How to make and package cupcakes and other baked goods for a bake sale

The purpose of the bake sale is to raise funds for a worthy cause.  That and to share homemade goodness and create a sense of community.  For me the big obstacle is that I do not bake.  This article discusses shortcuts and tips -- my bake sale "hacks" if you will -- so that you can survive your next bake sale, especially if you are a busy parent.

My Background

As much as I appreciate the love and creativity that goes into baking, I'd likely never get hired at a bakery, and if I did, I'd likely get fired.  There have been no major disasters over the years, but it's just never been my thing. As a teenager, I used to enjoy the creativity that goes into cake decorating, and I once tried decorating cakes as a hobby.  Of course, I made someone else bake so I could just decorate with the frosting.

The Unlikely "Baker"

When describing myself, I use the term "baker" very loosely.  I am a busy mom, and my natural inclination is to just write a check and turn tail when a bake sale is scheduled.  So, given my aversion to baking, you can imagine my surprise at my recent excitement to cupcakes at bake saleCredit: morguefilesupport the bake sale of my daughter's dance studio. I wanted to show my support because I appreciate the fine work of the studio owner and dance instructors.  Hence, my odd motivation.

Of course I knew full well that even if I didn't contribute baked goods to sell, I could always just purchase baked goods to eat or to giveaway. However, this time I decided to give it my best shot. I initially planned to bake cupcakes only. After receiving a kind offer from my mother-in-law, a surge of ambition overcame me, and I decided to bake lemon bars as well (recipes shared in a separate article).

Here's how I survived:

Bake Sale Shortcuts for Busy Parents

1. Keep party supplies handy

You can check your local party supply stores for small bags in which to wrap your baked goods.  Ziploc bags work well, or if you want to get a bit fancier, you can look for small plastic bags that are sold in bulk (a few cents per bag). Be sure to check that the bags are food grade. Small plastic tumblers work well, too.

Colorful ribbons and metallic twist ties also make packaging bake sale items a snap. These items are always good to have as you can always use them to assemble for goodie bags for birthday parties.

2. Buy and re-package

For busy parents who don't have time to prepare items, head to the bakery section of your favorite supermarket and buy baked items in bulk. For example, you can cut a tray of frosted brownies into squares, and place each brownie square in a paper cupcake liner. Or, you can buy an assortment of several dozen cookies. Take them home, and place 3 or 4 cookies into a plastic bag for the bake sale.  Be sure the cookies are sturdy enough that they won’t crack when handled.

3. Delegate
I count my blessings every day that I have a mother-in-law who is not only a lovely person but who is also an exceptional baker. When I mentioned the bake sale, she kindly offered to bake the cupcakes and make the frosting. I didn't even have to ask. My job was reduced to frosting the cupcakes and packaging them. 

Perhaps you know someone with baking skills who can help you out (or even let you apprentice)! You might also enlist the help of your children.

4. Plan ahead

If you do decide to take on the task of baking yourself, be sure you have all the cooking supplies and utensils you’ll need. Electric mixer, pans, muffin tins, oil, mixing spoons, bowls, zip top bags, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap, and cupcake liners are items commonly needed.  If you do not own an electric mixer, see if you can borrow one from a friend or family member.  

Shop for the freshest ingredients, and be aware that many do have a shelf life. For example, one of the recipes called for baking powder, and I learned that its potency wanes after the container you open the container.  If you want to test to see whether the baking powder is still usable, mix the baking powder with a little warm water.  If you see bubbles (from the carbon dioxide), you’re good to go.[5081]  If not, replace.  

5. Make, freeze and thaw

Look for recipes that you can prepare ahead of time. Assuming you have refrigerator and freezer space, this is a huge time saver.  In a related article, I wrote about the recipes for cupcakes and lemon bars. I selected these recipes because the result were a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill cake from the box.  The cupcakes and lemon bars were manageable for me to make (not a ton of ingredients).  Plus, I could make them well ahead of time and freeze them.  In addition, the lemon bars do not need to be refrigerated, but interestingly, they are great right out of the freezer.

A day or two before the bake sale, thaw the cupcakes and the frosting in your refrigerator.  You can always spread your frosting with a knife, but if you want to get extra fancy, here’s how to quickly frost a cupcake using a Ziploc bag:

6. Package with care

Use your party supplies to package your baked goods in individual servings or in small quantities so that they can be sold for a few dollars each.  

Appearances do matter, and you want to make it easy for a person to grab the item while holding a handful of other things. With this is mind, packing individual frosted cupcakes is tricky.

You see, when you bake cupcakes for your child's class, it's easy (again my mother-in-law bakes cupcakes for the class, not me).  You can take the cupcakes in a carrier, or the muffin tins, and each child takes one for eating on the spot. 

For a bake sale, however, packaging and presentation are important. Many who attend bake sales buy more than one item, so all the baked goods need to be packaged in a manner that is presentable, sanitary, and convenient.  

I’ve found the best way to package cupcakes is to use clear 9 oz. plastic tumblers. Solo and Chinet brands are easily found at your nearby supermarket. Place a single cupcake in a cup and wrap with a small plastic bag for a party supply store.  Because the tumbler is taller than the cupcake, it will protect the frosting.  Close and secure the opening of the bag with a ribbon or twist tie.

For other soft items like lemon bars, place a single serving in a cup cake liner.  Then place one or a few in a plastic bag.  The cupcake liners will help to protect the lemon bars.

You will also need a way to transport your baked items to the bake sale.  Possible carriers include a cooler, large box, or bag.  You can use just about anything that will prevent your baked items from getting squished, squeezed, or jostled on the way to the bake sale.


Use these tips and ideas to eliminate the stress of participating in your next bake sale.  With a little preparation, you too can have fun while helping to raise needed funds for a good cause.

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Surviving a Bake Sale - 3 Recipes That Work