Even without a transatlantic flight, I thought I was pretty cultured in my own kind of teenage way. I wore black-frame glasses with plastic lens. Amélie had just come out and I was convinced every moment of my trip would be filled with upbeat accordion music. I was in French III and knew how to conjugate le subjonctif.
I was going to Paris.
And was it ever glorious! I ate escargot and croissants in cafés with actual upbeat accordion music and because my parents had signed a waiver, I drank wine with a dinner of steak tartare (now as an adult I know one must be drunk to consume what is basically a raw hamburger). As a souvenir I purchased a tiny tin of mini cappuccino flavored cigars.
I could not even get pass the initial puff when we broke into them in the hotel room later that evening and I’m sure it was about the same time as the shop owner who sold them to me arrived home to tell his wife about the ridiculous American girl who purchased such a horrific item.
Since that first trip I have had several visits back but in less than two weeks Paris and I will meet again. I made a cake to celebrate.
More importantly, I made a Julia Child cake. I am pretty sure Julie & Julia is the current equivalent to Amélie and has inspired sixteen year olds wearing all things neon to dream about walking the cobblestone streets of Paris. Although I’ve ditched the fake glasses for real ones now, I will just always be a sucker for France.
Julia Child would be 100 this year. I was asked to participate in a tribute to her anniversaire called the JC100 and each week a different recipe is made in her honor.
I kept her original recipe in tact but pretty much changed everything else. I cut the recipe in half because a 6-inch cake is so much more manageable as a dinner party dessert for four and omitted the frosting in favor of just a dusting of powdered sugar because I wanted to keep it easy and simple.
I listened to café music while I baked and sang La Marseillaise out loud because still to this day it is the only song in French I have memorized. And finally, at last, every bite of the rich chocolate cake was enjoyed as a perfect compliment to the end of a light summer meal.
Chocolate Almond Cake (Reine de Saba or Queen of Sheba Cake)
Makes one 6-inch cake
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 teaspoon (2 grams) espresso powder
2 teaspoons (10 ml) water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 56 grams) butter, softened
1/3 cup (71 grams) sugar
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons (12 grams) sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (17 grams) almond flour
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup (25 grams) cake flour
cocoa powder, for dusting
powdered sugar, for serving
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 6-inch round cake pan, line with a parchment round and butter parchment. Dust bottom and sides of the pan with cocoa powder and tap to remove the excess.
Melt the chocolate, espresso powder, and water together in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted, turn off heat and set aside.
While you wait for the chocolate to melt – measure out the rest of the ingredients.
Cream together butter and sugar until light and pale. Add both yolks until combined. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Finally add the almond flour and extract and beat until smooth.
Whip egg whites together with a pinch of salt in a clean bowl with new beaters. Beat for about 3 minutes, or until glossy peaks form then with the mixer running, sprinkle sugar over the whites in two batches. Mix well after each addition.
Fold in about a quarter of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it a bit. Working quickly fold in about a third of the remaining egg whites. Sprinkle in about a third of the flour and using several quick but gentle strokes, stir to combine. Repeat two more times with remaining egg whites and flour.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges are just set. The middle will look slightly underdone. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold onto a plate, remove parchment round and turn back onto a fancy serving platter.
Dust with powdered sugar and serve.