Friday, February 10, 2006

A Valentine's Queen of Sheba Cake for Two Behind a Curtain of Cardamom Honey Strawberries

I've been wanting to try the Queen of Sheba Cake for awhile, which is a chocolate and almond cake with chocolate icing. It's one of Julia Child's classic recipes, that apparently was all the rage when it was published--as I learned in the wonderful 24 hr audiobook biography of Julia Child called Appetite for Life.

Chocolate and nuts can be too rich to have alone, though, so I decided to match it with some form of strawberry. Since strawberries aren't really in season now, doctoring up their lusciousness seemed like a good idea. I'd heard that if you cover strawberries in sugar overnight, then they will release their juices. I like the pairing of chocolate and honey, so I decided on that form of sugar. And I wanted a little spicy kick. I considered cinnamon, cloves, or black pepper, but no... cardamom had to be it.

The strawberries were just fantastic--bursting with flavor and lushly moist with a hint of floral cardamom goodness (be aware that cardamom is very pungent, so a little goes a very long way). I made up the recipe, based on what seemed like a good idea at the time and what I've made before. I didn't measure anything, so keep in mind that it's a very casual, adjustable recipe.

The Queen of Sheba cake was also very good, but I must have overbaked it. It was rather firm, not creamy in the middle as it's supposed to be. I baked it for 25 mins at 350, but I'll have to try again, and start checking it at about 18-20 mins for a moister cake. Even so, the flavor was rich and alluring and sweet, and a wonderful mix of chocolate and almonds. I found two versions of the cake online (b/c she had tweaked the recipe herself), one with semisweet chocolate and one with a bit of unsweetened chocolate. I used the former, because it's what I had. And be warned that it needs an 8 inch cake pan, which can be frustrating for the 9 inch cake pan owner. The volume is too different to simply use the 9 inch cake, but if you have small ramekins or individual pans, you could try baking multiples ones in those, and start checking it much earlier--maybe 8 minutes, to be safe.

Queen of Sheba Cake with Cardamom Honey Strawberries
adapted from Julia Child
Yield: For an 8-inch cake serving 6 to 8 people

For the Cake:
4 ounces or squares semisweet chocolate melted with 2 Tb rum or coffee
1/4 lb. or 1 stick softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 Tb granulated sugar
2/3 cup pulverized almonds
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour (scooped and leveled) turned into a sifter

For the Icing:
2 ounces (2 squares) semisweet baking chocolate
2 Tb rum or coffee
5 to 6 Tb unsalted butter

A round cake pan 8 inches in diameter and 1-1/2 inches deep
A 3-quart mixing bowl
A wooden spoon or an electric beater
A rubber spatula
A cake rack
A small covered pan
A larger pan of almost simmering water
A wooden spoon
A bowl with a tray of ice cubes and water to cover them
A small flexible-blade metal spatula or a table knife

Instructions for the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

Butter and flour the cake pan. Set the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe. Measure out the rest of the ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.

Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.

Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in almonds, and almond extract. Immediately stir one fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour and continue folding. Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.

Turn the batter into the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for about 25 minutes. Cake is done when it has puffed, and 2-1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a needle plunged into that area comes out clean; the center should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a needle comes out oily.

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.

Instructions for the Icing:
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.

Yield: For an 8-inch cake serving 6 to 8 people

Cardamom Honey Strawberries
Yield: 6-8 servings with cake

1/2 c Honey
4 tsp Water, or up to 8 tsp if you want it runnier
a small pinch of Cardamom
As many Strawberries as you'd like -- maybe 1-2 per person

Over low heat, combine the honey, cardamom, and a bit of water in a small saucepan, and melt until runny, stirring occasionally. Taste for spiciness, and adjust if necessary. Add more water if you want it runnier, and stir in. Let cool.

Cut strawberries in half. Put in a shallow sealable container and pour honey over strawberries. Cover, shake to coat, and let chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Arrange strawberries with cake and drizzle honey syrup over everything.


Anonymous IRENE said...


3:12 PM  
Anonymous irene said...

i need chocolate fix! and this cake sounds like it'll hit the spot!

3:13 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thanks. :) I wish I could mail it -- having this much rich cake in a single apartment is dangerous. :)

5:17 PM  
Anonymous CarolinaJenn said...

I felt very comfortable with your recipe. I saw her make it on PBS and knew that i would have to make it. It is in the oven now. I will let you know how it comes out when we eat it tomorrow.
Do you use an oven thermometer?

7:51 PM  

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