Hugs in the post

4 Apr
Mini frangipane cakes

It’s been hard hasn’t it? This last year, being locked down, missing being with the people we love.

At the beginning of January this year, I went to stay with Mum, to mind her as she gets increasingly frail and somewhat confused. I knew I might be there for a while, and with the latest version of lockdown I didn’t know when I’d be allowed to see anyone else, nor how long I was likely to be there. It would be lonely, isolated. So I put a lot of thought into my own well-being and self-care, and tried to really think about what I could plan that would give me pleasure, that would nurture me, keep me on an even keel, when I knew I would feel cast adrift from the world I usually inhabit.

Most people who know me would assume that baking and cooking would be high on that list, and I thought so too initially. But it didn’t take me long to realise that the joy I gain from baking is mostly from sharing what I make. I got so little joy from baking for myself (partly because I have successfully lost over 2 stone and don’t intend to pile it all back on for the sake of some baking self-care). For a while I hardly baked at all.

Then I started making biscuits again, and posting them to people – biscuits, I discovered, are very post-able. And there was a surfeit of post-able boxes available after all that online shopping that had been going on!

But then the first pink forced rhubarb arrived in our fruit and veg box, And I knew exactly what I wanted to make – a sort of rhubarb frangipane tart. Well, the pastry was going to take too long (I only seemed to have short slivers of time available) so I made a cake without the pastry. It was amazing. But oh so ugly.

I made another. Just as tasty, just as ugly. It was christened the Ugly Duckling Cake.

Ugly Duckling Cake, in all its glorious ugliness

Then I discovered the muffin tins in the cupboard … at around the same time as I used up all the rhubarb. How could I replicate that sharp shock of rhubarb in a wee frangipane cake? My first thought was cranberries in balsamic vinegar (this may seem like a very random thought, but I had spied a bag of cranberries in the freezer, left over from the Christmas That Never Happened, and a couple of years ago I had made a delicious sharp and sweet cranberry and balsamic chutney, which was just the taste I was looking for). I’ve also used marmalade, and lemon curd. I reckon almost any kind of compote, made with whatever fruit is seasonal would work.

Oh, and the best thing about these wee cakes? If you pop them in a ziplock bag and put them in a suitable box, they post really well. You can send them in lieu of a hug to anyone and everyone you love. And you’ll feel so much happier having done it.

Well-fired frangipane cakes in rainbow muffin cases

Frangipane cakes

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125 caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 1 TBsp plain flour
  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5, or 170C.
  2. Prepare your muffin tins. You know that this just means pop a paper muffin case into each of the muffin holes don’t you? I usually make 9 wee cakes out of one batch, but it depends on the size of your muffins, obviously.
  3. Weigh out your almonds and add spoonful of flour. Set aside for a minute.
  4. Using and electric beater, beat the butter and sugar together till really light and creamy. Then beat it some more. Seriously, the better you beat it at this stage, the lovelier and light your cakes will be.
  5. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each one. Add a wee bit of the flour/almonds if it is curdling to try to bring it back together. If your eggs are really fresh I think it is less likely to curdle or split, but perhaps I’m just imagining that?
  6. Now, using a big metal spoon, fold the almonds and flour in to the mixture. Try to keep it light, don’t bash all the air out of it.
  7. Spoon dollops of the mixture into muffin trays, using about 2/3 of the mixture.
  8. Now put a spoonful of whatever fruitiness you are adding on top of the mixture in the muffin tins. And then cover with a final wee spoon of cake mixture. You really don’t need to be precise about all this, and in fact it works fine if you spoon all the cake mixture into the tins, and add the fruitiness on top at the end. You find this out by forgetting to leave some back one time.
  9. Pop them in the oven. Check them after about 30 minutes to see how they are – I’ve had some ready at about 35 minutes, others needing another ten minutes. I guess it depends on your oven doesn’t it? I test by pressing lightly on a cake with two fingers, and seeing if it springs back nicely. If not, cook it a bit more.
Ready for baking
In the oven
Mini frangipane cakes, ready to be packed up and posted off as a proxy hug

You can pimp this basic frangipane mixture by adding other flavours, such as vanilla essence, almond essence or orange oil (I was gifted some of this elixir by a super-kind friend and it is amazing) – I mix it in with the butter and sugar.

If you want to make the lemon version, you can find my lemon curd recipe here. The balsamic cranberries can be found here. Or use a bought jam, or fresh berries, or slices of poached pear on top, or apples cooked in butter and sugar to caramelise them. Really, whatever you have to hand, just try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?

If you are interested in more recipes that I’ve scribbled down over the years, take a look at my Index of Recipes. And if you find any broken links, please let me know – over the years I have moved this site and some of the links I think are historic (and not in a good way).

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