Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba

Yesterday was Julia Child’s birthday and what better way to celebrate the occasion than making, and eating, a chocolate cake.  And it’s not just any chocolate cake, but rather the Reine de Saba with glaçage au chocolat found in her most famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume One.  Making the Queen of Sheba cake with a chocolate-butter frosting has been on my mind for a while now.  The recipe appeared in the August issue of Bon Appetit magazine and a friend, who was learning how to cook this summer in Charleston, baked three different versions of the recipe.  The cake itself is a classic chocolate and almond cake with a buttery chocolate frosting.  Simply put it’s decadent and delicious.

While the recipe itself is fairly straightforward, there are some things you can do to make sure your cake is fit for a queen.  First, make sure you have your cake pan greased and floured and all ingredients ready to go before you begin.  As with any cake that requires beaten egg whites, you want to be able to work as quickly as possible when it comes time to fold in the ingredients to make sure that you don’t lose volume. 

Regarding the chocolate, water does make chocolate seize, but only when the chocolate and water are combined at two different temperatures.  Therefore add the coffee, or rum, to the chopped chocolate  in a microwave proof container and microwave for 15 seconds, stir, and repeat until the chocolate melts to the desired consistency.  I find this to be much easier than the traditional approach of melting the chocolate over a simmering pot of water and we could all benefit from fewer dishes.

When baking, be sure to turn the cake halfway through the baking time to promote even cooking.  Most, if not all, ovens have cooler and warmer spots and getting in the habit of turning and rotating food while it’s baking will immediately give you better results. 

If a recipe requires 25 minutes of baking, set your timer for twenty minutes and start testing it for doneness then.  The easiest way to test for doneness is to insert a toothpick in the center of the cake.  If it comes out clean, the cake is ready to be taken out of the oven.  Checking the cake at a time earlier than that required by the recipe insures that you don’t overbake the cake.  After all, if you are going to go through the trouble of baking a cake, you don’t want it to be dry.  Julia instructs to slightly underbake this cake, removing it from the oven when the center “moves slightly if the pan is shaken” and a toothpick “comes out oily.” 

When it comes times to frost your cake, cover your cake plate with large strips of wax paper and then set the cake on top of them.  Nathalie Dupree, who I apprenticed with this summer, taught me this trick for easy clean-up.  It’s one of those great solutions to a common problem that makes you exclaim, “why didn’t I think of that!”  Simply ice the cake and then gently slide the strips of wax paper out from under it and your left with an iced cake on a clean serving platter.  Yes, it’s genius. 

Ready for frosting with wax paper stripsIced Cake







Iced cake - wax paper strips removed

For a special finishing touch, garnish with almonds.  I, however, didn’t have the patience and immediately cut myself a slice.  Happy birthday, Julia!

Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba Cake)
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume One by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons brewed coffee (or rum)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 large eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour an 8-inch cake pan.*  Combine chocolate and coffee in a microwave proof container and microwave for 15 seconds, stir, and repeat until chocolate is completely melted.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolks and beat until incoporated.

In another bowl, beat egg whites with salt to soft peaks.  Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar and beat to hard peaks.  Do not overbeat.

Stir melted chocolate, ground almonds, and almond extract into the butter and sugar mixture.  Stir a spoonful of egg whites into the butter and sugar mixture to lighten it.  Gently fold in remaining egg whites in thirds sprinkling mixture with cake flour after each addition until flour and egg whites have been added in their entirety. 

Pour batter into the pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Cake should be slightly underbaked, or as Julia describes it, until the center moves slightly when the pan is jiggled and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out slightly “oily.”

Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Gently run a knife around the cake to loosen it and then turn it out.  Let it sit until completely cool.  Ice with chocolate butter icing and garnish with almonds if desired.

*I don’t have an 8-inch cake pan and therefore used a 9-inch cake pan.  The result was still delicious although it yielded a thinner cake and needed to be watched closely to avoid overbaking.

Glaçage au chocolat (Chocolate-Butter Icing)
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume One by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.

1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon brewed coffee (or rum, if used in cake)
5-6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Combine chocolate and coffee in a microwave proof container and microwave for 15 seconds, stir, and repeat until chocolate is completely melted.  Whisk butter in tablespoon-sized pieces into hot melted chocolate until all the butter has been added.  Cool slightly until icing can be spread easily and then ice the cake.  Use wax paper strips, as described above, for an easy clean-up.


  1. I am so excited to have this recipe. After seeing the movie, I wanted to make it right away. Love your blog and have subscribed.


  2. After seeing the movie this weekend I was reading my copy of Mastering the Art…(which Betsy gave me in 1968) and I marked that recipe for Jay’s birthday this fall. How nice to get your tips to simplify. THANKS!


  3. i/2 of how much cake flour? I just saw the movie Saturday and loved it! Wish that I still had that wonderful kitchen on Goodwood Road!


  4. oops. thought i was forwarding the recipe to my email box. A friend is having a Julie-Julia party and we are supposed to make Julia Childs recipe. Clever idea. I am hoping that this recipe isn’t too difficult.


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