Okay, I’m going to admit straight out that I think giving teachers gifts at the end of the year is a joke! If everyone got a gift for doing their job well the world would be drowning in crap that no-one wants. I think a verbal thank you or simple handwritten note is more than enough to show gratitude.
That said, the gift culture in Ireland is so strong that opting out can be social suicide in some circles, particularly those of school-aged kids. So I’ve come up with a compromise; I bake and donate money to an education / children’s charity instead of adding to the mountain of ‘best teacher’ crap out there.
Given the problems with fraud / mismanagement in the charity sector here I only donate to charities that post their financial details online and that don’t pay their CEO’s more than i think is reasonable.
On the issue of baking I am a big fan of simple and easy so here is my go-to recipe for buns and buttercream icing and some do-able ideas for decorations.
Fairycakes / Cupcakes / Buns
Cupcakes are just the American term for what we call fairycakes or buns in Ireland, although cupcakes tend to be piled high with buttercream whereas fairycakes tend to just have icing poured on them. The easiest and most foolproof recipe I’ve found is this one.
- 100 g (4 oz) softened butter
- 100 g (4 oz) caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 100 g (4 oz) self-raising flour
- 1 level tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract / almond extract or tbsp lemon rind / orange rind / sprinkles
- Heat the oven to 200C fan, 180C fan, gas 6. Place fairy cake cases / reusable silicone moulds into a 12-hole bun tin.
- Mix the softened butter with the sugar until well blended.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and beat for 2-3 mins until the mixture is well blended and smooth. At this stage you can add in almond lemon or orange rind for flavouring
- Fill each paper case / silicone mould evenly with the mixture.
- Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes. When the buns are starting to brown around the edges, insert a skewer / knife into the centre of the centremost bun. If it comes out clean take the buns out of the oven, if not wipe the skewer / knife clean and repeat in another couple of minutes until it comes out clean. Try not to open the door too early, too often and for too long. If you do the hot air in the oven will rush out and your buns might collapse.
- Once out of the oven leave the bun tin to cool somewhere. When cool, lift the paper cases / reusable silicone moulds out of the bun tin and finish cooling the buns on a wire rack.
- Once cool decorate as desired.
Simple Buttercream recipe
I’ve tried tons of alternatives to buttercream and none are as easy, stable or as tasty as traditional buttercream. This is the recipe I use and the trick with it is to whisk it for at least 10 minutes to get it to double in volume. This makes it lighter and reduces the calories per serving. You can flavour or colour buttercream or sprinkle it with popping candy or sprinkles.
- 100 g (4 oz) softened butter
- 200 g (8 oz) icing / powdered sugar
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract or other flavouring
- 1 tsp of food dye if using
- tiny amount of milk
- Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and start whisking, first on a low-speed and then gradually increasing it to a high-speed.
- Add in vanilla extract and tiny amount of milk
- Leave to whisk for 10mins
- If you think the buttercream is too thick add a tiny bit more milk. If you think the buttercream is too soft put it in the fridge to harden for a while before using. If it’s too stiff it won’t pipe smoothly and if it’s too runny you won’t get any definition with it.
If you fancy trying your hand at a bit of buttercream decoration but don’t have any icing tips, here’s a handy video on how to do it using a plastic bag. I’m not advocating the use of plastic bags but let’s get real, who doesn’t have one of these bag boys lurking in the house. This video was made by an amazing cake maker in Australia, by Ann Reardon from HowtoCookThat.com. Check out her How to Cook That Youtube channel for some cake porn!
Because I’m always aiming for maximum impact for minimum effort I’ve included a few ideas for what I consider to be do-able cupcake designs.
To make these just swap the 100g of plain flour for 75g plain flour and 25g of cocoa powder, and once cool sprinkle with icing sugar (powdered sugar in the US) through a section of lace fabric.
To make these add pink or a small bit of red food colouring, and some chocolate nibs to your bun mix before cooking. Once cool decorate with green buttercream icing and dot with some more chocolate nibs. Tip: If you mix the chocolate nibs with the flour before you add them into the mix they’ll be more evenly distributed in the buns.
This is just a simple chocolate bun (see recipe above). Decorated with a small blog of buttercream, some white chocolate discs and a red jelly.