Beauty by Robin McKinley

As I’ve shared before, I am a sucker for fairy tales. Whether it’s the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Neil Gaiman, Gregory Maguire, or Robin McKinley, the tales of kings, queens, princesses, trolls, talking animals, enchanted castles, and beasts have fascinated me since I was a little girl. But of all my favorites, the timeless story of Beauty and the Beast captured my imagination and still fascinates me this day.

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I mean, how much more profound can you get than a story about seeing past someone’s facade to their true heart and soul, and true love showing you the beauty inherent inside us all? I think in our looks-obsessed world, this story is even more timely than ever before. We live in a world where we swipe right if someone’s appearance doesn’t immediately grab us, we open up our hearts and share deep, poignant things about ourselves via IM with virtual strangers whose looks we like but whom we really know nothing about, and we mistake beauty and fame for personality, accomplishment, and intelligence. And I think as a society, we are more lonely than ever before because we judge so many things by how they look and not how they really are.

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The story of Beauty is retold in this marvelous book by Robin McKinley, and takes many of the traditional tropes and turns them upside down. Yes, there are three sisters but they all love one another. Beauty herself is considered plain compared to her two stunning sisters Grace and Hope; and when she goes to live with the Beast, she is nervous that he won’t be pleased with her appearance – a nice little twist as the Beast himself is at first very frightening. The enchanted rose, of course, makes its appearance in various ways, my favorite being that when its petals start to fall, they turn to gold and clink when hitting the floor or table. I love that!

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The illustration above is from my most treasured childhood book “Beauty and the Beast” illustrated by the amazing Mercer Mayer, which is also featured in the first photo. The illustrations are beyond gorgeous, rich, sumptuous, full of color and life.

Overall, the tale is the same – Beauty’s father loses his money, the family must move to the country, he encounters the Beast when returning home after hearing his fortune might be restored and takes a red rose from the Beast’s garden for Beauty, and Beauty goes to live with the Beast to appease  him. The Beast is, of course, under an enchantment, though in McKinley’s retelling, it’s not because he was an arrogant, vain, wealthy prince who refused to help others, but instead, he is under a sort of family curse.

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I like this version because Beauty is a total nerd bookworm who prefers the company of her armchair, a mug of hot chocolate and a book to any kind of company or society. That is so me! And when she goes to live with the Beast, he showers her with gorgeous clothes, beautiful shoes, jewels of all kinds, an enchanted stable for her beloved horse Greatheart, and food that would boggle the mind.

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That wonderful table would never have offered me the same dish twice; but while I reveled in the variety, I also sometimes demanded a repetition. There was a dark treacly spice cake that I liked very much, and asked for several times. Sometimes it burst into being like a small exploding star, several feed above my head, and settled magnificently to my plate; sometimes a small silver tray with a leg at each of five or six corners would leap up and hurry towards me from a point far down the table.

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Being a foodie, I of course loved the descriptions of the feasts, and though there was not a lot of specific food description, the passage above where Beauty talks about her favorite spice cake that the Beast’s invisible servants make her, was so charming and sounded so yum that I was inspired to make my own version – a cinnamon almond cake! Inspired by Nigella Lawson’s gluten-free clementine cake made with ground almonds instead of flour, this is my own spicy version.

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INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup almond flour
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
6 eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons almond extract

METHOD
Heat the oven to 375F and melt the butter in the microwave.

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Mix together the ground almonds, almond flour, sugar, ground cinnamon and baking powder in a bowl.

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Crack the eggs into the bowl of your most awesome red Kitchen Aid and mix slowly together.

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Add the melted butter, the vanilla and almond almond extract and mix again.

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One spoonful at a time, add the almond flour and cinnamon mixture to the eggs and butter and mix at medium speed until you have a dark reddish-brown batter with bits of almond peeking out.

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Pour into a buttered and lined cake pan and bake for 40 minutes, checking at the half-hour mark to make sure it hasn’t burned. The toothpick trick will let you know when it’s done.

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Allow to cool before serving, and enjoy with morning coffee or tea, or a glass of wine in the evening. Either works with this spicy, delicious cake. The almonds keep it light and give it a wonderful flavor, and it is super moist, gluten-free and would also be good with whipped cream on top. Tasty enough to melt the heart of the most hardened Beast.

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14 thoughts on “Beauty by Robin McKinley

  1. I love the looks of that cake!! So moist and delicious looking – I had a copy of that book for my daughter = i started collecting fairy tales in my late teens! Then about 10 years ago found out that my family is related the Brother’s Grimm. Coincidence? lol! Not descended, because neither brother had children.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so awesome Mollie! How exciting to know that you were related to one of the great literary families of all time. I appreciate your kind comment on the cake. It came out so delicious. You do have to be a cinnamon lover to appreciate it, but since I definitely am, it was no problem for me. And both Beauty books are amazing if you can find either of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This version sounds similar but even better. I have to read this one. This is a favorite fairy tale of mine too. I love that we both love fairy tales and have since kids. The illustration from your Mercer Mayer book is so beautiful! I’m going to have to ransack my kids shelves to see if we have that one. If we don’t, I’m going to try and find it. Two books to add!

    Gosh, I just love everything about this post. Saving the recipe too. ❤ Thanks, Vanessa!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Jen. This one was very near and dear to my heart. I think you would love both books, and both are appropriate for you to read to your kids. The McKinley book is just absolutely beautifully written, and the Mercer Mayer illustrations in the other book are indescribably beautiful. Little details just pop out. And the cake was quite delicious, moist and gluten-free and pretty much everything you could want in a cake. Please let me know if you were able to find either book, and if you need help with the Mercer Mayer book, I have several rare book sources I use online that might be able to help.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I found them! I ended up finding the Mayer book on Amazon and the other on Ebay. There are so many editions of that one LOL. I don’t think I purchased the same one as you, but it is hardcover. Thanks again for sharing this! I can’t wait to read them. ❤ I'll be sure to link up with you when I post. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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