By now you've probably heard that recently the state of Massachusetts placed a ban on school bake sales, which was to go into effect on August 1 of this year. Then, after vehement public outcry, state lawmakers decided to overturn the ban. Here’s the take-away from this debacle: don’t underestimate the power of a pissed-off PTA parent. Particularly a PTA parent who really, really likes to bake.
Call me a traditionalist, but I am a big fan of selling sweets for a cause. Hosting a bake sale, and all that it represents, has been a part of the soccer-mom role even before there was such a thing as a soccer-mom. As our school’s resident Bake Sale Queen, I love that the event is so completely retro yet still effective at raising money and spirits. Our bake sales, which are generally open to the students as well as the community, simply reek of good will: good will from the parents, who invest their time and money to make the baked goods, good will from volunteers who staff the table, and good will from the community members, who are ridiculously generous with their donations (at least in my town). Say what you will about food as reward, but you can’t deny the joy that comes from the combination of doing something good (ie, donating to the PTA), and indulging in a freshly-baked homemade cookie. It’s classic Americana, and for good reason.
I understand that there's an argument to be made that we shouldn't help the childhood obesity epidemic along by promoting a diet full of saturated fats and empty calories. But when the PTA hosts a bake sale, we are not shoving refined sugar and icky carbohydrates down the throats of unsuspecting minors. With all the nutrition education our kids get, they certainly know by now that they should eat sweets in moderation. And even if they haven’t yet absorbed all these lessons, our kids can rely on their doting helicopter parents, who will carefully monitor their child’s intake while munching on a cupcake or two of their own.
The Massachusetts uproar, of course, is part of a larger discussion about nutrition. Nationwide, schools are starting to eliminate bake sales as a fundraising activity. Instead, they are leaning toward selling non-food items, or healthier choices, like fruit (though I could make a good case for not eating an entire crate full of apples in one sitting).
Woe to the committee that dares suggest such a move at our school. Bake sales are my baby. They are my bread and butter. (Technically, I suppose they’re my flour, sugar and butter). And my people know this.
When our PTA voted in a new “healthy foods” policy this year, you can bet there was a huge disclaimer at the bottom. The policy read something like this:
“…we strive to provide only healthy, local, sugar-free, organic, grass-fed, free-range, raw foods*** at school events and keep sweets forever away from the lips of our delicate children, who will live inside their protective glass bubbles until they are old enough to pay for our wheat bran at the assisted living center….
***EXCEPT for bake sales.”
All right, I may be embellishing a little here. And in truth, I really do support their efforts to make the kids’ eating options at school healthy ones. In theory, I’m totally on board with the carrot stick coup. Still, in the big picture, I am not particularly interested in the political debate about government’s role in our individual consumption of sugar.
What I am interested in is the emotional and financial impact of a good old-fashioned, well-organized, community-wide bake sale. My point is simply that in this town, where we’ve actually learned how to make bake sales profitable (our election day sale once earned $1,000 in a single day), banning a bake sale would be a financial and political mis-step of significant proportions. Our families already are inundated with nutritional information from the media, the school, and the medical community. Parents and children are hyper-aware of what they are getting into when they bite into that brownie. They also know that a little sugar goes a long way toward making the day a little sweeter for everyone involved.
Thankfully, our PTA knows better than to cross this particular Bake Sale Queen. They know which side their scones are buttered on.
Viva La Bake Sale!
Maple Oatmeal Scones
(adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, by Ina Garten)
makes about 15 3-inch round scones
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup old fashioned oats, plus additional for sprinkling
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup cold buttermilk
¼ cup pure maple syrup
3 large eggs, divided (2 ½ eggs lightly beaten, plus ½ egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk or water, for egg wash)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ to ½ cup pure maple syrup, to taste
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
Drop the butter pieces into the mixture and cut with two knives or a pastry blender until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
Combine the buttermilk, maple syrup and 2 ½ eggs. Make a well in the center of the flour and butter mixture and pour the liquid ingredients into the well. Mix as little as possible, until just blended. The dough may be sticky, and you should see lumps of butter in it.
Working the dough as little as possible, form a ball about 2 1/2 inches wide and lightly flatten as you press it onto the prepared baking sheet (the scones will spread a little during baking). Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving a couple inches of space between each scone.
Brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, turning the pans halfway through the baking time. When the scones are lightly browned on top and the insides are firm, remove the pans from the oven and allow them to cool for five minutes.
To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar, maple syrup and vanilla in a small bowl and mix until smooth.
Drizzle each scone with 1 Tablespoon of the glaze. (The warmer the scones are when you glaze them, the thinner the glaze will be.) Sprinkle some uncooked oats on top for garnish.
Note: these are best the day they are baked, but you can also prepare them ahead of time, place them on trays and store them in the refrigerator for a few days. Then you can bake them just before serving.