In Praise Of The Humble Fairy Cake

23/04/2011 12:31 | Updated 22 May 2015

I blame them all. Sex and the City's Carrie and Co toying with the glamorous Magnolia Bakery confections, Nigella Lawson pouting over her lavishly decorated lavender cup cakes, and now it seems every second celebrity raving about the cup cakes on offer at the Hummingbird Bakeries. Those perfect peaks of the cup cake piled high with swirls of candy coloured icing has made us spurn the more subtle, home grown charms of the fairy cake.

I think this is a shame. I remember with great fondness baking up batches of these little pale gold buns with my mother. Licking the wooden spoon clean of the mixture, feeling the sweet granules of sugar dissolve as my tongue was coated in a delicious slick of pale cake dough. In these days of health and safety this is probably frowned upon, but this was the 70s when children were still allowed to live dangerously.

Our misshapen homemade cakes in their flowery paper cases, dripping with gaudy coloured icing and dangerously studded with tooth cracking silver balls were as far removed from the elegant sophistication of the modern cupcake as your local Greggs is from New York's Magnolia Bakery.

They might not be fashionable anymore, but in my house fairy cakes still rule. I have spent many happy hours cooking them with my children, and many less happy hours clearing up afterwards. But wiping a few floury worktops is a small price to pay when the promise of cake baking delivers instant obedience.

The beauty of fairy cakes is that they are so easy to make. Tiny hands make light work of creaming together butter and sugar, stirring in eggs and flour, all the while dipping in forbidden fingers to taste the mix. As they only take around 10 minutes to cook the results are almost instant too, which is good when you have the miniscule attention span of a small child.

The best bit is the decorating though - and this is where cupcakes fall down. While those sweeping swirls of buttercream frosting look beautiful, the taste is cloyingly rich and they are too fraught with danger to allow near small people. My son Max, 4, once bulldozed a batch of cupcakes by poking his (pre-licked) finger into every one, ruining each perfectly piped peak.

Fairy cakes on the other hand are crying out for that childish touch. There is nothing that my boys like more than mixing a violent array of food colours into gooey glace icing. Usually we end up with a swamp-like khaki, rather than the pretty pastels I was aiming for, but mixing up their noxious brew keeps them amused for all of 15 minutes and that's a long time when you are a little boy.

When it comes to decoration there is no messing around making elaborate flowers fashioned from sugar paste or elegantly perching paper roses. Fairy cakes must be topped with an exuberant mish mash of silver balls, hundreds and thousands, Dolly Mixture and Smarties.

I admit to turning a blind eye to quite how many of the sweets end up in their greedy little mouths, rather than on top of the cakes. Even with this natural wastage the end result is more opulently decorated than a Russian Tsar's palace.

So after the onslaught of the ubiquitous cupcake, I think it's high time we saw the revival of the simple fairy cake. After all there aren't many activities that can keep the kids amused and taste (if not always look) good afterwards.

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