I spent a lot of time wondering over the years why schools ask parents to provide cakes and so on for fetes, considering that they often sell them for less than the cost of the ingredients. My reasoning went like this. If the onus falls on women to bake things, even though many of them are in full time work, is it not more sensible just to ask for donations from busy people and cut out the extra workload? I then realised that an alternative model of accountancy was at work here, a kind of social accountancy rather than financial. By getting parents involved in making things and thinking about the school, and coming along to the fete to join in with the communal side of things, it builds a better sense of co-operation and community amongst the families and teachers involved. Here are some standard recipes and ideas for packaging so that you can join in as well.
- 8 oz butter or vegetable spread
- 8 oz caster sugar
- 4 beaten eggs
- 8 oz self-raising flour
- 2 spoons jam (preferably home made)
Experienced sponge makers will realise this is twice the usual quantity of ingredients. This is because a lot of us find it hard to get sponger cakes to rise, and if you use double the quantity it gives the impression of success! The technique goes like this. Line two 7” (18cm) non-stick sponge tins with baking parchments to give a perfect result. (You can also use a deeper tin and cut the cake horizontally later on). Cream together the butter/spread and sugar, beating it with a wooden spoon until it is light and fluffy. Now you need to be extremely patient for the next stage. Add the beaten egg little by little, mixing it in carefully between pourings, so the egg is incorporated into the mixture. If you rush this process, it will curdle, but do not fear, because adding a tablespoon full of flour will put that right. You will lose some of the lightness in the process though, which is the trade-off. When you’ve managed to incorporate all the egg, fold in the flour very carefully using a metal spoon, until you’ve got a proper cake mixture. Now pour into your baking tin(s) and cook for 25-30 minutes at about 160C until the sponge is risen and golden brown. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR TO CHECK THEM HALF WAY THROUGH OR IT WILL SINK IN THE MIDDLE! When it’s ready, the top of the cake should spring back when you press it. (If it has risen up like the peak of the Matterhorn with a crack in it, your oven was too hot, by the way). It should also have shrunk away from the edges of the tin ever so slightly. Take it out and allow it to cool for a few minutes before turning it out on a baking rack. When it’s cool, you can do any of the following exciting things to it.
- Sandwich the two halves together with some jam, preferably home made.
- To make it even more indulgent, make buttercream icing from beating together equal parts of butter and caster sugar, and spread that in the middle as well to complement the jam. Or you could use whipped cream instead of buttercream.
- Sprinkle with icing sugar. Do this through a paper doily for an artistic effect.
- Tie a colourful ribbon around it.
- You can turn it into a birthday cake by rolling out a slab of ready made white icing, cutting out a circle slightly smaller than the circumference of the top, securing it with jam, and writing on it with special writing icing tubes. You’ll need candles as well, of course.
This mix will also make a couple of dozen fairy cakes in paper cases. Vary the mixture by:
- Replacing 1-2 oz of the flour with cocoa or a few spoons of melted chocolate for a chocolate sponge cake
- Adding 4 oz glace cherries tossed in flour (so they don’t sink to the bottom) for a cherry cake
- Adding 4 oz sultanas tossed in flour for a sultana cake
- Pouring the sponge mixture over sliced apples for apple cake. You can also add some cinnamon to the mixture to complement the fruit.
Pack little cakes, biscuits and scones in clear cellophane bags with seasonal ribbon around the top for a good effect – red or tartan for Christmas, yellow for Easter and green or raffia for summer. Children also like buying mixed bags of little fairy cakes, biscuits and sweets for 50p, as I found out recently at a cub scout fete.
Image: Keattikorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net