By Britt Whyatt

Hosting a Macmillan Coffee Morning can be an incredibly rewarding thing to do. I hosted a big coffee morning a few years ago and absolutely loved it! We raised a lot of money and certainly made all the hours in an apron worth it. However, baking a lot of cakes and hosting your friends and loved ones can sometimes feel rather stressful. So how do you host an amazing coffee morning whilst ensuring you are stress-free? Read on for my Macmillan Coffee Morning Survival Guide!

Firstly, secure a venue! This can be anything from your front room to a community hall to the kitchen space in your office. It all depends on where would be the most practical and easiest place for you, how many people you will be inviting and when you're planning on holding it. If you're holding it at work or in a public place, just make sure to ask any necessary permissions in advance!

Once you've got your venue, your date and time set you can start to invite people. I find the best way to do this is by messaging or emailing all of your friends, colleagues and loved ones and then start talking about it on social media. The more people you invite the better! You can also contact your local press to see if they will mention your event.

Then it's time to start thinking about the most important part; the bakes!
Whenever I'm doing anything in the kitchen, I always like to have a plan and a Macmillan Coffee Morning is no exception. I found the easiest way for me to make sure everything ran smoothly was by having lists, plans and timelines.

Start with a list of all the tasty treats you'd like to make. Cakes, cupcakes, traybakes, no-bakes, whatever bakes you like. (I would always advise you go with recipes you know, trust and have experience with. In my opinion, it's much better to have a simple bake done well than a complex bake done not so well). Then, take each one of these bakes you've chosen and make a note of how long it usually takes to bake, what ingredients are needed, how long it usually lasts and if the recipe is freezable or not. With this information you will be able to create a master shopping list so nothing gets forgotten and a timeline of what to bake and when.

Start with the bakes that can be frozen. This includes sponge madeira cakes, cakes with a high fat content, cupcakes and cookie/biscuit dough. If you're unsure whether a recipe can be frozen or not, a quick internet search should provide the answers. By freezing bakes, you can get a real head start on what you're making as you can freeze cakes for up to three months. As long as they are frozen and defrosted correctly, I assure you no one will be able to taste the difference.

It is very important that once your cakes are baked, you leave them to cool completely. If they are still warm when you wrap them up, this will create condensation which can cause cakes to get the dreaded 'soggy bottom'. Once they are cooled, it's also important to wrap them well, otherwise they may get very dry when frozen, which isn't what we want. I find the best way to do this for sponge cakes is two layers of cling film and then a tight layer of foil.

Here are my top tips for freezing cakes

  • For best results, freeze cakes and cupcakes un-iced and before you split them to fill them
  • This will stop them going dry and also stop any frosting and icing 'sweating' over your cake when it's defrosting.
  • Take your cake or cupcakes out of the freezer the night before your coffee morning.
  • This will ensure they have fully defrosted. To defrost, leave on the kitchen side and not in the fridge. Also, I take off the layer of tin foil but leave it wrapped in cling film until I'm ready to fill it.
  • If you are freezing cupcakes, firstly make sure to bake them in greaseproof or foil cases as this will prevent peeling cases when you defrost them, then pop them in a sandwich bag and make sure they have enough space on the freezer shelf and they aren't squashed.

Once you have made any bakes specifically to be frozen see what you can make ahead of time. Things like brownies, rocky road, biscuits, madeira sponges and no-bake options can be made 3-4 days ahead of time whereas cakes like a Victoria sponge or lemon drizzle are best made the day before to ensure they are light and fresh. Make a list of what you will bake on what day and pin it up in the kitchen, that way you can keep on top of it all. Whenever you've baked anything though, make sure it has completely cooled and it is well wrapped up in cling film to keep to fresh for your event!

Be aware of fillings too. If you make a delicious cream cheese frosting to compliment your carrot cake, this will need to be kept cool to prevent the frosting melting and the cake falling apart. Personally for events like these I tend to stick to a solid and secure buttercream which can be made days ahead of time and kept in an airtight container in the fridge. Then I just use it when it's convenient for me either as a cake filling, covering or topping and as long as it's not next to a radiator, will last fine set out on the table for the duration of your event. When taking out of the fridge to use, leave it to return to room temperature and mix well to get a nice consistency. If it's still a little firm, a quick blast in the microwave for 5-10 seconds or so should do it. Try not to add liquid like water or milk as this will only make it too soft.

If you're making cupcakes, I would advise making these no more than 3 days in advance as that's when they can start to go dry. I usually bake them 2 days prior to when they are needed and store them in a card cupcake box with inserts available from your local cake shop. I advise to use these instead of your reliable round chocolate tin you've saved from Christmas because an airtight container can make your cupcakes sweat and the cases peel away as well as any decorations or toppings you've added go soft. You need the air to circulate, but not dry out and the card boxes are perfect for this.

With cakes, if you can and you've got the time, I advise splitting and filling them the morning of your event. As they will likely be 'naked' cakes (that is, not covered in a layer of sugarpaste icing/fondant) they can dry out rather quickly which isn't what we want. However keeping them airtight can cause condensation, sweating and ruined decorations! It's a minefield.

The best way, in my opinion, is to bake your cakes on the lead up to your event (exactly when depends on the recipe. A madeira can be made 4-5 days in advance but a Victoria sponge would be best to make the day before) and once they are cooled double wrap well in cling film. Then the morning of the event, split and fill them, top as desired and set on your table ready and inviting for your wonderful guests. If you schedule in the time to do this all will be well. It's much better to spend a bit of time in the morning finishing the cakes and them tasting fresh than rush it the night before and risk dry sponge.

It's always worth having a few alternative options for any guests with special dietary requirements so gluten free, dairy free, vegan etc. I must admit I do usually buy these in to save time and lay them out on a nice plate. It's a nice way of making sure all of your guests are included and have something tasty to enjoy. Also, make sure to have a note of which bakes have nuts in them in case of allergies.

Don't forget to think about your display. How will the cakes be laid out? What will the room look like? You can download the Macmillan Coffee Morning printable bunting and you will get a coin box in your pack but I also found it was nice to pop to the party shop and grab some green disposable table cloths, paper plates and napkins to tie everything in nicely. Plus you've got the added benefit then of minimal washing up afterwards! Any cakes and cupcakes look fab on stands or pretty plates but what I found was incredibly helpful were disposable trays which I baked traybake recipes into, wrapped up as a whole to keep fresh, cut into squares and laid out on the table as they were. Nice and simple!

It's also worth buying some small cake boxes or takeaway pots if you can find them (usually available in the pound shop!) as your guests may want to pay a bit more and take a few tasty treats home with them. It's a great way of getting a higher donation and if you've got something there and ready for your guests to use, it is a lot less stressful than running around trying to find napkins to wrap bits of cake in.

Talking of donations, decide before your event if you're going to have open donations or a set price (£1 per slice for example) and have this written down somewhere. The more you prep and plan in advance, the less you have to think about on the day and you can just enjoy your hard work!

Don't be afraid to enlist helpers too! My fiancé Tim was a lifesaver when I hosted my Macmillan Coffee Morning. He helped me on the run up with decorating the room, wrapping up bakes, setting up and the clear up too. Ask around and I'm sure you'll be able to find a charitable friend willing to help. Not only will it make the baking easier but it will help the day run nice and smoothly too. Also, if you don't want to be in the kitchen for days, ask friends to bake a cake and bring it along too! You can never have too much cake.

Remember the coffee and tea too! Have a stocked supply of coffee, teabags, herbal tea, sugar, squash and soft drinks for your guests to wash down your tasty treats with. Getting all of this extra stuff in and sorted in advance will have you feeling like the organised coffee morning hero you are.