After watching the first episode of “Julia,” HBO’s limited series about the titular Julia Child, I added a few ingredients to my grocery list for the week: several ounces of chocolate, almonds, and cream of tartar. Everything else I would need to make the Child’s Queen of Sheba cake—eggs, butter, cake flour, coffee, and sugar—was already on hand in my pantry.
That’s the lure of this dessert, which made a special appearance in the series premiere in which Child (played by Sarah Lancashire) takes advantage of the cake to win over a group of dismissive male executives at the public broadcaster of Boston WGBH. It’s so easy to do that even a child could do it.
In fact, as Salon television critic Melanie McFarland wrote in her review of the series, “The simplicity of the recipe is also the reason I got to make this cake in elementary school, after copying ingredients from a recording of “The French Chef”, the very show she launches.”
She continued: “In the same way that Julia from Lancashire arms herself with an extra dose of chocolate persuasion, I have done my share of queen of sabas for school occasions and church functions, for gifts to neighbors and friends, as a general pledge, as Julia might have said, bonhomie.”
But what, exactly, is a Queen of Sheba cake? The Queen of Sheba cake, or queen of sabas, has long been a standby in French cuisine. Moreover, it was the first French cake Child had ever eaten.
As The Washington Post reported in 1984, it is named after a biblical figure – a queen who traveled from Sheba to visit King Solomon to assess his wisdom and discuss trade. There is some disagreement, however, as to where Sheba was. Some scholars believe it to be an area of present-day Yemen, while others believe the queen was originally from Ethiopia.
Related: The Joy of HBO Max’s Julia Child Series, a Delightfully Loving Celebration of an Icon
Either way, the Queen’s name has been associated over time with black excellence and wealth. Beyoncé, for example, names the Queen of Sheba in her “Mood 4 Eva.” Previously, as Faye Levy wrote for The Post, “imaginative French chefs thought of her when they created new and sumptuous chocolate desserts”.
The Reine de Saba cake differs from other French cakes such as the strawberries tree Where thousand leaf – that are airy or intricately layered – because it’s hazy and moist. Cooking time is relatively short – Child recommends less than half an hour – and it requires no tricky piping or stacking. This does not mean that there are no variations.
“Some opulent ones are covered in chocolate cream icing,” Levy wrote. “Others are baked in a circular mold and served with whipped cream in the center. Still others come with a smooth cream. All versions are good served plain and are perfect for a party menu.”
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At its core, however, the Queen of Sheba cake is incredibly simple. If you revisit the episode of “The French Chef” in which Child makes the dessert, she says the key to her texture is an easy meringue. It is made by beating egg whites and sugar until “stiff white peaks” form. They are folded in a mixture of melted chocolate, ground almonds and the rest of the cake ingredients for a flavorful batter. (FYI: You can also watch Child making the cake in this excerpt from his “First Courses and Desserts” videobook on YouTube.)
In “First courses and desserts”, the child decorates the cake with “chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate”. As the camera pans over the cake, there are two bubbling glasses of champagne in the background – a nod to the best way to share this cake with the people you love (or the TV producers you love). try to impress).
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