From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...We spent a lovely New Year's Eve with good friends. I was asked to make desserts for the gathering and after determining who could eat what, I realized two desserts, one gluten free, would be necessary for the occasion. I wanted the desserts to be festive and worthy of a New year celebration, so I settled on a Tuscan Apple Cake, for general consumption, and an old favorite from the 70's, Maida Heatter's Queen Mother's Cake, for the gluten intolerant. While I no longer have her Book of Great Desserts at hand, I have kept several of her recipes in my collection of inactive recipes. I retrieved this one for the occasion, and after sampling the results on New Year's Eve, I've changed its status and moved it to my active recipe collection. While I'm sharing the recipe as it was originally written, I did make one significant change for the version that was served at the party. Good chocolate has always been necessary for this cake and I recommend you splurge and buy the best you can afford. Heeding my own advice, I made a special trip to purchase chocolate, but in a senior moment managed to grab bittersweet, rather than semisweet bars. I didn't realize the mistake until I was ready to melt the chocolate and I had to proceed because the stores were closed. It was a no harm no foul mistake that you might want to try if you have time and like to to experiment with chocolate. The cake, which comes with a story, was delicious. At some point in the 1950's it was discovered by the pianist Jan Smeterlin. He passed it on to others, one of whom served it at a tea attended by the Queen Mother who asked for the recipe. That recipe found its way to the New York Harold Tribune where it was discovered by Maida Heatter who included it in her first cookbook. It quickly became and has remained her most popular recipe. Some versions of the recipe have the cake bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees for the remainder of the baking time. I think that makes for a dry cake, so I start with a 350 degree oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees instead. I also use the microwave to melt my chocolate. It's less fuss and bother than using a double boiler and I vote for any workable shortcut that makes preparation easier. I know you will love this decadently rich, moist and light cake. Here is how it is made.
Queen Mother's Cake...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Maida Heatter
6 oz. (1-1/2 cups) slivered almonds
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sugar, divided use
6 oz. unsalted butter
6 large eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1) To make cake: Adjust a rack one-third up in the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan for 12 to 15 minutes, shaking pan a few times, until almonds are lightly colored and fragrant. Set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.
2) Butter bottom and sides of a 9 x 3-inch springform pan and line bottom with a round of baking-pan liner paper cut to fit. Butter paper. Dust pan all over with fine, dry bread crumbs, matzo or gluten-free cracker crumbs. Invert pan and tap lightly to shake out excess. Set pan aside.
3) Place chocolate in top of a small double boiler over warm water on moderate heat. Cover until partially melted, then uncover and stir until just melted and smooth. Remove the top of double boiler and set aside until tepid or room temperature. Alternatively, microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is 75% melted, then stir and let the residual heat melt the chocolate until it is completely smooth.
4) Place almonds and 1/4 cup of sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade. Process until nuts are fine and powdery, at least one full minute. Set aside.
5) In large bowl of an electric mixer beat butter until soft. Add 1/4 cup sugar and beat to mix. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating and scraping sides of bowl as necessary until smooth. On low speed, add chocolate and beat until mixed. Then add ground almonds and beat, scraping bowl, until incorporated.
6) In a clean bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice, starting on low speed and increasing it gradually. When whites barely hold a soft shape, reduce the speed a bit and gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Then, on high speed, continue to beat until whites hold a straight point when the beaters are slowly raised. Do not overbeat.
7) Stir a large spoonful of whites into chocolate mixture to soften it a bit. Then, in three additions, fold in remaining whites. Do not fold thoroughly until last addition and do not handle more than necessary.
8) Turn mixture into prepared pan. Rotate pan briskly in order to level batter. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. and then reduce temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake for an additional 50 minutes (total baking time is 1 hour and 10 minutes). Do not overbake; the cake should remain soft and moist in the center. (The top might crack a bit; it's okay.)
8) Wet and slightly wring out a folded towel and place it on a smooth surface. Remove cake pan from oven and place it on wet towel. Let stand until tepid, 50 to 60 minutes.
Release and remove sides of pan. Now, let cake stand until it is completely cool, or longer if you wish. The cake will sink a little in middle; sides will be a little higher. Use a long, thin, sharp knife and level top. Brush away loose crumbs.
9) Place a rack or a small board over cake and carefully invert. Remove bottom of pan and paper lining. Cake is now upside down; this is the way it will be iced. Place 4 strips of baking-pan liner paper (each about 3'' x 12'') around edges of a cake plate. With a large, wide spatula, carefully transfer cake to plate; check to be sure that cake is touching the paper all around.
10) To make icing: Scald cream in a 5- to 6-cup saucepan over medium heat until it begins to form small bubbles around the edges or a thin skin on top. Add espresso or coffee powder and whisk to dissolve. Add chocolate and stir occasionally over heat for 1 minute. Then, remove pan from heat and whisk or stir until chocolate is all melted and mixture is smooth. Let icing stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or a little longer, until icing barely begins to thicken.
11) Then, stir to mix, and pour it slowly onto middle of cake. Use a long, narrow metal spatula to cover and smooth top, spreading icing so that a little of it runs down sides. With a small, narrow metal spatula, smooth sides. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream. Yield: 10 to 12 servings.
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