Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Who does the b*tch think she is? La reine de Saba?

If it weren't for my basic biblical and Islamic knowledge, I would have assumed that the Queen of Sheba was a notoriously haughty woman who did as she pleased, a non-fictional, pre-Common Era Duchess of Langeais. This impression stems from the colloquialism in the title of this post (but for the French name for the queen). In fact, I recall a few childhood moments witnessing my mother's frustration as women cut in front of her in queues or acted superior to her when they were the ones behind the counter. Out of an offending woman's earshot, my mother would mutter under her breath, "Who does she think she is? The Queen of Sheba?"

The Queen of Sheba is recorded to have travelled from the areas of contemporary Eritrea and Ethiopia to Jerusalem as a monarch conducting international affairs. She was impressed by King Solomon's wisdom, to whom she presented many questions and riddles, and submitted to monotheism.

What the gâteau, reine de Saba, has to do with the Queen of Sheba, I do not know. I have thus far not been able to find a connection between the two and have thus invented it: 1) The cake contains almonds, which are part of the regular diet in Ethiopia; 2) The cake is rich, and the Queen of Sheba is recorded as being a very wealthy monarch, having gifted a load of gold to King Solomon.

Reine de Saba with Glaçage au chocolat
(from Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck's Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

For the cake:

120g/4 oz chocolate (I used 68%)
2 tablespoons espresso (or rum)
113g/4 oz unsalted butter
2/3 cup and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided use
3 eggs, divided into yolks and whites
pinch of salt
1/3 cup finely ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon bitter almond extract
1/2 cup flour (cake flour is also good), scooped, levelled and sifted

1) Pre-heat oven to 180 C/350 F.
2) Butter and flour a cake tin (I used a 23cm/9" springform pan).
3) Create a double-boiler and set chocolate and espresso on top, letting the chocolate melt while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
4) Cream the butter and 2/3 cup of sugar until pale and fluffy.
5) Beat in the egg yolks.
6) In a separate bowl, such as a clean stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks are formed.
7) Sprinkle one tablespoon of sugar on the soft peaks and beat until you have stiff peaks.
8) Blend the melted chocolate into the creamed mixture.
9) Stir in almonds and almond extract.
10) Stir in 1/4 of the beaten egg whites to lighten the density, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites 1/3 at a time, interspersed with additions of flour by the third.
11) Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake on the middle shelf in your oven for approximately 25 minutes.
12) The cake is ready when it has puffed slightly and 6cm/2.5" around the circumference are set (a toothpick test in this section should be clean, and it should be oily if poked into the centre of the cake).

For the icing:

60g/2 oz chocolate (again, I used 68%)
2 tablespoons espresso
56g/4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1) Melt chocolate with espresso in a double-boiler.
2) When perfectly smooth, remove from heat and beat in butter one tablespoon at a time.
3) A spreading consistency needs to be achieved. As the icing is cooling, you can beat over a bowl of ice until spreading consistency is reached.

Decorating the cake with almonds tells your quests that there almonds are present in the cake. As I mentioned around this time last year, almond flour adds depth of flavour and imparts a moist result. Reine de Saba is rich beyond belief; it is both dense and creamy.

I don't who she thinks she is, but reine de Saba is welcome to turn up any time an easy-to-make and rich cake is desired.

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Shaun, I remember hearing this expression in early childhood even here in India - an indignant teacher said this of a student! I've never come across a gateau de la reine de Saba, though! She's rich!

I offer you my utmost thanks for a new codeword for a certain person (perhaps two...three...) I have to put up with.

The cake looks lovely...

Didn't we chat about this ages ago, Shaun? This cake is in my top five all-time greats lists w/ Sachertorte and St. Honore. Soooo thrilled you baked it yourself. Not an uncomplicated recipe, either. Bravo, you!
oh yes, this cake would be more than welcome at my place - looks fantastic
Cheating on That Cookbook Thing II, huh? The cake looks INCREDIBLE!!! You say it eas easy? I may have to give it a shot...
this has my name written all over it, didn't you know!

nice to have found you. it's a wonderful world out here!

Ooohh, that's just what I'd like to have right now...
Sra ~ Isn't it funny how these colloquialisms travel? I suppose this one is a hangover from Britism imperialism; however, I continue to be puzzled by the connection between this divinely rich cake and the actual Queen of Sheba.

Jasmine, honey ~ Yes, as a codeword this works, but I suspect someone might cotton on if you use it too often :-) I have seen very elaborate decorations for this cake. In my view, the cake speaks for itself, and while not visually stunning, the richness of the velvety texture cannot be denied.

Susan, lovie ~ Yes, we did chat about this very cake. I'm not surprised, then, that it caught my eye when I was scanning the book intently to understand the context of the recipes chosen for That Cookbook Thing II. Certainly not complicated, which now makes me less inclined to make any other kind of chocolate cake. I have had my eye on a cookery book of desserts from some key central European cities, but I think that I will just buy those sorts of things from cafes because I don't have the deft touch to create refined versions at home. Reine de Saba, however, I can manage.

Johanna ~ Well, you could come to my place to have some, too! If only the Tasman were not so wide.

Michael ~ Cheating? Me? Not my story. Indeed this cake is a breeze to make, and it tastes so divine, if you like chocolate, that is.

Bren Herrera ~ Welcome! Now I know it has your name written all over it, but you might still have to fight with my good friend Susan. Thank you for stopping by - hope to see you here again soon.

Eva ~ So great to see you again. Glad that the cake has pleased you, simple as it may be. Chocolate has no season, which is a blessing.
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