Have you heard of Free Cakes for Kids? No, it's not a company handing out free samples - it's a charity that helps disadvantaged youngsters have a bit of a treat on their birthday.
For many children a birthday cake is a luxury they don't get - or at least not a home-baked personalised cake with their favourite animals or characters. These days so many children seem to expect that and parents spend a great deal sometimes on their child's cake.
But it's not just about feeling left out among their school friends - many of the children this charity helps are underprivileged, either from families that are below the poverty line or living in temporary accommodation or women's shelters. For them, receiving a birthday cake is hopefully something that will bring a smile to their face, helping them to forget for a moment their hardship, and something that will bring joy to the rest of their families as well.
The way it works is that the parent or more often their school or shelter representative contacts a co-ordinator, and gives them some information like the first name and age of the child and a few things that they like. The co-ordinator then sends out the request to an email distribution list of local bakers and someone responds and volunteers to make the cake. The co-ordinator (in my area at least) will collect the cake from the baker and deliver it to the recipient.
You can find out more about Free Cakes for Kids and sign up to your local group by clicking on the link.
I signed up a while ago but usually by the time I saw the email (as I work full time) there was already a volunteer to bake. A few weeks ago I happened to be looking at my email as the request came in and so I responded - and the next thing I know, I had agreed to make a birthday cake for a girl about to turn seven, who liked Rapunzel and butterflies!
I had nearly two weeks' notice which was really handy as I was able to google Rapunzel cakes and realised that the Disney film Tangled is actually about Rapunzel. I knew I was going to have to make the cake on a day when I was working from home, which worked out quite well as I save time that day by not having to commute into central London (giving me back nearly three hours). Even so I wasn't going to be able to spend hours crafting Rapunzel out of icing!
I ended up ordering a personalised cake topper printed on wafer paper with the little girl's name and age, which I got via the internet. I actually baked the cake the night before and decorated it very early in the morning before I logged on to my computer to work.
Thinking that most children probably won't want a strongly flavoured or unusual cake I decided to stick with a vanilla sponge. The recipe I used is from the Sainsbury's Cake Recipe Collection book:
250g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, beaten
250g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
I added a splash of milk as I like my cake mixture to be looser
Preheat oven to 180C and grease an 8 or 9 inch cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the vanilla and eggs. Fold in the flour and baking powder and the milk and beat until smooth.
Pour into the cake tin and bake for around 25 minutes, testing with a skewer until it is no longer raw inside. Leave to cool in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack and split through the middle to make two cakes.
It made a decent 9-inch cake which when split and filled with vanilla buttercream made a good height cake (I was worried about it looking too flat).
I covered the cake with a thin layer of buttercream and then fondant that I had coloured lilac.
The cake topper sat nicely on the top (once I had levelled the top of the cake that is), moistened slightly with water (just a tiny bit) so it would stick to the fondant, and I coloured some extra buttercream and piped it using a star nozzle around the edge of the wafer paper.
A week or so after the little girl's birthday I received a lovely message via the organiser saying she had been thrilled with her cake and was still talking about it a week later, and that the butterflies happened to be in her favourite colour. I was really pleased to think I had made a little girl and her family happy, even if they were complete strangers, and I will definitely be baking again for Free Cakes for Kids.