Today is school cake sale day. For some mums this is an event that has the ability to send you into an irrational, blind panic at 7am to hunt down a packet of stale fairy cakes. For others it’s a chance to use skills from a previously successful-and-very-important career to create two-dozen showstoppers and then post pictures of said stunners on boastbook.


Alpha mum (the class rep) is “delighted” to be in charge of this event and in anticipation has sent around a target-setting spreadsheet detailing the need for more cake pops. Apparently demand outstripped supply last time.

She also suggests that the unit price of each cake should increase by 75% to £1. One pound! This can be explained by knowing that she lives in one of those big houses with a bespoke beige kitchen and a dog to match. There are clearly no Lidl receipts at the bottom of her shopping bag.

On paper, the cake sale is a way for school to get a bit of petty cash to buy glitter and a job lot of that hideous “washable” paint that stains like battery acid. In reality it’s a frenzy of competitive baking and starving kids whose glucose habit makes them spend like it's Black Friday, which can get messy given the amount of butter icing that’s on display…

Organic mum has made sugar-free cookies. They look like cowpats and the absence of any form of ADHD-inducing food colouring means that they’ll almost certainly end up in the bin. This is not good for profit margins and feedback will certainly be given. What she doesn’t know is that her own kids are already snorting icing sugar behind her back - it was brought for dusting a batch of minature victoria sponges - and that they were once caught in the school kitchen eating treacle sponge with their hands. Sugar-free. Not.

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As the sale kicks off a swarm of small children start forming a scrum in front of the table. Five mums are jostling for the role of accountant. “I’ll deal with the money, I used to be an accountant,” says one as she swipes the petty cash tin and smugly makes her first sale.

Within seconds Mum-Who-Needs-a-Job let’s out a harrowing, involuntary scream and shouts “Nooooo”. A toddler with train tracks of green snot running down his face is systematically licking the cakes on the front row. A SWAT team is dispatched. He is bundled into his buggy and strapped down so tight that his face goes the colour of a raspberry flavour rice cake.

Mum-of-three comes over to the table for a gossip (btw the third child was a mistake that arose from a drunken error of judgement – her husband’s quite good looking but she maintains it was an error). She’s in the midst of recounting how the man in charge of the Parent Teachers Association started crying in the last meeting (it was the experience of “being part of something so powerful” that reduced him to tears) when she lets out a howl.

Turns out she’d forgotten to pick up middle son. “I knew I’d come here for something” she cries as she stuffs down a mini carrot cake and runs off, pausing halfway across the playground to spit out the paper case.

After 20 minutes only the dregs are left. The dregs in this case are the sugar-free cowpats and 15 cake pops. The playground is littered with half-eaten cupcakes and there are children tying each other to the fence with their shoe laces.

Alpha mum is counting the profits and recording sales data on her iPad. “Hmm. The focus needs to shift to tray bakes next time,” she snaps.

Infallible vanilla cupcakes

Makes 12

  • 175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 100ml milk, at room temperature
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • coloured sprinkles, to decorate


  • 75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  1. Heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Line a 12-hole bun tray with paper cases.
  2. Put the butter, eggs and milk into a large bowl. Add the sugar, flour and vanilla extract and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time, until the mixture is smooth, creamy and fluffy.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases, making sure they are evenly filled. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until well risen and golden brown, and a skewer or cocktail stick inserted in a central cake comes out clean. If not, bake for 2 more minutes, then test again.
  4. Set the tray aside to cool for 2 minutes, then transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack and leave until completely cold.
  5. Put all the icing ingredients into a small bowl and beat well for about 3 minutes, until light and creamy. Using a round-bladed knife, spread or swirl the icing onto the cold cupcakes, then scatter the sprinkles on top. Store in an airtight container and eat within 4 days.