The perfect paupers present

I make no bones about the fact that I am not well-heeled or over privileged, and since my redundancy in 2009, neither do I have enough disposable income to enable me to constantly experiment with different recipes and dishes (although of course I do, but on a very tight budget!).

Since I also live outside London I am often limited in my choice of varied and exotic ingredients. I would of course love to use the strange array of herbs, spices, vegetables and fruit readily available in the average big city, conjuring new and enticing dishes with which to tantalize my family and friends, to entertain nightly and ultimately to write a recipe book (which requires triple testing and tasting) but sadly at this time it is not to be.

Cupcakes: chocolate with orange frosting; vanilla with chocolate cherry ganache; vanilla cherry with limoncello icing

Birthdays can also be a problem when one has challenged finances: My generosity thwarted (I have big ideas and no bank balance) I turn to my own skills to create individual birthday gifts. Over the past two years I have discovered that there is nothing as satisfying, as personal, or as gratefully received as an item that has been lovingly hand-made. Whether this be a hand drawn card, a candle, a hand-knit, or sewn item or something tasty to eat. I have given a variety of gifts and received them back; jams, chutney, marmalade, sometimes paired with an unusual cheese and wrapped in cellophane, liqueurs made from foraged fruit, sweet tasty fudge and of course the ubiquitous cupcake. I have on several occasions given a massive box of cupcakes as an extra special birthday gift (some of which I have pictured here under the ‘more from the kitchen’ heading) and this is exactly what I did for my friend Sarah’s 40th birthday party over the bank holiday weekend. Decorated with a more unusual choice of icing they make a rather glamorous, sophisticated present

Overjoyed, Sarah exclaimed “oh! you are so kind” before a large posse of children swooped and wiped out the box in less than 3 minutes! I think Sarah got one.

Later, as we left the party we passed one ten-year old splayed on the trampoline...”are you alright Herbie”? we said  “I’m not drunk” he replied “I’ve just eaten several very alcoholic cupcakes” Oops!

Limocello cupcakes: Makes 12 to 14

125g unsalted butter, 125g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 125g self-raising sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence, 6 to 8 glace cherries (preferably organic. These look darker as they don’t have the vivid red colour), a dessertspoonful of limoncello, a tablespoon or two of milk.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200 degrees C.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth (adding a tablespoon of flour with the last one). Add flour and fold or beat in with the vanilla, limoncello and milk. Beat well until smooth. Fold in the finely chopped cherries. Put a dessertspoonful or so of the mixture into each case filling fairly equally. Bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool on a rack. For the icing mix 250g icing sugar with 1 tablespoon limoncello and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. I just kept adding a bit more limoncello and lemon juice until I got the desired consistency, it should be thick enough to spread without dripping everywhere. You could also add a few drops of yellow colouring (I use Langdale which are available in most supermarkets) but it’s not essential.

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Filed under baking, family budget cooking, home cooking

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