Today marked my first attempt to bake a Julia Child recipe! Straight from her first cook book, I decided to make Reine de Saba or Chocolate Almond Cake. But let’s start at the beginning here.
Yesterday our basement flooded. When the people moved out of our house, they evidently took their brand new sump pump and reinstalled some cheap piece of junk. As a result, we had tacos for dinner. I made more taco seasoning since we ran out, and cooked up a bunch. So today was the first day I had to actually cook dinner.
Because of this, I also decided to cook dessert. After watching Julie and Julia twice and then looking up other things about Julia Child, this one cake kept popping up. Reine de Saba appeared in the movie and in pictures everywhere. Halfway through preparing everything for dessert, I realized I would have to go to the store for chocolate chips which meant my dinner plans could continue as formerly planned (I needed potatoes).
A quick run to the store for chocolate chips, unsalted butter, and potatoes and I was back home prepping.
The cake recipe is actually rather easy, and I’m not very skilled at baking. I have a tendency to burn chocolate, I’ve never folded anything, and I certainly have never whipped anything to “firm peaks.” Despite this, I made it through without too much difficulty. Julia certainly knew how to speak to the novices of the culinary world.
I made the cake batter, substituting coffee instead of rum as per the recipe, and even managed to fold the egg whites in. I think at that point of the recipe I actually over-mixed it, but I had a bit more flour left to mix in.
Cake in the oven, frosting melting (slightly less coffee because I was out
of Dad’s leftovers), and then frosting cooling. I did double the frosting recipe because I read on this one lady’s blog that there wasn’t enough in the normal one. I agree with her decision. Double frosting is good. Not that I’d usually complain about double frosting anyway.
The cake finished baking, with this strange, lovely crust on it, while the frosting was just getting off the stove
So, the cake came out of the oven with this lovely light-colored crust around it. Hollow, with a moist looking dark cake underneath. After consulting with the Mom Encyclopedia of Baking Knowledge, I decided to remove the flaky parts or I’d never get the darn thing frosted. It worked beautifully. But that frosting…The frosting has to be mixed every five minutes to keep from separating and all that jazz while cooling. It’s supposed to take about 20 minutes to thicken up. All lies.
Cake out of the pan and cooled, frosting still liquid. Cake more cooled, frosting still liquid. Crust taken off the cake and cooled more, frosting still liquid. Sensing a pattern? Yeah, I was too. So, I put the frosting in the freezer for a couple minutes to thicken it up while I worked on dinner. The cake was still too warm anyway.
On to dinner prep! I’d remember that frosting!
A few months ago, Mom and I discovered this lovely Martha Stewart recipe for Crisp-skinned Chicken with Rosemary. It is almost (I’ll explain this in a minute) fool-proof, and is the most delicious chicken recipe I think I’ve ever had. Besides mustardy-fried, but that’s a given.
My problem: with the lack of potatoes, I decided not to do this recipe until tomorrow. Then, when I had to run to the store anyway, I changed my mind. Thus, the chicken went into the water to thaw around 2pm. No biggy, I read that it should take about 3 hours which is perfect!
I ran really hot water through it to try to get the giblets out. Finally managed that, and the only thing inside was the liver. I’m actually thankful for this, but it made that work feel almost wasted. I mean, I still had to get the thing open so I could stuff it, but come on.
Potatoes boiling, chicken slathered in butter, salt, and cornstarch. Toss everything. I’ve pretty much got this recipe down to where I don’t need to look. It’s not like we measure the rosemary. The more the merrier. However, usually someone with muscles tosses the pot of potatoes to dry them and coat them in oil and salt. And I put too many in the pot. I am not a person with muscles. High school me was very strong. Just out of college me is lacking in musculature. So, snag there. Also, because I was wrestling with the frozen chicken, the potatoes got slightly overdone, resulting in some mashing rather than tossing…
Rather than stress over it, I got the oil over them as best I could, then dumped or placed them on the pan with the chicken, threw some salt and rosemary on them and tossed the whole thing in the oven.
By this time, the cake was cooled and I had rigged up this nifty stand because we don’t have a cake stand. We also only have a 9″ pan (and it’s springform), so that’s why it’s thinner for my pictures than Julia’s. Also, because I’m not Julia. So where’d that thing of frosting go?
It’s been over 20 minutes.
Yeah, you see where this is going.
It was fudge. Like, they could have run a knife through it and sold it on Mackinac Island. Back to the stove and pot it went. Eventually, it re-melted and I tasted it and came up with my own doctoring idea that would have to happen if anyone in my family were to eat it: sugar. There is no sugar in the frosting and it uses semi-sweet chocolate. And coffee. And the cake is the same way; only a small amount of sugar is used in the whole thing. Dad hates dark chocolate, so I knew if this was too bitter for me, he would never be able to eat it.
So, I did what any good chef does: I winged it. I started adding sugar about a teaspoon at a time until it tasted a bit sweeter and I got too scared to add more. Now that it’s over, I could have easily continued. By the end of my doctoring, I had added about 2.5 Tbs of cane sugar, just so y’all know.
Finally, after using the fridge instead of the freezer and stirring more frequently, I got it to start thickening. Then the chicken finished. Then the frosting thickened completely, because that’s how cooking works for me: everything happens at once, or not at all.
I tested the temp of the chicken and it was what Martha said, so out it came. Potatoes went into the bowl, and I started frosting the cake while the bird rested. Dad came down to carve the bird and made a lovely discovery.
The chicken was raw in the middle.
This is where that “almost” came in when I said fool-proof earlier. See, I’ve made this recipe probably around 20 times this year. Never had that happen. But then, normally my bird isn’t ice inside. Evidently this is a problem for cooking and stuff.
Also, it’s church night. We had 45 minutes to be gone.
We had cereal and/or potatoes for dinner. Chicken is on the menu for tomorrow.
On the plus side, I added the almonds and the cake looked beautiful!
And actually, it tasted really good too. I think I would add a bit more sugar to the frosting next time, but it’s great with a glass of milk. It’s actually more like a brownie. For the record, I don’t like chocolate cake very much. But this cake is gooey, almost undone in the middle actually, and it’s super good. Maybe next time I’ll even figure out why it had a shell.
So, day 1 with cooking for the family. And the final tally is…..
Chicken: 1 Me: 0
Cake: 1 Me: 1
Frosting: 1 Me: 1
Dishes: 3 Me: 0
But thanks for the cake, Julia!
I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my further kitchen disasters and successes. And disasters.