So rich, dense and chocolatey. One may say this is the chocolate cake to end all chocolate cakes. Julia (Child) wrote praise in MTAOFC for this decadent cake, and rightly so. The Queen of Sheba chocolate cake is full of butter, ground almonds, sugar, eggs and of course – chocolate. Not unlike the lore of the actual Queen of Sheba – powerful, rich, legendary and a bit mysterious.
There are many iterations of this classic cake. Like any classic recipe, each individual can put their spin on the recipe. Adjusting here and there, to get it just right for their tastes. I’ve made several, and I am still learning and modifying to my taste. The recipe for Queen of Sheba chocolate cake I share today hails from Chocolate Queen herself, Alice Medrich.
A more imposing Queen of Sheba!
When we evaluate her recipe vs. Julia’s, we immediately note that there is more of everything, in relatively the same proportions – more almonds, more butter, more eggs, more chocolate, more sugar. We expect a larger, more imposing Sheba – and that’s exactly what we get. To make matters even more interesting, Alice calls for cream of tartar for added stability when the egg whites are whipped. I’ve found that while this does make the egg white foam more stable. It also means that the trapped air will make for a crackly, un-predictable crust to form on the cake as it bakes. The end result is not polished looking, and is not ideal for glazing – which is fine, if that is what you’re going for. This crust is also a nice contrast to each slice, offering a slightly chewy top (almost like a chewy meringue!).
The crackly crust also makes it a little more difficult to determine when the cake is done by eye. You’ll have to poke the cake with a tester to determine doneness. An important quality that is called out by both Julia and Alice is the moist, fudgey texture in the middle of the cake – something that you will not get if you over-bake. So, judging doneness is an important factor for the Sheba (we did say she was magnificent, but we never said she wasn’t finicky!).
While details are important, the cake comes together easily. Weeknight friendly, to share the next day. Simply dust with sifted confectioner’s sugar, and serve alone or with some softly whipped cream. Or, a weekend project, and spread the center with a thin pool of ganache – upping the richness and glory! I baked this particular Sheba for my mom’s birthday, and went with the ganache treatment, serving with lightly whipped cream.
Queen of Sheba – THE cake to enjoy with coffee!
And, it goes without saying, this is THE cake to enjoy with a strong black coffee or espresso. We’ve recently added a Gaggia to our home coffee routine. So naturally, we had to have an espresso to accompany a leftover slice (yes, my mom is a generous lady – she shared a few pieces with us!).
A word on almonds and chocolate: for the almonds, I have used both almond flour and home ground almonds (in the food processor). I personally prefer ground almonds, as I find the fine texture of almond flour to produce a cake that is a little too sticky in texture – but both will work. As for chocolate, use the best you can. I typically use Guittard dark chocolate, but this is a great cake to experiment with chocolates with 60%-75% cocoa solids.
Queen of Sheba Chocolate Cake
- 6 oz Bittersweet Chocolate 66%-70%
- 10 TB Unsalted butter
- 3 TB Dark Rum, Brandy or Liquor of Choice Coffee Liquor, like Kahlua, is great here
- 1/8 tsp Almond Extract Optional (blends better with more fruity chocolates)
- 1/4 tsp Fine Sea Salt
- 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) Whole Almonds With skins, as this contributes to flavor and texture; raw and unblanched.
- 2 TB All Purpose Flour
- 4 Large Eggs Separated
- 3/4 cup Granulated Sugar Divided into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup portions
- 1/8 tsp Cream of Tartar
Ganache & Garnish
- 1/4 cup Bittersweet Chocolate Chopped fine
- 3 TB Heavy Whipping Cream
- 1/2 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream For whipping for serving
- Confectioner's Sugar For dusting, optional
- Position oven rack in bottom third of oven. Pre-heat oven to 375F. Grease, and line the bottom of either a 8×3" cake pan or springform pan. Greasing the entire pan with a thin film of butter is insurance to get the cake out.
- In a medium saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the butter and chocolate together. Remove pan from heat once 80% of the chocolate is melted, as the residual heat will melt the rest. Set aside to cool.
- In the bowl of a food processor, add the almonds, flour and salt. Pulse to break the almonds down into a cornmeal texture. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until light, pale and fluffy (it should form a ribbon from the whisk when you drizzle the mixture back into the bowl). Add in the brandy or liquor if using, and mix to combine. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or bowl that will accomodate a hand mixer, add the egg whites. Beat on medium until just foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and continue to mix on medium-high. Gradually add in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, and whip just up to stiff peak. I find that beating to a stiff peak produces too dry of a cake texture.
- Add one quarter of the whipped egg whites and the melted chocolate and butter to the nut/flour/salt mixture. Mix to combine.
- Add the remaining egg whites to the chocolate mixture, and using the largest spatula you have, fold in the egg whites until incorporated – taking care to get to the bottom of the bowl, and not over-mixing to deflate the batter.
- Pour into the prepared cake pan, taking care to not pour from a great distance to ensure air remains trapped in the batter. Level with the spatula.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes. You oven will vary from mine, but I bake my Sheba for 25 minutes. Test for optimal doneness: a toothpick or tester inserted 1 1/2 inches from the edge should be mostly clean, but have a few crumbs. A tester poked in the center should be moist and emerge with chocolate goo adhering. Add 5 minutes of baking time as needed.
- Cool the cake completely before removing from pan. To ease nerves, the pan can be tightly covered once the cake is completely cool, and refrigerated to firm the cake before removing from the pan as well. Place you hand on top of the cake in the pan pan, and quickly invert – take care to not disturb the crackly crust. Remove parchment from bottom of cake, then place on serving plate.
Garnish The Cake
- To make ganache, add 1/4 cup finely chopped chocolate to a small bowl. Heat 3 TB of heavy cream in a small bowl, just until bubbles appear along the edges. Pour cream over chocolate, cover bowl, and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Stir, starting from the center of the bowl and working towards the edge of the bowl, to combine and emulsify.
- Set cake on desired serving dish. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Pour warm ganache into center circle of cake, smoothing gently (do not stir too much, otherwise you'll break the emulsion in the ganache). Allow to cool slightly, then serve, optionally with lightly whipped cream.