Last week, everyone was writing about Julia Child’s 100th birthday, and it got me thinking that it might be fun to find an old episode of “The French Chef” and cook along. So, I put on my apron, gathered my ingredients, and got ready to bake a Queen of Sheba Cake with Julia.

A rich chocolate and almond cake named for a really rich queen.

The biblical Queen of Sheba didn’t leave the house without a few tons of gold, jewels and exotic spices. I’m usually good with my driver’s license, a debit card and some lip balm.

Anyway, once I knew a little about the cake, I was ready to press “play,” and there was Julia, standing tall, looking so much younger than I’d ever seen her. You could hear the exclamation marks in her voice as she said, “Let’s go into the kitchen! We’re going to make the best chocolate cake you ever put in your mouth!”

From there, Julia was all business. She wasn’t telling stories or offering up a bunch of instantly forgettable trivia on the history of almonds. She was teaching me how to make this cake. It was awesome. I’ve always been nervous about folding in egg white without deflating them (it’s one of my last baking hang-ups), but her tutorial was the best I’ve ever seen. Patient and sure. When my cake came out of the oven, it’s was one-and-a-half inches tall, just like she said it would be.

When our cakes cooled, we crowned them with a quick chocolate-butter glaze and decorated them with almonds.

“It certainly would do wonders for a committee meeting,” she said.

I thought that cooking with Julia would be a one-time thing, but it’s nice to have her in the kitchen with me. Even if I always do the dishes.

P.S. If you’d like to bake this cake with Julia, you can find “The French Chef: Queen Of Sheba Cake” episode available for streaming on Amazon. (Just click the highlighted link. It’s season five, episode three.)

P.P.S. A few of you have asked me about the cake stand in the photo. It’s Nigella Lawson’s Living Kitchen Cake Stand. Just click the link to check it out.

Reine de Saba (“Queen of Sheba” Cake)

This chocolate cake is meant to be under-baked, so the center stays creamy. It is covered with chocolate-butter icing and decorated with almonds.

Slightly adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child

For an 8-inch cake (6 to 8 servings)

  • 2/3 cup (4 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum or brewed coffee
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup finely ground almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup sifted cake flour
  • Chocolate-Butter Icing (recipe below)
  • Garnish: almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
  2. Set the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe.
  3. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.
  6. Using clean beaters and a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Add sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  7. With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter mixture.
  8. Stir in the almonds and almond extract.
  9. Stir in one-fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter.
  10. Using a rubber spatula, fold in one-third of the remaining egg whites. (Slice through the egg whites to the bottom of the bowl, and lift some of the batter up and over your egg whites, being careful not to deflate them.)
  11. Sift one third of the flour over the batter, and continue folding.
  12. Alternately fold in the remaining egg whites and flour.
  13. Transfer batter to the cake pan. Push the batter up its rim with a rubber spatula.
  14. Bake until the cake has puffed but the center still moves slightly if the pan is shaken, about 20 to 23 minutes. (It will be cracked on top.)
  15. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
  16. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and turn the cake out onto a rack. Let it cool for 1 to 2 hours before icing.
  17. To Serve: Cover the cake with the Chocolate-Butter Icing below, and press a design of almonds over the icing.

Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Glacage au Chocolat (Chocolate-Butter Icing)

For an 8-inch cake

  • 1/3 cup (2 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum or brewed coffee
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. Place the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and set in a larger pan of almost simmering water. Remove pans from heat and let chocolate melt for 5 minutes or so, until perfectly smooth.
  2. Lift chocolate pan out of the hot water. Using a wooden spoon, beat in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  3. Set the bowl of chocolate over a bowl filled with ice water. Beat the chocolate mixture until it cools to spreading consistency.
  4. Using a small spatula, spread the icing over your cake.

Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.