Queen of cakes

Wednesday, January 3, 2007
Jennifer initially choose a small metal fork to cream her ingredients together for the Queen Of Sheba cake. (Photos by Diane L. Wilson)

For Christmas, my mom bought me a 15-piece pot and pan set. I'm still not sure if she gave the set to me as a joke after I acknowledged I didn't know the difference between a sauce pan and a skillet, or if she wants me to improve my cooking skills. Either way, I haven't used them yet -- don't worry Mom, I will!

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Harte, a local food expert and columnist for the Southeast Missourian, e-mailed me a recipe for the Queen of Sheba cake. Tom said it was one of the first things he baked after he became interested in cooking. The recipe can be found in his new cookbook, "Stirring Words."

Tom let me know the recipe wasn't "very difficult," which made it even more appealing. I had never baked a cake before, so I figured this chocolate concoction could be my first.

Here are the ingredients:

2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

1 tablespoon instant coffee

2 tablespoons boiling water

1 stick plus 6 tablespoons soft butter

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Instant coffee, flour, sugar, rum and almonds are some of the ingredients in Queen Of Sheba Cake.

3 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

A pinch of salt

1/3 cup pulverized blanched almonds

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3/4 cup cake flour

1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum

The ingredient list seemed a little long and unusual -- I've never heard of rum in anything other than a mixed drink -- but I was up for the challenge.

The first step called for dissolving the instant coffee in boiling water and adding 2/3 cup of chocolate morsels, stirring over low heat until the chocolate melted. Not a problem -- I now know what a saucepan is.

In a bowl, I was required to cream one stick of butter and 2/3 cups of sugar until soft and fluffy. This is where I run into problems with cooking. The language seems so foreign -- exactly how do you "cream" something?

I was "creaming" the mixture with a fork when my younger sister Meagan walked into the kitchen.

Jennifer knew how to flour a cake pan before pouring the cake batter into it.

"You really don't know what you're doing, do you?" she asked. She opened a drawer and handed me a utensil with a handle on it, used for "creaming or mashing food," Meagan told me. This worked much better than the fork, and the mixture actually looked creamy.

The next step required me to separate the three eggs. Tom mentioned in his e-mail that separating egg whites might require a bit of technique. Knowing this beforehand, I purchased a tool called an egg separator at the grocery store when I picked up my ingredients.

Using the egg separator she had just bought did not prevent Jennifer from making a mess

A male co-worker laughed when I told him I had purchased the egg separator. "Don't you know you can separate eggs without that?" he asked.

Yes, but it would be much more difficult.

I cracked my first egg on the countertop and poured it into the egg separator without any problems. I was so impressed that it actually worked. I got a little excited and cracked the next egg a little too hard on the countertop -- unfortunately, that egg didn't make it into the separator.

After the eggs were separated, I whipped the egg whites with cream of tartar and salt at a low speed. Yes, this was my first time using a mixer. When the egg whites began to foam, I added two tablespoons of sugar.

In the bowl with the creamed butter and sugar, I stirred in the melted chocolate and coffee mixture as well as the almond extract and flour. The recipe required me to add 1/3 cup of pulverized blanched almonds into this mixture as well.

Oops: "In small amounts, fold the egg mixture into the other ingredients," not "pour the whole amount into the other." (Diane L. Wilson)

I wasn't exactly sure what pulverized blanched almonds were, and I couldn't find them at the grocery store. Instead, I bought almond slices and beat them with the end of a rolling pin while they were still in the bag. Seemed to work just as well.

The final step called for stirring in one-fourth of the egg whites to lighten the batter, and then carefully folding in the remaining egg whites. I get a little impatient when I'm cooking, so I dumped the whole bowl of egg whites in and stirred rapidly -- using a metal fork, which our photographer told me was a "no-no" when baking.

The batter went into a round 8-inch greased and floured cake pan and was baked at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

While the cake was in the oven, I made the icing, which consisted of the rum and remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate morsels melted in a saucepan. Six tablespoons of butter -- one at a time -- were added to the mixture until it was smooth.

When the cake was finished, I pulled it out of the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes. It smelled delicious! After it cooled, I poured the icing over the cake and sprinkled the pulverized almonds on top.

The next day, I brought the cake into work for our photographer to snap a final picture. She laughed when she saw it -- the cake had drooped a little in the middle and a few unwanted bumps appeared on top.

All though Jennifer's Queen Of Sheba Cake looked like someone had thrown it against a wall, it did taste good.

After she took the photo, I passed my Queen of Sheba cake out to anyone willing to try a bite. A few co-workers were a little wary of sampling it, but the brave ones who did were impressed.

According to my own taste buds, the cake was pretty good -- rich and chocolatey.

I told Tom I would let him be the true taste-tester of my cake, but before I left work for the day, it was gone. Sorry Tom, next time!

Want to read about an inexperienced chef attempting to cook your favorite meal? Every fourth week, Jennifer Freeze will whip up something new in the kitchen and write about the experience. E-mail your recipes to jfreeze@semissourian.com or mail them to Jennifer Freeze, Southeast Missourian, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63701.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: