Baking for Bookworms: the Death Day cake from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


They say that even the best laid plans fail. But since my plan wasn’t even closet to being that good, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this cake was basically a complete failure. I’m sorry that this wasn’t posted on time, but I had to come to terms with this cake before I could really write about it.

I mean, it tasted good, but like most of my food it couldn’t be called pretty. Or structurally sound. So this post is less of a how-to-do-it post than a how-not-to-make-your-cake-slowly-droop-and-fall post. The frosting though was lovely, and I’ll include the recipe at the bottom.


The cake in question was inspired by the one that’s served at Nearly Headless Nick’s 500th death day party:

“Look, food!” said Ron.

On the other side of the dungeon was a long table, also covered in black velvet. They approached it eager but the next moment had stopped in their tracks, horrified. The smell was quite disgusting. Large rotten fish were laid on handsome silver platters; cakes, burned charcoal-black, were heaped upon salvers; there was a great maggoty haggis, a slab of cheese covered in furry green mold and, in pride of place, an enormous gray cake in the shape of a tombstone, with tar-like icing forming the words,




Food is such an integral part of life, that it maintains its importance even in death. As Nick tells Harry, he chose to be a ghost rather than move into the afterlife. He calls being a ghost a “feeble imitation” of life. So while he can talk and move about, he is neither here nor there. The lack of eating just reinforces this choice and provides contrast to the students, especially to Ron, who is eating or talking about eating nearly every time he encounters the ghost.

A delicious sheet cake. Who would have known while the peaceful cake was cooling that disaster would soon come?
A delicious sheet cake. Who would have known while the peaceful cake was cooling that disaster would soon come?

There are many ways to recreate this cake for your Halloween party that won’t lead to the same kind of issues that I had. The easiest way would be to bake a sheet cake, cut it in the shape of a tombstone, frost it and call it a day.

But that would have been too easy. And one doesn’t marathon watch Cake Boss (because it’s leaving Netflix) without developing some unrealistic ideas of what can be done with cake. So I wanted a tombstone cake that stood up, and I decided to cover it in fondant and all the rest.

What I only slightly anticipated was how unstable the structure would be, how hard it would be to control the different elements, and ultimately it came tumbling down. I could tell you it was meant to and it added to the decay element present in the source material, but it wasn’t. I figured the skewers I added would provide enough support, but…not so much.

At this point, I should have known that this wasn't going to work.
At this point, I should have known that this wasn’t going to work.

For starters, I should have chosen a different cake. A brownie or a denser cake would have created a better base. Before I’d even layered the cake it was breaking and having huge issues. Because I had to cut it so much, that made it far more difficult to frost.

When they say "dirty ice," I really take it to heart.
When they say “dirty ice,” I really take it to heart.

The thing I liked most about the cake was the fondant I’d made. I bought a white fondant and put a little black food coloring in it, marbling it so that it looked like white marble. But you couldn’t even tell on the final cake, because I put the wrong side down and it didn’t really marble all the way through. I’d also never really worked with fondant before, so I had no idea what I was doing. The fondant was a total fiasco. You can’t see the sides, but I basically had to fold the fondant like gift wrap.

My cake in all its lumpy glory.
My cake in all its lumpy glory.

My piping skills also leave a lot to be desired. To be fair, my piping work as far as writing and doing small design work is limited to maybe two cakes, so I shouldn’t have expected the designs at the top to work out. And while I have more experience painting, the brush was a little too long, the food coloring was a little runny for this application, and I’ve never painted a straight up and down surface (besides a wall, which really isn’t the same thing). I tried to pipe grass on the bottom, but my makeshift pastry bags (out of sandwich bags) broke twice and I just gave up.


I did pipe a few little worms. You can see one in the picture above, along with a close up of the one marble vein that showed through the fondant.


In the end, I basically had a huge meltdown. But I realized that at the end of the day it’s just cake (and even tasted good), and that I can’t expect myself to be an expert cake maker when I haven’t really made that many layer cakes (maybe half a dozen). There are lots of ways you could make a tombstone with cake, this is just not one of them. In the end, it was something I laughed about as we shared the cake with family and my little brother’s friends (who aren’t picky about cake at all). This was a great learning experience for me, and an opportunity to realize that cake, and life, doesn’t need to be taken quite so seriously. It’s no use crying over spilled frosting.

This is my favorite buttercream recipe. It’s super simple, tastes great, is stable, and provides a great base for other flavors. Two batches of this would frost and fill a two layer cake. I had to use four for my monstrosity, including the “grass” at the bottom.

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 7oz. container marshmallow fluff
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

In a stand mixer (or with an electric mixer) beat butter until fluffy. Add fluff and beat for two minutes on medium. Add the sugar one cup or less at a time, and beat for another two minutes. Add vanilla, and taste the deliciousness.

Because this is such a simple recipe, it’s crucial to use good quality butter and vanilla. You will taste the difference if you don’t use pure vanilla extract.

And here’s a link to the original recipe from Mrs Happy Homemaker.

What was your most epic kitchen disaster? I don’t think this qualifies as mine, as there was a time I blew up a pyrex dish while a making a lasagna for Paul’s birthday, and that was pretty bad…

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