The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

Having just finished binge-watching Versailles on Netflix, I can say, hand over heart, that I would have made a DAMN fine royal mistress to Louis XIV. I could totally pull off silk gowns, elaborate jewels, illicit love affairs, intrigue……….sounds like my dream life! If anyone knows a king out there who’d appreciate my cooking, do send him my way.

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Watching the exploits of the young French king and his mistress The Marquise de Montespan made me remember this fine gem of a novel, The Oracle Glass, set during the years of the King and La Montespan’s notorious affair. The book is so finely drawn that you almost feel yourself in the King’s morning levee, watching his most intimate bodily functions as though they were performed by God himself. Which, I suppose, was the idea.

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The book’s heroine, young Genevieve Pasquier, is booted from her once-grand family home into the streets of Paris where she is found and apprenticed by Catherine Montvoisin, known for helping other “down and out” women.” However, La Voisin, as she was called, is not just any altruistic soul. She’s a witch, a practitioner of Dark Arts, an abortionist, and a poisoner of the highest order. Genevieve is taken in because she has a psychic ability to read the oracle glass, a large crystal bowl filled with water, in which she can see the future, and La Voisin takes advantage of this talent for her own nefarious purposes. La Voisin gets Genevieve accepted in court circles by having her pretend to be a 200-year old widow whose life is preserved through a pact with the Devil, and so she becomes involved with court politics when she is asked to become the Marquise de Montespan’s glass reader.

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The actual “Affaire des Poisons” – go ahead, Google it – is a major piece of French history during the reign of the Sun King, and the Marquise de Montespan figures very prominently, as well as numerous other members of French royalty and nobility. But it’s the entertaining fictional character of Genevieve who was my favorite. I could relate to her because she and I have much in common – we are voracious readers, analytical overthinkers, armchair philosophers; and we love the finer things in life such as beautiful surroundings, elegant clothes, and handsome men who are highly intelligent. In one area, though, we differ. Genevieve’s sweet tooth nearly gets her poisoned when she crosses La Voisin, who slips her some tainted marzipan.

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Marzipan – almond paste – is Genevieve’s weakness, but not having much of a sweet tooth myself, I still thought it would be a fun challenge to make marzipan from scratch and then use it to make a decadent marzipan cake frosted with chocolate ganache and cherries. So I did, having my own bit of kitchen witchcraft today. NOTE: the marzipan should be made a day in advance so it can chill overnight.

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INGREDIENTS
For the marzipan:
1 and 1/2 cups finely ground almond flour
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 egg white, room temperature

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For the cake:
1 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature
Butter spray and a dusting of flour
1 cup marzipan, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the ganache icing and cake topping:
3/4 cup dark chocolate pieces, 70% cocoa solids
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup pitted cherries or half a can of cherry pie filling

METHOD:
Add flour and powdered sugar into a food processor and pulse until combined.

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Add the almond extract and rose water and pulse again, then add the egg white and process until you have a thick doughlike paste.

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Turn out the almond dough onto some plastic wrap, seal it and form it into a cylinder. Refrigerate overnight. When ready to use, leave out of the fridge an hour so it’s at room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with butter spray and lightly flour it.

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Mix the almond paste and sugar on low in your most awesome Kitchen Aid, using the paddle attachment.

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Add the butter, then incorporate the eggs and yolk, one at a time.

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Add the almond extract.

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Whisk together the flour and the baking powder in a small bowl, and gradually add to the wet ingredients. Pour the mixture into the buttered, floured cake pan.

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Bake for 30-35 minutes, checking occasionally. Let it cool completely before icing it.

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Place the cream in a small saucepan over very low heat, until small bubbles just form around the edge. Add the chocolate pieces and the almond extract, whisk in, turn off the heat, and leave covered for up to 15 minutes. Then, whisk together until the ganache thickens and forms a gorgeous chocolate frosting.

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Frost the top of the cake, sprinkle the edges with slivered almonds, and decorate the center with the cherries. Vive la France! Louis XIV would add me to his list of mistresses once having eaten this tasty dessert, I do believe.

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15 thoughts on “The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

  1. looks amazing and the book sounds great too. have you read Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford? non-fiction but lots of fun, i really enjoyed. anyway, the heroine reminded me a bit of voltaire’s mistress in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, but I just looked at some reviews on Goodreads, and I’m intrigued. It’s been added to my Amazon shopping cart. Thank you! And thanks for the compliments, as well. You said I should do more desserts, so don’t say I don’t listen to you. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much! I’m sure your rosewater is still good. It lasts forever. Why not take it out and give the marzipan to try? I was shocked at how easy it was to make, and yet it add such a delicious flavor to anything sweet. Give it a try!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Are you kidding me? That cake is a masterpiece! I love Marizipan or any almond confection, and have been meaning to do a blog post on it myself! That cake though – wow! That dripping chocolate…oh my. And what a cake stand!

    I hafta say I love how you’ve managed to carry that red through with your marvelous mixer (My little red Kitchen Aide Artisan wants to be yours when she grows up) and the glamorous red dress and nails all the way down to the red cherries!

    I’ve been looking for something I might get into on Netflix…I’ll have to check our Versailles.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are too kind! Thank you so very much. Yes, I love my red KitchenAid mixer. It is one of my prized possessions and the Showcase of my kitchen. Thank you also for the very kind compliments! You really should give the marzipan of try. It was so amazingly simple to make. And thanks also for the comment on my cake stand. It actually reminded me of Versailles and the rococo art period. So very appropriate in this case, I think. If you are into costume dramas and historical drama, I think you will love Versailles.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As I’ve come to expect with your posts, this looks amazing. I’m partial to the British Queens and Kings, at least in how much I know about them; however, I know a little about Louis, too. If only we lived hundreds of years ago… well perhaps not the best idea. The dessert looks delicious. I love the flavor and texture of marzipan. Big win with this one. And I’m not familiar with the book, but something to look into more! Thanks for the share.

    Liked by 1 person

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