James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Maida Heatter’s Queen Mother’s Cake

What is the history of  Maida Heatter’s Queen Mother’s Cake?

So here’s Maida Heatter’s most popular recipe, according to Saveur magazine: Queen Mother’s Cake. It’s a moist, light-textured, flourless chocolate cake made with finely ground almonds, butter, sugar, eggs, and semi- or bittersweet chocolate and glazed with a bittersweet chocolate ganache.  Maida published the recipe in her first cookbook, “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” in 1974. If you search eBay for recipes of that decade, you’ll find them in the antique section. Does that make you feel old?

A Cake fit for a Queen.

The recipe itself has an interesting history. Maida got the recipe originally from a 1962 food column by Clementine Paddleford in The New York Herald Tribune. The story says that the Polish pianist, Jan Smeterlin, who loved to cook, collected recipes. He got this chocolate torte recipe when he was on tour in Austria. When the Queen Mother came for tea at the home of some friends of the Smeterlins, the hostess served the cake made from the recipe Jan Smeterlin had given to her. Well, the Queen Mother loved the cake so much that she asked for the recipe and began serving it at her royal gatherings. And that is one version of how the cake got its name.

Anyway, I’ve baked everything from Maida’s first cookbook, and let me tell you, she bakes this cake way too long and at too high a temperature. I can’t understand how this could happen because she’s an absolutely meticulous baker. Queen Mother’s Cake appears in several of Maida’s cookbooks, and the baking time and temperature are always off the mark. Why?

I’ve searched the internet for different versions of the cake and I’ve found that the recipe itself is always the same but in a few cases times and temperatures have been adjusted downward from the original recipe. So I’m not alone in saying Maida Heatter bakes Queen Mother’s Cake at too high a temperature and too long!

Just so you know, Maida’s instructions say to bake the cake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes and then to reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 50 minutes. Total baking time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. I do start the cake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, as Maida says, but then I reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes only. At that point the cake is fully baked and moist.

Glutin free cake recipe.

When Maida first published the recipe, she said to grind the almonds with a nut grinder.

Nut Grinder The Baking Wizard Greg PatentThis nut grinder, which I bought in 1976, is fastened  to a counter top or table with a screw (bottom of photo). You add the nuts to a hopper (top of the photo), crank the red handle, and out the side pour the ground nuts through the drum below the hopper. The ground nuts are powdery and flaky, and blend into batters with ease.

Now here’s my problem with ground nut recipes today. Recipe authors say to grind the nuts with a food processor and to add some of the sugar to help the nuts along so that they won’t turn into a paste. But nuts ground this way are never powdery or flaky. They’re like tiny pebbles and they give cakes a gritty texture rather than a smooth one.

Here’s a better solution. Buy almond flour or almond meal, the finer the grind the better, and use that instead. You can toast the flour or meal in a small skillet on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof silicone spatula, until golden brown and fragrant smelling. Scrape into a bowl to stop the cooking. When completely cool, add to the recipe.

One final plea: Please weigh your ingredients!

Greg Patent. The Baking Wizard. Queen Mother's Cake serving.
Serving of Queen Mother’s Cake.

Here’s how I make Queen Mother’s Cake.

Maida Heatter" Queen Mother's Cake

This moist cake is delicious simply iced with a chocolate ganache or you can serve it with a spoonful of whipped cream and a few berries for a more festive dessert. I've added vanilla to the cake because in my way of thinking chocolate and vanilla just belong together.
Servings 12 portions


For the Cake

  • 6 ounces almond meal or almond flour
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate (about 60% cocoa), chopped (do not use morsels!)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the Ganache

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70 to 72% cocoa) chopped


To Make the Cake

  • Toast the almond meal or flour in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown and fragrant. You should get a lovely aroma of toasted almonds. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely.
  • Adjust a rack one-third up in the oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9” x 3” 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 out the excess. (Or, to make the cake completely gluten-free, dust the pan with unsweetened cocoa powder.)
  • Place the chocolate in a small saucepan. Heat about 1 inch of water in a medium skillet over moderate heat. When the water come to the simmer, set the saucepan in the skillet, cover loosely with a paper towel, and wait a few minutes until the chocolate is partially melted. Then uncover and stir with a small whisk or heatproof silicone spatula until the chocolate is just melted and smooth. Remove the pan from the water  and set aside until chocolate is tepid or at room temperature.
  • In a stand electric mixer beat the butter with the paddle attachment until soft and smooth.  While beating on medium speed, gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar (reserve the remaining 14 cup sugar) and the vanilla and beat to combine. Scrape the bowl and beater and beat 5 minutes on medium-high speed. Stop to scrape the bowl and beater twice. On low speed, add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating until smooth. On low speed add the chocolate and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated. Then add the  almonds and beat on low until incorporated. Scrape the bowl and beater as necessary to keep the batter smooth.
  • Now, the whites should be beaten in the mixer bowl. If you don’t have an additional bowl for the mixer, transfer the chocolate mixture to any other large bowl. Wash the bowl and beaters in hot soapy water. Dry them and they’re ready for the egg whites.
  • 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 14 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. The whites should look creamy and hold a shape. When you tip the bowl the whites should not slide around in it.
  • Stir a large spoonful of the whites into the chocolate batter to soften it a bit. Then, in three additions, very gently fold in the remaining whites. You’ll see traces of whites after the first two additions. Do not fold thoroughly until the last addition and do not handle more than necessary. Scrape the thick batter into the prepared pan. Rotate the pan briskly in order to level the batter.
  • Bake for 20 minutes at 375° and then reduce temperature to 325° and continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes (total baking time is 50 minutes). Do not overbake; the cake should remain soft and moist in the center. (The top might crack a bit; it’s okay.)
  • 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. (Maida says she doesn’t know the reason for this step, but she always does it. I do, too).
  • 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). Now, let the cake stand until it is completely cool, or longer if you wish. The cake will sink a little in the middle; the sides will be a little higher. Use a long, thin, sharp knife and level the top. Brush away loose crumbs. Place a rack or a small board 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. Place 4 strips of baking-pan liner paper (each about 3” x 12”) around the edges of a cake plate. 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 (in order to keep the icing off the plate when you ice the cake). If you have a cake-decorating turntable or a lazy Susan, place the cake plate on it.

For the Ganache

  • Scald the cream in a 5- to 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.
  • 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.
  • Let icing stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or a little longer, until icing barely begins to thicken. Then, stir the mix, and pour it slowly over the top of the cake, pouring it onto the middle. Use a long, narrow 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). With a small, narrow metal spatula, smooth the sides. Remove the strips of paper by pulling each one out by its narrow end toward you.
  • This cake is wonderful all by itself. Just cut into portions with a sharp knife and set on dessert plate. Or place a spoonful of lightly sweetened whipped cream next to the cake and decorate with a few raspberries or, as I did in the photo, a sliced and fanned out strawberry.
  • Makes 12 portions.

23 thoughts on “Maida Heatter’s Queen Mother’s Cake”

  • Thank you for this!! We tried baking the QM cake twice and both times it came out too dry and burned around the outside. Will try again with your timing & temperatures.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments, Jamie. I just picked more rhubarb to make the pie again.

  • My mom used to make this cake for special occasions and I was very happy to find your version. It came out great and the tweaks to timing and use of almond flour were good recommendations!

    However, you’ve omitted the crucial step on the ganache icing of stopping carry over cooking immediately after the 1 minute of stirring with the chocolate. My first attempt broke the ganache because of this, and on the second I was able to save it by putting the bottom of the saucepan in cool water.

    It turns out the original recipe is explicit about this step, including transferring to a bowl as another option. I was surprised your version didn’t have it and you may want to add it in.

    Thanks for the recipe!

    • Hello, Brendan, and thank you for writing. I’ve reread my instructions for the ganache and compared it with Maida’s, and the wording is the same. She says to take the pan off the heat after 1 minute and stir occasionally until the icing has cooled. There’s no mention of cooling the icing in any special way. I’m wondering where you saw Maida’s recipe. I have Maida’s original book of great desserts (1974), and her chocolate book, and her updated version (1999). Also, Saveur magazine’s version has the same wording. Nevertheless, I am glad you were able to save the ganache on your second pass! Please let me know if I’m missing something.

      • Maida heatter’s book of great desserts, paperback, copyright 1965, though I’m looking at the first printing November, 1977 (maybe first printing of the paperback?) says. “ …until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Transfer to a small bowl or place the bottom of the saucepan in cold water to stop the cooking.”

        • Hi, Roberta
          Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts was first published in 1974. I bought the first edition in 1976. Am I missing something in your quote? The chocolate has to be cooled because you’re beating it into a butter batter.

          • I believe the original commenter, Brendan specified that they were referring to the instructions for making the GANACHE not the cake. I too see that the original instructions say to cool the chocolate ganache immediately after taking off the heat…. “Transfer to a small bowl or place the bottom of the saucepan in cold water to stop the cooking.”

  • Thanks, I made the torte very successfully until my ancient tin plated pan gave up the ghost. My fancy new black pan was disastrous. The came out like brownies, terribly over cooked, but the brownies were delicious. Being a chemical engineer I should have remembered that the newer black pans transfer heat much better and faster than silver ones. Hence they cook much faster. Since I couldn’t find a good replacement for mt old tin pan, I made one and my QM cakes are back to being light and moist. I hope this helps. Lower Temps is certainly a good solution too, maybe even better.

    • Well, I congratulate you on your pan-making and successful QM baking. I agree about the lower temp. And thanks so much for writing.

      • I seem to recall this cake, or a version of it, was baked in a Bain Marie. Would that help mitigate the overbaling at the original Maida Haetter-recommended times and temperatures?

        • As far as I know, Maida never baked that cake in a Bain Marie.It might work. Make sure to wrap foil around the pan to prevent water from leaking in. I wish I’d queried Maida about my experiences baking that cakeI

  • I’m wondering why the addition of lemon juice? I don’t recall it being in the original recipe.
    Also high altitude at 4800…any changes?

    • Thank you, Susan, for asking this question. The only reason for the lemon juice is to stabilize the beaten egg whites so that they hold onto the air beaten into them. Cream of tartar serves the same function. I included it (you can certainly omit it) just in case someone baking the cake became distracted at the critical moment of folding in the egg whites, giving her a little wiggle room.

  • I tried the reduced heat and time. But used almond meal. Still dry. I wonder if adding another egg or more buttter would help?

    • Hi, Chris
      Sorry that cake is not behaving for you. Have you checked the oven temperature. Is it stable for the full baking time? Are you weighing the almond meal? What’s the brand of almond meal? If you want, you could add an extra egg yolk or even two, but not a whole egg. Please let me know further baking results.

  • I also have a 1974 copy of the cookbook. Under “Ingredients” at the beginning of the book, Maida specifies that all the recipes were tested with extra-large or jumbo eggs, so those are the size eggs that should be used. I know that the Saveur version of the recipe calls for large eggs, but that was not the size specified by Maida.
    After I turn down the oven temp, I bake the cake for an additional 35-40 minutes and it comes out fine – perhaps because I use extra-large eggs.

    • Well, all I can say is it’s a puzzlement. I’ve made that cake many times with extra large or jumbo eggs or large eggs. Regardless of egg size, the cake was always overbaked. Glad your results were better than mine.

    • This cake keeps its freshnes, covered, at room temp (70-degrees-ish) for about 4 days.You can also refrigerate it, covered, for about a week. Bring slices to room temp before serving. The cake also freezes well.

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