Ah, the half-termly PSA cake sale. The letter sent out too late, the last-minute change of setting, the clash with various clubs... But we all love a bit of cake, don't we? And at 30p each (four for £1), you can't argue. Especially when they're as amazing as this!
But all offerings - including, and, in fact, especially 'confectionery applied to breakfast cereal' as a friend of mine described her own contributions - are gleefully, and remarkably indiscriminatingly pounced upon by hungry children craving sugar. So we beg, implore and bully people to bake some cakes if they possibly have time (people start to back away in the playground when they see us coming), we bake, we ice, we eat several too many of the ersatz chocolate decorations we've bought, we breathe a sigh of relief when we see children other than our own heading to school cradling plastic boxes and biscuit tins.
And when it's all laid out, a beautiful banquet of sugary delights, it's so much greater than the sum of its parts. It's an event that, thanks to some effort by lots of people who bake (or at least bring about the aforementioned union of confectionery and breakfast cereal), and thanks to other people heave some (surprisingly) heavy tables, and organise the money, and hand out the bags, and lots more who bring along their pocket money... brings everybody together in the sunshine to chat, play, laugh and enjoy cake.
But as pain-free a way to raise money as this is, it's certainly best not to think too hard about why we're there. The fact that the efforts of some well-intentioned parents with the skills, time, energy and motivation (I'm just guessing that all schools may not have this resource) may in the not-too-distant future be all that lies between a genuinely enriching educational experience and one that scrapes by by the skin of its teeth is enough to take the edge off anyone's sugar high.
The recipe I always use comes from Alison. Have I mentioned I'm not much of a baker? Well, I've been able to put past cupcake failures behind me thanks to Alison, whose recipe always, always works for me. In case you're looking for a reliable cupcake recipe, here it is.
125g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
250g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Use an electric hand whisk or mixer to mix the butter and sugar together until well combined, but not necessarily creamed. Combine the eggs and the vanilla, and add to the butter/sugar mix a bit at a time, whisking in between each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt, then sieve in the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture a spoonful at a time, alternating with the milk, and whisk between each addition until everything is well combined and you have a mixture with a loose-ish dropping consistency.
Now for the slightly bonkers bit: you might want to consider (if you have a digital scale) actually weighing out the mixture into the cupcake cases. This might sound like a faff, but it does give you a lovely, evenly sized batch of cakes that will all cook at the same time. The quantities given should yield 12 cakes at 60g (i.e. quite large, large enough, certainly for a 'muffin'-sized case). Small - i.e. standard-sized 'fairy' cake cases, I have found, are best with around 20-25g mixture each.
And - man, oh, man - can I tell you how much I love to eat raw cake mixture? Sorry, secrets will out...
Bake for between 15 and 23 minutes (depending on the size of the cakes) at 175C, until they are uniformly golden brown and firm to the touch.
Take them out, allow to cool then liberally festoon with butter icing, sweeties, sprinkles and other kiddie-crack.