I was delighted when Woodlarks, the camp site for people for disabilities, asked me to provide cakes for their party for the opening of their new swimming pool changing rooms.
They wanted tea for between 70 to 100 people, including some on special diets (gluten-free, diabetic, vegan) and some who are simply picky eaters.
Tip 1: Get help
I was more delighted when I learned that my friend Cassie, Cake Mad Cas was going to bake, too. She’s the absolute master of the cupcake swirl, and the queen of scones. The Woodlarks Chairman, Alexine, also offered to help out. So we had a team for the prep.
Then, on the day, Mags, Trish and Mick – all masters of the tea-urn – appeared and dealt with all of the hot and cold drinks: hooray. That meant that Cassie and I could focus on cutting up all the cake and getting it set out on our collection of cake-stands.
Tip 2: Make a plan, with portions
With three keen bakers on the team, it would have been easy to get carried away and make too much or to find that all of us had opted for Lemon Drizzle. We didn’t mind having some extras, because we knew that the camp was being used the next week, but we needed to be practical.
I asked everyone what they’d like to make (always a good start) and worked out how many portions of cake we needed and how many portions each recipe would provide.
We planned on about two portions of cake for each person: that allowed for some people who never eat cake (strange but true), some people who would have had a large Sunday lunch before coming to the party and wouldn’t want much cake, and the rest of us who would gladly have three or four items.
Tip 3: Include some savoury options
Alexine loves to make quiches and also offered to do her famous chicken-liver pate on gluten-free drop-scones. a few sausage rolls, swirls and cheese straws completed our ‘savoury end’.
I also made some vegetable crudités alongside a couple of tubs of hummus and salsa from the supermarket. As I expected, almost no-one ate them but the few people who did choose them were delighted to see them and chomped away happily.
The bright vegetables made the savoury end of our spread look very cheery. I took the veggies to the party in strong zip-lock bags, and the leftovers packed up well and got turned into a stir-fry and some salad the next day. So nothing was wasted.
Tip 4: Max the coloured sprinkles
Between us, we baked all the usual favourites: lemon drizzle, brownies, rocky road, coffee-and-walnut, chocolate cupcakes, vanilla cupcakes. And I also threw in a few more specialist flapjacky things for the special diets.
What I failed to spot in the planning: it was all rather brown. Or beige. Or a bit more brown. Even Cassie’s delicious vanilla cupcakes were daintily restrained with just a couple of coloured sprinkles on each one. They looked lovely, but didn’t stand out against the rest of the brown.
The only spot of colour: the hundreds-and-thousands that I’d lavishly sprinkled over some rocky road. And that’s what all children (and a few grown-ups) immediately dived into.
In hindsight, I wished I’d asked Cassie to do more of her usual coloured icing, and I wish I’d thrown more icing and sprinkles around. Not that everything needs colour – as usual, the lemon drizzle and coffee-and-walnut were very popular – it’s just that a few more bright spots would have been better.
Tip 5: Have a wonderful time
We had a lovely mixture of people for the party: representatives from the major donors, people who’d been involved in the design and build of the new changing rooms, and campers and helpers from the National Association of Swimming Clubs for the Handicapped.
Most importantly, the new changing rooms were opened by a lad from Charlton Park Academy. Severely disabled himself, he’d been a keen supporter of the project all along. He’ll now be able to get changed for his swim in comfort.
Everyone listened to some short speeches to celebrate the opening, and then had a fine time chatting, drinking their tea, and demolishing the cakes. It was great.