Reine de Saba Cake for Julia’s Birthday


For the Fourth Annual Julia Child Birthday Celebration, hosted by Champaign Taste, I made Reine de Saba. Julia said that this was the first French cake that she ever ate, as prepared by Simone Beck.

I made the version that appeared in The French Chef and Mastering the Art of French Cooking (also at Epicurious), but there is another, later version (presumably improved) that appeared in The Way to Cook and Julia Child’s Kitchen Wisdom. 

I made the recipe dairy free by using Earth Balance margarine, which is salted (I am so hoping that this ends up being ok). I also used ground hazelnuts instead of ground almonds, because that is what I had. I think, with the almond extract and the almond garnish, that the difference in ground nuts will be unnoticable.

Here is what the cake looked like before I iced it:


The icing came out very much like a glaze, but I did not have trouble spreading it. I sprinkled the cake with sliced almonds as suggested in the recipe, but the later version of this recipe suggests decorating the cake with shards of chocolate and then adding a dusting of cocoa. Nice.

I went with coffee powder and hot water instead of rum, which I think will end up being lovely. I have not tasted the cake yet, but I have high hopes.


Note: The National Museum of American History Blog is going to be posting about Julia Child’s recipes every Monday. This past Monday was Reine de Saba. Next week is omelets, I think.

Another note on the differences between the early version of Reine de Saba and the later version:

The early version calls for  4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, and the later calls for 3 ounces sweet, 1 ounce unsweetened. The later version calls for baking it at 325 instead of 350 degrees. The later version also insists on a longer cooling off period for the cake before icing. The version of the recipe I followed from The French Chef called for 3/4 cup cake flour, later versions call for 1/2 cup cake flour.

Update: The cake was delicious. It was  moist and fudgy in the very center, more mousse-ey slightly further out, and cake-ey (but extremely delicate and tender) at the edges. The almond extract flavor came through clearly.

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11 Responses to “Reine de Saba Cake for Julia’s Birthday”

  1. Julia @ Mélanger Says:

    The ingredients sound absolutely delicious. I love how you made your own substitutions. I’m sure they taste wonderful!

  2. bookishheather Says:

    There has always been an intimidating aura around Julia Child’s cooking for me. However, my love of baking, lust for chocolate cake, and aspirations toward veganism are inspiring me to give this a try… 🙂

  3. lisamichele Says:

    Oh wow, I didn’t know which to comment on, this gorgeous cake, or the Sour Cream Cinnamon Twists! My mouth is watering like crazy. Beautiful job on both fronts, but everything you bake comes out lovely!

    BTW, big Julia fan here, and I need to do some kind of tribute to her on my blog using one or two of her recipes! I have several of her cookbooks, but glad you posted that link!

  4. Lisa Says:

    Beautiful cake; thank you so much for taking part in the event! Though I’m not usually a baker, I might have to try this . . . bon appetit!

  5. pragmaticattic Says:

    Thanks so much for the nice comments!

  6. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella Says:

    Looks like a beautiful cake and one that I really need to try soon! Thanks for sharing it! 😀

  7. Nina Says:

    Looks DIVINE! Love that you made it dairy free! This one is on my “to do” list! Thanks for sharing it.

  8. bookishheather Says:

    I finally tried it, yippee! Take a look:

  9. Sandee Says:

    This was a favorite of my mother’s to make. She was a JC devotee of the tv series back in the 60s and 70s. I have my mom’s cookbook that was based on the recipes on the show.

    I made one of these today and it is as good as I remember it. Next time I will try your adaptations regarding the flour and oven temp.

    Remember the scene in the movie where Julie and Eric dig into the cake with their bare hands? My mom and I did that once in 1972! Yes, the cake is that good.

  10. pragmaticattic Says:

    Thanks, Sandee. Actually, the changes to flour and oven temperature that I list are not my changes. They were changes that Julia herself made in later versions of this recipe that appeared in The Way to Cook and Julia Child’s Kitchen Wisdom.

    I have not tried this later version myself, but let me know what you think if you do!

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