My parents moved to Angouleme in France a few weeks ago, having retired and sold up in the UK and built a house from scratch not far from Limoges. At first I did wonder if they were in danger of losing their marbles, but then I soon realised that to follow one's dreams, to make a new start later in one's life and in a new country, takes enormous courage. I am full of admiration for them. Plus I can't wait to stay with them and to faire les achats in the local market. My fingers are itching at the thought of fondling juicy red tomatoes, plucking out plump ripe plums and stroking fronds of lettuce leaves.
Any initial concerns I had about my parents being embraced by the local community were swept aside very soon after their arrival. A Sunday evening telephone conversation revealed that they had (hic) just returned from a five hour lunch (hic), hosted by the Mayor of Lessac for all people of retirement age in the area, whether they be French or English (and no, not a timeshare or retirement sales guerrilla was in sight). A terrific number of dishes had been consumed, bottles upon bottles of wine and the local marc had been appreciated and then my father had driven (slowly) home. Only in France. Oh yes, they are well on their way to becoming locals.
Although Angouleme is far from being an English enclave, there must be a fair smattering of 'les rostbifs' as the convivial Mayor has invited the ladies to whip up a collection of traditional British cakes for his mid-May fete. Upon hearing this my mind was filled with visions of an Anglo-Franco bake-off. A war of the whisks. A veritable competition of confectionery where bread and butter pudding is to be challenged by clafoutis des cerises. Where Dorset apple cake will be pitched against tarte aux pommes. Lemon drizzle cake versus madelaines. Treacle tart against financier aux raisins. Victoria sponge versus far aux pruneaux.
Having convinced her fellow bakers that her scones have a striking resemblance to rock cakes, the good old fashioned fairy cake is to be my mother's weapon of choice. Deceptively innocent in appearance, these little beauties are bound to charm the French judges into submission. Especially when they are nestled in pretty paper cases and are decorated with the sweetest of sugary flowers - just a few of the essentials that I have been asked to deliver on my forthcoming trick (apparently these little items are very hard to come by in the local shops whilst they are in abundance in London cookery shops. The upper hand will be gained on aesthetics alone I feel).
So, although my mother has her own tried and tested recipe for 'les gateaux de fees', I thought that I would post mine here. The use of almonds gives these little morsels a lovely dampness without robbing them off airiness, as befits a cake of fairy qualities. Even the hardest of hearts tend to melt a little when faced with these little puffs of pixie dust.
Almond Fairy Cakes makes 12
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1tsp almond essence
2 medium size eggs, lightly beaten
25g plain flour
100g ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 180 C/gas 4 and arrange 12 pretty paper cake cases in a bun tray.
Beat the butter, sugar and salt together until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, flour, almonds, almond essence and milk and mix well. The cake batter should be of a consistency that drops easily from the spoon. Add a tiny bit more milk if necessary but go steady.
Divide the mixture between the 12 cases and flatten the tops with a spoon.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the cakes have risen and are of a golden colour. They should bounce back when lightly pressed.
Transfer to a wire rack and leave until cold.
Decorate with icing of your choice (I like to use fondant icing for these flavoured with lemon juice) and with sugary flowers or other such fripperies.
Bonne chance Maman.