A Fancy French Chocolate Cake You'd Never Guess Is One-Bowl

May  4, 2018

Pastry chefs are tinkerers. I wouldn’t be surprised if a disproportionate number of us had engineers or scientists or inventors for parents. If you own or are in charge of a pastry kitchen, you probably have endless tales of re-inventing, re-jiggering, and “hacking” various tools, equipment, and methods in order to make things work better or faster. It comes with the territory and it’s part of the fun—and almost as rewarding as making fantastic desserts in the first place.

When I teach, I insist that recipes be following exactly, at least the first time. I stress that the smallest details matter, and that the very same ingredients mixed in a different order are likely to produce different, and not always desirable, results. I stand by that.

But once you get some real baking chops, the creative brain can’t help rethinking things.

Meet the Queen of Sheba. Photo by Ty Mecham

In the 1970s, my former pastry shop, Cocolat, was famous for French “gateaux” and chocolate tortes. One such was the renowned Queen of Sheba torte. It was introduced to Americans by Julia Child—and then riffed on and popularized by dessert chefs and writers like me and Maida Heatter before me. If you think you aren’t familiar with it, I assure you that you’ve tasted dozens of them, often called by other names (including “fallen chocolate soufflé”) or with minor tweaks in the ingredients. You’ve probably made one as well, and just not known it.

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The Queen of Sheba is a single-layer, moist, slightly dense, ultra-rich, and deeply chocolaty torte made with ground almonds (a.k.a. almond flour) and a few tablespoons of AP flour, tons of melted chocolate, butter and eggs and often a little brandy. Typically the eggs are separated and the whites are whipped and folded into a heavy batter of chocolate and melted butter—there’s no baking powder or soda or leavening other than the air whipped into the egg whites. The torte rises in the oven and then sinks as it cools, often leaving a pleasing cracked crust on top. They are so rich that no frosting or filling is required—though chocolate glaze is often applied anyway.

As Cocolat grew and became multiple shops in the 1970’s and 1980’s, hand folding whipped egg whites into the batter for 60 or 100 tortes required not just a clean hand—but an entire arm! The baker had to reach into an 80-quart (later 120-quart) mixer bowl of batter to scrape the bottom as she folded in a mountain of meringue. When we said we were up to our armpits in batter (or chocolate?), we really meant it.

There had to be a better, faster, and cleaner way.
The Creative Brain

The solution was a clever change of mixing methods. Beating soft rather than melted butter and cold (whole) eggs into warm melted chocolate thickened the chocolate and caused it to become fluffier and more aerated with continued beating. You can even see the batter lighten in color as more air is incorporated into it! The new method eliminated separating hundreds of eggs and hand folding the batter. It also saved the extra time and the extra bowl required to whip the whites. Best of all, the flavor of the tortes improves. Win win win.

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Top Comment:
“I know you said follow the recipe exactly, but.... for those of us who can't have wheat, can you sub any other kind of flour (even a GF mix) for the AP flour? ”
— Julie M.

For the home baker, the revised method means that you can make a fabulous French torte all in one bowl—without separating eggs, folding egg whites, or bringing ingredients to room temperature. Like I said, it’s a win win win.

P.S. Don’t forget to follow the revised recipe exactly!

Do you have a beloved recipe you tinkered with until it got even better? Tell us about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mbobden
  • Anya Cobler
    Anya Cobler
  • Debbie
  • Julie M.
    Julie M.
  • witloof
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


mbobden May 10, 2020
Just made but my cake sank a lot and the crispy top layer broke into shards. Any idea what I did to cause this fallen cake?
Anya C. March 11, 2019
Hello! Would this work with ghee substituted for the butter? Thank you for your time.
Debbie June 14, 2018
Alice, thank you so much for this recipe. I was looking for a recipe to re-create the Queen of Sheba cake. I remember when you opened Cocolot and I thought these cakes were the best. I have never forgotten those wonderful cakes and truffles! What a treat Cocolot was at that time when it was not common to have a shop like yours!
Julie M. June 5, 2018
I know you said follow the recipe exactly, but.... for those of us who can't have wheat, can you sub any other kind of flour (even a GF mix) for the AP flour?
Alice M. June 5, 2018
You may certainly substitute a gf mix for the ap flour, or (as suggested in headnote) use a little extra almond flour instead! (But do follow the details of the method! ). Your results should be excellent!
witloof May 4, 2018
This brings back wonderful memories of Reine de Saba birthday cake at Cocolat!