline. Thank you, Julia Child, for dedicating your life to bringing wonderful recipes that we will never stop creating.
Now, a birthday wouldn't be complete without a cake (especially a chocolate one), so here's how to make Julia Child's Reine de Saba Avec Glaçage au Chocolat (Chocolate and Almond Cake with Chocolate Icing).
First, butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt four ounces of semisweet chocolate with two tablespoons of either rum or coffee. I used rum because I like the chocolate and liquor flavor with almonds. While the chocolate melts over a simmering pot of water, Julia recommends you measure the rest of the ingredients you will put in the cake -- such a smart woman.
So, let the stick of butter soften, measure 2/3 cup of granulated sugar and separate three eggs to have a bowl of three yolks and a separate bowl of three whites. You can finish getting the rest of the ingredients together while you prepare the beaten egg whites.
Next, cream the stick of butter with 2/3 cup of sugar until the mixture is creamy and fluffy. Then, beat in the three egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, beat the three egg whites with a pinch of salt. Once the egg whites form soft peaks, add one tablespoon of granulated sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks.
While you beat the egg whites in a stand mixer, pulverize 1/2 cup of almonds with one to two tablespoons of sugar in a food processor and measure 1/2 cup of cake flour. A note in Julia's cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking says the sugar helps keep the almonds from becoming lumpy and oily, preventing them from incorporating into any dry ingredients, like this cake. Sweetening up the almonds never hurt anybody.
Once the egg whites' peaks are stiff, it's time to put all the ingredients together to make the cake.
First, mix the chocolate and rum with the creamed butter, sugar and egg yolks. Once everything is mixed in, add 1/3 cup of pulverized almonds, 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract and about a quarter of the egg whites. Add a little bit more of the egg whites, then sift one third of the cake flour into the bowl. Alternate between the sifted cake flour and egg whites until everything is completely mixed together.
Now, place the cake batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for no more than 25 minutes. The beauty of this cake is that it is moist and creamy on the inside, so be sure not to over-bake the cake; it should wiggle a little bit in the center when it is done cooking.
After you let the cake cool for about one hour, you can ice it with Julia's chocolate-butter icing, which is basically just butter and chocolate.
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Melt two ounces of semisweet chocolate with two tablespoons of rum or coffee (I recommend using whichever one you used in the cake for consistency). Beat six tablespoons of butter into the melted chocolate and rum, one tablespoon at a time, until the icing forms; it should be silky and smooth. Spread the icing all over the top of the cake and decorate with almonds.