Almond Baby Cakes, Gluten-Free … Naturally

 The recipe was given to me by a woman who lives in Lyon.  She makes it as a large cake, but after I tested it a couple of times and had problems time after time, my husband suggested that it might bake better as a baby cake and he was right.  Really right.  It not only baked better, it tasted better because there was more of my favorite part: the outer crust.

I have a muffin tin that has little scallops and that’s what I use for the cakes, but any regular size muffin pan will give you pretty cakes.
As for the nuts: Odile insisted that the cake be made with unblanched almonds; she said that the almond skins make the cake more interesting.  She’s got a point.  But the cake is also delicious with blanched almonds and I think it would be equally good with hazelnuts or pecans.
If you play around with the recipe, let me know what you do … please. 
Makes 12 cakes 
5 ounces whole unblanched almonds
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
5 tablespoons ( 2 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon kirsch, dark rum or pure vanilla extract 
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a standard-size muffin tin that has a dozen molds, cut parchment or wax paper circles to fit into the bottom of each mold, and butter the papers.
Put the almonds in a food processor along with a tablespoon or two of the recipe’s sugar and pulse and process until the almonds are mostly ground, but still have lots of tiny chunks.
Working in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick, pale and voluminous.  Pour in the ground almonds and continue to beat for another minute or so, and then scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Using a spatula, work the butter back and forth on a plate or cutting board until it is very soft.  Still working at medium-high speed, drop in the butter, a few pieces at a time, and beat until well blended.  You might see some bits of butter and the batter will probably look slightly curdled – don’t worry.  This is an odd batter, but it makes delicious cakes.  Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the kirsch, rum or vanilla and then give the batter one last spin at high speed.  Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin molds – the molds will only be about half full and that’s fine.
Bake the cakes for 27 to 29 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway mark, or until they are dark brown around the edges and a skewer inserted into their centers comes out clean.  Turn the tin upside down on a rack and tap out the cakes.  Wait a few minutes and then carefully peel away the wax or parchment paper circles.  Don’t be surprised – or distressed – if you find a little tunnel or two on the bottoms; these seem to be unavoidable.  Cool to room temperature right side up.
Serving:  I like these plain served with tea or coffee, but they’re also good with jam – marmalade’s my choice – and equally good with berries.  The biggest treat is to have these with a not-too-sweet dessert wine.
Storing:  Packed into a tin, these will keep at room temperature for a couple of days.  They can also be packed airtight and kept frozen for up to 2 months.