I plan to go to the record shop first thing this morning because today is January 18th. Do you know what that means? It means that today is the most important day of 2011, so far. Because? Because The Decemberists’ latest album, The King Is Dead, is released today. Woo Hoo!
Before my severe addiction to ‘The Suburbs’ another concept album held me hostage. That would be ‘The Hazards Of Love’. The 2009 Decemberist’s album was like nothing I had ever heard before. I love concept albums and this brought concept to a whole other level. I confess to dissecting the plot and the lyric nuances over and over and over. That is precisely the way I like to spend my time. Fortunately, I can bake while I am doing this.
To celebrate the release of ‘The King Is Dead’ I am making cake. Not just any cake. The Queen Mother’s Cake. Evidently, the Queen Mother was invited to tea at the home of Jan Smeterlin, the eminent Polish pianist. She was served this chocolate cake, loved it and asked for the recipe. So the story goes, the Queen Mother then served it often at her royal parties. None of the ones I attended, I’ll have you know.
The recipe for this flourless chocolate cake comes from the cookbook ‘Maida Heatter’s Cakes’. It is her most popular recipe ever and is different than many other flourless cakes in that it is lighter in texture. The almonds cut the density, yet the cake remains rich and moist. It’s a cake fit for a king.
Hi Colin. Nice radishes you have. Would you and your sideburns like to come over for some cake? We’re gonna have a proper celebration in honor of ‘The King Is Dead’. There will be beer.
And there will be CAKE!!
Time to get baking. Now, Maida Heatter’s recipe is about as long as Moby Dick. That somehow makes it seem like the recipe is difficult. It is not. In fact, Queen Mother’s Cake is really quite simple to make. I’m going to condense the recipe, but you can see it in all its lengthly glory here.
Queen Mother’s Cake
Fine bread crumbs to coat cake pan
1 1/2 cups blanched almonds
6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sugar
6 oz unsalted butter, softened
6 large eggs, separated
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp instant espresso or coffee powder
8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1. To make the cake, toast the almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan in a 350° oven for 12 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan a few times, until the almonds are lightly colored. Set aside to cool.
2. Adjust a rack one-third up in the oven and preheat oven to 375°. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9” springform pan and line the bottom with a round of baking-pan liner paper cut to fit. Butter the paper. Dust the pan all over with fine, dry bread crumbs and tap lightly to shake out excess. Set the prepared pan aside.
3. Melt the chocolate (I do this in the microwave). Stir until smooth.
4. Place the almonds and 1/4 cup of the sugar (reserve remaining 1/2 cup sugar) in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade. Process until the nuts are fine and powdery (about one minute). Stop the machine once or twice, scrape down the sides, and continue to process. Set aside the ground nuts.
5. In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar (reserve the remaining 1/4 cup sugar) and beat to mix. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary until smooth. On low speed add the chocolate and beat until mixed. Then add the processed almonds and beat, scraping the bowl, until incorporated.
6. In a clean mixer bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the salt and lemon juice, starting on low speed and increasing it gradually. When the whites barely hold a soft shape, reduce the speed a bit and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Then, on high speed, continue to beat until the whites hold a straight point when the beaters are slowly raised. Do not overbeat.
7. Stir a large spoonful of the whites into the chocolate mixture to soften it a bit. Then, in three additions, fold in the remaining whites. Do not fold thoroughly until the last addition and do not handle more than necessary.
8. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan. Rotate the pan briskly in order to level the batter.
9. Bake for 20 minutes at 375° and then reduce temperature to 350° 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.)
10. Wet and slightly wring out a folded towel and place it on a smooth surface. Remove the cake pan from the oven and place it on the wet towel. Let stand until tepid, 50 to 60 minutes.
11. Release and remove the sides of the pan. Do not cut around the sides with a knife—it will make the rim of the cake messy. (Note from Miz I Sing: Mine was still messy). Let the cake cool.
12. Place a cooling rack over the cake and carefully invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the paper lining. The cake is now upside down; this is the way it will be iced.
13. To make the cake plate stay neat after icing the cake, place wax paper strips around the edges of a cake plate. This will keep the icing off the plate when you are finished. With a large, wide spatula, carefully transfer the cake to the plate; check to be sure that the cake is touching the paper all around. The photo might make this make more sense.
14. To make the icing, scald the cream in a 6-cup saucepan over medium heat until it begins to form small bubbles around the edges or a thin skin on top. Add the espresso or coffee powder and whisk to dissolve (I never have that stuff on hand, so I used a few tablespoons of coffee left over in the coffee pot). Add the chocolate and stir occasionally over heat for 1 minute. Then, remove the pan from heat and whisk or stir until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture is smooth.
It is amazing that this:
15. Let icing stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until icing barely begins to thicken.
16. Pour the icing slowly over the top of the cake, pouring it onto the middle. Use a long, metal spatula to smooth the top and spread the icing so that a little of it runs down the sides (not too much—the icing on the sides should be a much thinner layer than on the top). Smooth the sides.
17. If you want to add some chocolate curls, this is an easy way to do so. Take a block of chocolate. I used about 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.
Makes one nine inch cake that should feed many kings and queens.
Cake? Check. Music? Coming right up.
The first song to be released from ‘The King Is Dead’ is this Boss-wannabe tune. Why am I not surprised that there is water?
The Decemberists-Down By The Water
I own all of The Decemberists albums. If you do too, then you are aware that there is an awful lot of drowning going on in that catalog of music. How do you think the King died? Foxglove? Exploding safe? Possibly a drowning?
The Delgados-The Drowning Years
One of my all time favorite songs is this royal one from Madrugada. “And I could be victorious. Still the only man to pass through the glorious arch of your head.” Gives me king sized chills every time.
Finally, rumor has it that ‘The King Is Dead’ is a take on The Smith’s 1986 album ‘The Queen Is Dead’. You can bet that I will be scouring the tracks for any evidence that this is true.
The Smiths-The Queen Is Dead (Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty)