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Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheeba cake)

Julia Child writes in ‘‘The Way to Cook’’ that this was the first French cake she ever ate, prepared by her coauthor Simone Beck, ‘‘and I have never forgotten it.’’ The main difference between this version and the one that appeared in ‘‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’’ is the addition of solid pieces of chocolate on top of the icing, adding another element of texture and richness to an astoundingly good cake. Serves 6 to 8.

FOR THE CAKE

3 ounces sweet baking chocolate, chopped

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons strong coffee

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

1/2 cup sugar

3 large egg yolks

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup blanched almonds pulverized with 2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup plain bleached cake flour, in a sifter set on wax paper

1. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Set the rack in the lower middle level. Butter and flour an 8- by 1 1/2-inch round cake pan.

2. In a double boiler or bowl set over a pan of 2 or 3 inches ofwater, combine the sweet andunsweetened chocolates with thecoffee. Bring water to a simmer,cover, and let chocolate melt,stirring until smooth. Turn offthe heat.

3. In a 3-quart mixing bowl, use a hand-held electric mixer to cream the butter until soft and fluffy, then add the 1/2 cup sugar. Beat 1 minute, then beat in the yolks.

4. In another mixing bowl, beat the whites until foaming, beat in the cream of tartar and salt, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until stiff, shining peaks form.

5. Blend the warm melted chocolate into the yolk mixture, then blend in the almonds and almond extract. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate to lighten it. Scoop the rest of the whites over the chocolate and, alternating with sprinkles of the flour, rapidly and delicately fold in the whites.

6. Immediately turn the batter into the prepared pan, tilting it in all directions to run it up to the rim, and set it in the oven.

7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cake has puffed to the top of the pan and a toothpick plunged into it 2 and 3 inches from the edges comes out clean. (The center should move slightly when the pan is gently shaken.

8. Remove the pan to a rack and let it cool for 15 minutes, then unmold onto the rack. Let it cool completely, at least 2 hours, before storing or icing.

FOR THE CHOCOLATE-LEAF DECORATIONS

2 ounces sweet chocolate, chopped

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1. In a double boiler or bowl set over a pan of 2 or 3 inches ofwater, add the chocolate. Bringthe water to a simmer, cover,and let chocolate melt, stirringuntil smooth. Turn off theheat.

2. Spread a 1/16-inch layer on a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper; chill until set.

FOR THE SOFT CHOCOLATE ICING

2 ounces sweet chocolate, chopped

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons rum or strong coffee

Pinch of salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Cocoa powder (in a fine-meshed sieve)

1. In a double boiler or bowl set over a pan of 2 or 3 inches of water, combine both chocolates with the rum or coffee, bring water to a simmer, cover, and let chocolate melt, stirring until smooth. Turn off the heat.

2. Using an electric hand mixer, beat the salt into the melted chocolate, then beat in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating over cold water until icing is firm enough to spread. Turn the icing onto the top of the cake and spread it evenly over the top and sides.

3. When the icing is still soft, break the solid chocolate into large, irregular leaves, arrange shiny (bottom) side up on the cake, and dust the top with cocoa powder.

Adapted from "The Way to Cook"

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