BAKE-SALE WINNERS

The Baltimore Sun

Where there's a cause, can a bake sale be far behind?

Whether it's for the church outreach program or the school PTA, for Barack Obama or John McCain, or for a nationwide campaign to stop childhood hunger, putting out a tray of enticing goodies always seems like a fun way to raise a few bucks.

Until it's your turn to bake, that is. Then you may feel the pressure. Must you come up with something unique, distinctive and delicious that will leave your fellow parents or politicos clamoring for the recipe? Or do you slap together something easy and dependable, and call it a day?

Not to worry. It turns out that when it comes to bake sales, simple sells best.

"The one thing that sells best is cupcakes with sprinkles," says Sally Amatucci, bake sale chairwoman for Twin Ridge Elementary School in Mount Airy. "That's what all the kids like."

Vanilla? Chocolate? "It doesn't really matter," she says. "The big thing is the sprinkles."

The next best seller, Amatucci says, is ordinary chocolate-chip cookies.

Rice Krispies treats are big at bake sales, though they're technically not even baked. The Only Bake Sale Cookbook You'll Ever Need, by Laurie Goldrich Wolf and Pam Abrams, provides 23 variations on them.

On the recipe-sharing Web site recipezaar.com, readers of a bake-sale post recommended zippered bags of buttered popcorn; cupcakes frosted in school colors; and various cookies and bars featuring that kid favorite, peanut butter. Whole pies and cakes also sell well, they wrote.

"I did cake mix cupcakes with container frosting. I put a 1/4 of an Oreo cookie on the top of each one," said one "Recipezaar Groupie" on the site. "They sold immediately."

Readers of The Baltimore Sun's parenting blog, Charm City Moms, have had good luck with "S'more Brownies" (made by melting marshmallows and chocolate chips over a pan of regular brownies and topping with graham crackers); "hamburger" cookies that sandwich peppermint patties between vanilla wafers with a garnish of fruit roll-ups; and Rice Krispies treats made with Cocoa Krispies. One reader even does well with reduced-fat brownies, made with yogurt instead of oil.

My own kids always love "rainbow" cookies made from colorful M&Ms.; You can make them stand out from the crowd of treats by baking them on craft sticks that are safe for oven use. And Ina Garten's Peanut-Butter-and-Jelly Bars, from her book Barefoot Contessa at Home, have been a hit with kids and adults alike every time I've made them.

Once you've created your baked goods, how do you package them - and make them attractive to a population increasingly concerned about what's in its food? At Elkridge Elementary School, parents have made small copies of the ingredients and taped them to the wrappers, says PTA president Jennifer Blasko. If you're making cupcakes, Blasko says, don't wrap them - they're hard to keep neat and might lose their icing in the process.

A tip sheet on the Land O'Lakes Web site says baked goods with ribbon, bows or packaged in inexpensive baskets sell faster. Because many bake-sale items are given as gifts, the site recommends attaching a personalized gift label to each one.

a bake-sale timeline

Real Simple magazine offers these tips for a successful bake sale:

* Three weeks before: Decide on the charity you'll be donating to. Pick a spot for the sale. Line up volunteers to bake.

* One week before: Advertise with brightly colored signs in high-traffic areas near the sale. Check the list of volunteers and decide what, or whom, you don't have but still need. Shop for ingredients, and start baking anything that can be frozen. Remind volunteers what time their shifts will be, and tell them when and where to drop off goodies.

* The day before: Bake whatever you're donating. Host a packaging party to wrap everything and label ingredients. Load your car with the necessary supplies.

* The day of: Arrive early to set up and receive baked goods, and to put up more signs. Restock trays throughout the day. (If you have lots of goods, it's wise to hold a few back for when you run out of things, so your offerings will always look plentiful.) Be sure to hide checks and cash in a safe place.

* After the sale: Clean up and pack away leftovers to be donated. Drop off or send money to your chosen charity. And don't forget to thank your volunteers - and let them know how much they raised.

peanut-butter-and-jelly bars

(makes about 24)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups creamy peanut butter, such as Skippy (18 ounces)

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/2 cups raspberry jam or other jam (18 ounces)

2/3 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs and peanut butter and mix until well combined.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut-butter mixture. Mix just until combined. Dough will be stiff.

Spread 2/3 of the dough in the prepared pan, using a knife to spread it evenly. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don't worry if all the jam isn't covered; the dough will spread when it bakes. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely and cut into small bars.

Note: : These freeze well.

From "Barefoot Contessa at Home," by Ina Garten

Per bar: : 376 calories, 8 grams protein, 21 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 43 grams carbohydrate, 2 milligrams fiber, 41 milligrams cholesterol, 257 milligrams sodium

giant m&m; cookie pops

(makes 15)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups colored M&Ms;

15 oven-safe cookie or craft sticks

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugars, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Stir in the vanilla extract. Gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Add the M&Ms; and stir again.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Using a 1/3 -cup measuring cup, drop the dough onto baking sheets, about 3 inches apart. Insert a cookie or craft stick, at least 1 inch deep, into each cookie to form a pop.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until light brown. Set the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to racks and let them cool completely.

Adapted from familyfun.com

Per cookie pop: : 387 calories, 4 grams protein, 19 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat, 51 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 64 milligrams cholesterol, 126 milligrams sodium

double kisses chocolate cupcakes

(makes about 30 cupcakes)

about 60 Hershey's Kisses milk chocolates

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened

1 2/3 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup cocoa

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups water

Remove wrappers from chocolate pieces; set pieces aside. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin cups (2 1/2 inches in diameter) with paper baking cups. Combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in large bowl. Beat on high speed of mixer 3 minutes. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and baking powder; add alternately with water to butter mixture, beating just until blended.

Fill muffin cups about 1/2 full with batter. Place chocolate piece in center of each. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from cups to wire rack. Cool. Frost as desired. Place another chocolate piece on top of each cupcake.

From Hersheys.com

Per cupcake, without frosting: : 180 calories, 2 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 23 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 34 milligrams cholesterol, 141 milligrams sodium

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