School cake sale, noun: opportunity for the PTA to raise much-needed funds for the school, designed to strike fear and guilt into the hearts of non-baking parents.
I've observed the look of abject terror from mums and dads that often accompanies the request (read: demand) for a contribution to their child's class cake sale the following week. Accomplished in other areas of your life, you now find yourself having to produce and present sweet treats that will not only avoid poisoning your child's classmates, but also look good enough to buy. I mean, the note always says they'd prefer something homemade, but the subtext is clear: if your offering is shop-bought, you are basically a Bad Parent. Sound familiar?
If so, this one's especially for you. Here are a few quick tips that I hope will make the school cake baking process a bit more appealing for you.
1. Keep it simple
You might associate "good cake" with such baking titans as Hummingbird or Magnolia, but your average schoolchild does not. This is not the time to start experimenting with caramel shards or gelatine sheets. A decent sponge with a bit of icing is all you really need - this BBC Good Food vanilla cupcake recipe would be ideal or this All Recipes one-bowl chocolate cake would be another sure hit.
2. Ice, ice, baby
For many a schoolchild, cake is simply the vehicle for its icing. At a school cake sale, a naked cake is too often an unloved cake, so I'd strongly suggest dressing it somehow, even if it's just with a bit of sugar. The BBC recipe above has a simple buttercream recipe, but you could also use plain icing, royal icing or cream cheese icing, depending on the flavour of your cupcakes. If you don't have much time or if you don't fancy developing tennis elbow from creaming butter, plain icing is the one for you. It has only two key ingredients (icing sugar and water), takes minutes to prepare, plus you can colour and/or flavour it easily. It's also impossible to mess it up unless you try really hard. This basic Good Housekeeping recipe is ideal. You don't need any specialist equipment to frost your cupcakes either - of course, pipe away if that's your thing, but you could just as easily slather on your icing with a knife.
3. Toppings are your friends
Whether you're making cupcakes or a large cake, the old adage remains true - we taste first with the eyes. The kids I know seem particularly drawn to iced cakes with multicoloured sprinkles, anything chocolate, Disney character wafers or sweets. If the artificial colours and flavourings in most supermarket cake toppings are a no no, you can find plenty of natural cake decorations online: I use Sprinkles & Co but there are lots of options if you do a quick search. And if they're in season, why not just try raspberries, blueberries and/or strawberries as toppings instead?
4. Get the kids involved
They say you should never work with children or animals, but baking really can be a wonderful activity to do with your little rascal, despite the extra mess. Measuring the ingredients gives a great opportunity for a bit of basic maths, and the whole process is essentially a practical chemistry experiment, just with a (hopefully) edible and tasty outcome. NB: if you do bake as a family team, I would suggest making cupcakes; you can more easily reward your little helper with a cupcake for their efforts, rather risking the (in my view, justified) tantrum when you refuse to cut a slice out of a large cake.
Good luck, and happy baking!