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.