Fairy Cakes: Grab the Lapels is baking British!

If you haven’t gone back and read Part 1 yet, I recommend you do!

Recently, I learned that no one seems to agree on what a fairy cake is. In the comment section of my book review of Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes by Sue Watson, my readers across the globe tried to tell me what fairy cakes really are. Remember, I thought this was a fairy cake:

on birthday cakes: a fairy garden cake!

People argued for certain cake types, how much icing should be on top, how frosting is the devil, and whether or not we’re really taking about bread with sprinkles. Karen at BookerTalk sent me a link to Mary Berry’s recipe for fairy cakes, and thanks to Netflix and The Great British Baking Show, I know who Mary Berry is. And I’m gonna trust Mary Berry.

The recipe promised to be simple (it actually says “skill: easy”). Right away, Mary Berry lied. What is this castor sugar? What fresh hell is “self-raising flour?” — and why isn’t it called self-rising flour? How would Mary Berry define these “sweets” that I’m supposed to use to decorate? I don’t recognize the decorations in the picture:

Screenshot 2018-05-28 at 1.03.15 PM.png
What are those? In the U.S. no one but your Nana would have them, and they’d be left over from WWII.

*channeling my inner Mary Berry so I can make something that looks really special*

mary berry.gif

Oh, and I don’t know what icing sugar is.

So, using the power of Google, I learned that self-raising flour, according to this site, is 2 teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of all-purpose flour. I guess in the States we also add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, which they don’t do elsewhere. Let’s be honest: Americans are salty enough as it is. I’m finding recipes for my recipe. This is a poor start.

Google tells me icing sugar is just the British way of saying confectioners sugar.

And I Googled confectioners sugar, which led me somewhere familiar: we’re talking about powdered sugar, ya’ll. I know powdered sugar sounds like an illegal drug, but still.

powdered sugar

Now, back to castor sugar.

This website tells me it’s either not available or is super expensive in U.S. stores. They even provide a photo comparing cookies with and without castor sugar. Apparently, without this special medium-sized sugar, my cookies will be hard, though still an excellent “biscuit.” I don’t want biscuits. They recommend the following in lieu of castor sugar:

  • “cooler than room temperature butter” — this should be easy. It’s about 90F in Indiana right now and I own a refrigerator.
  • “whisk eggs on a lower speed” — Mary Berry says to “beat” all of my ingredients, so I’m pretty iffy on this. Maybe I should just half-aggressively address my eggs?
  • “make your own castor sugar” — okay, why didn’t they just start with this option? *puts coffee grinder on grocery list*
coffee grinder.gif
Purchase this beauty here.

*SIDE NOTE: I’m starting to realize why Julia Child had to do all that French to American cooking translation for us. Julia Child is a true American hero.

Now, Mary Berry says I’ll need a bun tin for my fairy cakes. Once again, I had to consult Chef Google. The tech Chef says that a bun tin is just a muffin pan, and a muffin pan is a damn cupcake tin. I got that *dusts off hands*

Here is my Americanized Mary Berry Fairy Cake recipe:

  • 4 ounces softened butter
  • 4 ounces coffee grinder sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 0.5 teaspoons of baking powder to turn all-purpose flour into self-raising flour
  • 1 level teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 ounces powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons warm water
  • handful of [gummy bears cut in half to look like] sweets, to decorate
  • 1 cupcake tin

I also need to learn what mad scientist created this oven setting and translate it to Fahrenheit: “heat the oven to 200C fan, 180C fan, gas 6.”

This post has already gotten lengthy, and I haven’t even pre-heated my gas fan yet, so tune in next week when I actually bake . . .



Check out how it went by reading Part 3!


  1. Ha! The confusion goes both ways – following American recipes as a Brit is equally baffling. What size cup is meant by “cup” – is it a small beaker or an enormous mug? Why does the US put so many items in cans that do not normally come in cans? What is a fluid ounce and how does Fahrenheit work? etc. Lots of my favourite cooking blogs/YouTubers are US-based so I am gradually learning, but I am still frequently bemused!

    By the way, “sweets” is a generic term over here (“small edible item mostly made of sugar and gelatine that comes in bags or packets, and normally not containing chocolate”) and would include gummy bears, so that is definitely in keeping with the recipe 🙂

    (I look forward to seeing your progress next week!)


    • One cup is actually a measuring cup, which is 8 ounces. I hope that when the recipe says “4 ounces,” it means half a cup and not some other measurement I don’t know about! Oh, jeez! A new thing to worry about!


  2. What a great post! And those cakes do look delicious! It’s always interesting following recipes from other countries/cultures. You have to translate more than just the words themselves, really.


  3. This would be so funny except that it’s no laughing matter to get all psyched up to bake and then encounter obstacles like untranslatable ingredients. Castor sugar is just fine sugar so if you have one just put in a food processor and blitz it rather than buy a grinder. As for those sweets, do you have something called Dolly Mixtures cos that’s what the picture seems to show. Don’t worry about them, though, because I’ve never seen a fairy cake like that before. Often they come just with a few chocolate sprinkles.


    • I don’t have a food processor either. I live in an apartment, and all the various kitchen tools take up tons of space. I’m not sure if this is a U.S. thing or just a me thing, but every apartment I’ve ever lived in has had terrible kitchen space. Like, the kitchen itself is spacious, but the way the cabinets are set up make no sense and waste lots of space. We don’t have Dolly Mixtures.


  4. I’m not going to say anything more to add to your confusion (though I can’t imagine why Americans don’t have self raising flour). A friend’s mother used to put salt in her sponge cakes -weird. Anyway. Good Luck!


  5. Hahahaha – hysterical!! This is how I always feel when reading American or Australian recipes! They always start with “1 cup flour” – what on earth is a cup? All my cups are different sizes! Tell me a weight, dammit!! Can’t believe you don’t have self-raising flour or castor sugar. 🤣 Good luck! Those sweets are all wrong, BTW – you want half a glacé cherry per cake… 😉


  6. Oh, Melanie, I LOVED reading this! One of my top go-to recipe books is American, so I have this problem in reverse. All the things you struggled with are supermarket staples here in Australia–I have a kilogram each of castor sugar and self-raising flour in my pantry. It’s the measurements that do my head in. Also cilantro–it’s coriander here. Happy baking!!


  7. YES! Bring on the baking! Oh man. You’re going to take photos, I hope. I cannot wait I cannot wait I cannot wait!!!!

    I’m a bit surprised you didn’t know what confectioner’s sugar was, honestly! I assume you don’t do a ton of baking? Well, that coffee grinder is awesome. I have a hand-crank grinder I use to crush dried herbs and make my flour finer. It can be a super useful tool in a kitchen! I strongly recommend you DONT ever grind coffee in it, however. Coffee is so strong… it will make everything have a coffee flavor. Wash carefully!

    (In case you didn’t notice, I love to cook– I’m no Julia Child, but food and I are good friends in the kitchen)

    Also, for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the “biscuit” reference above refers to British cookies. The kind you dunk in coffee or tea, typically. So, a bit denser than you’re looking for here, obviously, but not an American biscuit! I was uncertain if you made that connection above.


    • I knew British biscuits were cookies, but on The Great British Baking Show, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood always want HARD cookies…. And oh, how I loathe a hard cookie. I’ve got a good foundation for cooking, but I grew up around women convinced that baked goods make you fat, so I never did it much.

      Recipe: “Fold ingredients.”
      Me: “Fold? This isn’t laundry!” *dumps ingredients together and uses mixer*

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a fun baking challenge! I’ve really been enjoying The Great British Baking Show. It’s such a polite and dignified reality show, it’s a nice change from some of the others 🙂


    • On American reality TV, all you see us the worst of humanity. *sigh* If you watch Gordon Ramsey on American TV, he’s constantly screaming. You watch him on the British version of the same show, he’s so patient.


  9. haha this was a hilarious post, and I can’t wait to see the finished product! Most of those ingredients we don’t have in Canada either, but we do have icing sugar, and it’s called icing sugar here. When I see the words ‘powdered sugar’ I just assume that’s a topping for donuts?


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