Julia's version of Reine de Saba, a chocolate almond cake, is something I haven't made in ages. It's not that it's difficult, it's just that it does take a bit of time, beating the egg whites separately and such, and makes for more cleanup than I'm interested in doing these days! I've come up with a completely different method and call my version Reine de Saba a la Femme Paresseuse, Lazy Woman's Chocolate Almond Cake.
Reine de Saba really is a wonderful cake, but so many people simply don't want to go to quite that much trouble. So, for those people, I give you my version. One that is greatly simplified and yet, I believe, retains fairly well the unique texture, that "special creamy quality" that made it a favorite of Julia's. You will be amazed at the texture of this cake!
No stand mixer, no hand mixer, no food processor. No multiple bowls. It is simply mixed by hand in the saucepan in which the chocolate is melted. Resist the temptation to use more almond extract, thinking 1/8 teaspoon couldn't possibly be enough. Almond extract is not like vanilla; it is really powerful and can definitely be overdone.
This is a small cake, 7 inches in diameter, perfect for afternoon tea. I do so hate big cakes at afternoon tea! The cake may be mine, but the delicious and perfectly simple icing is straight out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (though I toasted the almonds for extra flavor and used Kahlua instead of rum). Sometimes I skip the icing and just give the cake a dusting of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.
Reine de Saba a la Femme Paresseuse - Lazy Woman's Chocolate Almond Cake
(Makes one 7-inch layer, 6 servings)
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons Kahlua or coffee
1/4 dip-and-sweep cup (1.25 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour*
1/4 cup (1.125 ounces) almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup (2.25 ounces) sliced almonds
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons Kahlua or coffee
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
* If you are gluten-free, use 1 1/2 tablespoons sorghum flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons potato starch and 1 tablespoon tapioca flour in place of all-purpose flour.
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 7-inch round pan.
2 In 2-quart saucepan, melt chocolate with Kahlua or coffee over medium-low heat.
3 Onto a square of waxed paper, sift together flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt.
4 Stir butter into melted chocolate until butter is melted and chocolate has cooled a bit. Beat in sugar until well combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Beat mixture vigorously for a minute. Gently stir in half of flour mixture, then the milk and almond extract, then the remaining flour mixture.
5 Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overbake. Center (1- to 2-inch circle) should be a bit underdone; only the outer ring should test done with a toothpick.
6 While the cake is baking, toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. It seems like nothing is happening for the longest time, but stay focused. They can go suddenly from raw to burned if you aren't paying attention.
7 Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out on rack to cool completely before icing.
8 In 1-quart saucepan, melt chocolate with Kahlua or coffee. Remove from heat. Beat in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Set the pan inside a larger pan or bowl of ice and water. Beat chocolate mixture until it has cooled to spreading consistency. If you over-chill, just let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes; it will smooth right out.
9 With offset spatula (OXO Good Grips calls theirs a bent icing knife), spread icing over top and sides of cake. Decorate by pressing sliced almonds to sides or top of cake however it suits you.