Drawn by the title and all the chocolate in the ingredients list, I tackled Queen of Sheba last weekend with the help of an assistant I’ll call older sibling, OS for short. My OS is only 11 months older. She is strong willed and competent, opinionated and loving, unafraid to answer tough questions at a political rally from strangers from Boston, from young men who fear billionaires in the long line, or from a foreign media interviewer with a microphone. My OS will hold up a sign and dance, all while watching the TV monitor to see whether we’ll be on the telly. Beside her, I stand mute, 11 months younger, uncomfortable and not quite thrilled to be there in the first place. All of this, yet my OS cannot separate an egg.
From my dependable sidekick persona, adults called me shy as a child. They did not whisper it to each other behind my back. They bent down and looked me right in the eye and accused me: “You’re shy.” I scoffed (on the inside) to this label. Adults were large, sometimes inebriated, seemingly confident, often ignorant. I had a lot of opinions. I wisely chose not to share them.
As a professor, some students find me intimidating. Scary. “Stand off ish.” When I taught high school, my advanced placement chemistry students asked me to look away while they asked and I answered their questions. Apparently my direct gaze is intense. Looking out from the inside of my intelligent strong woman persona, I am empathetic to all who feel threatened by me. I am 60 inches tall. I am confident. I am not afraid. Like the stories of the Queen of Sheba. Apparently I have learned much from mirroring my OS. Except I can separate an egg.
Back to the bake: Queen of Sheba. “An exotic and mysterious woman of power” per a Google search. When declaring oneself in charge, a female may jokingly refer to herself as the Queen of Sheba. The title may strike fear in the heart of the masses. This is never my intent. But women like Elizabeth and Rachel and Kamala and Amy and Sue and Christa and Judy and Lea and Kate and Meg and Ann and Allie (and more) remind us not to apologize for our strength.
Back to the bake, Laura!
When I learned OS could not separate an egg, I felt bad for her. Sorry for her. Baffled by her. How did she come this far in life? How does she survive? I intentionally tried to avoid further offense or any appearance of shaming her lack of skills by offering to show her how to do it. I just did it. And by watching me separate three eggs in a row, now she at least knows it is a physical possibility. My new insight and embarrassment amid her defensive stance (“I am not a baker!”) led me to walk to the other room and let her have peace and privacy without pressure while she spread the melted chocolate for the decorative shards. How was I to know that she would paint the melted chocolate paper thin instead of merely spreading it? How was I to know she didn’t understand? As with my students, I am not a mind reader–if you don’t express confusion or request help, none will come. You will be considered competent until you prove otherwise.
When I indicated it was too thin, OS blamed me for not supervising.
Can. Not. Win.
Should. Not. Try.
The Queen of Sheba cake recipe is on page 278 of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. I melted chocolate in a double boiler.
I mixed the butter and sugar and added the egg yolks one at a time. In a separate bowl I beat the egg whites.
The melted chocolate and butter/sugar and beaten egg whites and sifted flour were folded and gently combined before they got plopped into the pan to bake.
I should have used a smaller diameter pan. QofS came out thin.
OS did a great job massing the ingredients on my kitchen balance until the chocolate chip confusion. Somehow “we” lost 75 g of chocolate chips. I asked her to weigh out 100 g and 75 g of chips and supplied bowls. OS remembers doing so (confused) and then combining them in the same bowl. (why?) She never asked for clarification. When I asked where the 75 g were she pointed to the bowl of 100 g I was melting on the stove. I grabbed handfuls of semi-melted chips to take out 75 g and there were definitely not 175 g of chocolate in there. They vaporized. I continued to make the frosting.
I left OS in charge of melting the new batch of 75 g chips for the decorative shards. I should’ve known she needed help, even when she didn’t ask for it. I should’ve known she had never before spread melted chocolate on parchment paper to solidify. I should’ve known because of all the confusion and anxiety in the kitchen, but I chose to step away and let her just do it her way. I forgot she once made butter by whipping cream by hand. I thought of the incredible spread of food she puts out at holidays. I remembered her confidence and power. I let her independently paint the 75 g of melted chocolate paper-thin over an area three times that expected. (Since volume = LxWxH and area = LxW, when area is tripled, thickness (H) suffers inversely. OS taught math for three decades. She saw the huge sheet of parchment I laid out for her and assumed L and W were fixed by it.) And I should have not reacted at all when I saw it. I should not have been surprised when she implied it was my fault for not supervising because she is “not a baker!” And I forgot to document with a picture.
Sigh. I love that woman so much.
We broke the chocolate wafers into triangles with a pizza wheel and placed them vertically in the frosting, sprinkled powdered sugar and cocoa on top, and the Queen of Sheba came out beautiful and delicious.
If you are ever brave enough to bake with me, come on over. Otherwise, maybe just look at the pictures.