Dahl · Matilda

Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake

Author: Dahl, Roald
Book: Matilda
Difficulty rating: Anna Karenina
Deliciousness rating: Outstanding

“Yesterday morning, during break, you sneaked like a serpent into the kitchen and stole a slice of my private chocolate cake from my tea-tray!…And as for the cake, it was my own private stock! That was not boy’s cake! You don’t think for one minute I’m going to eat the filth I give to you? That cake was made from real butter and real cream!” (Dahl 120)

“You like my special chocolate cake, don’t you, Bogtrotter? It’s rich and delicious, isn’t it, Bogtrotter?”

“Very good,” the boy mumbled. (Dahl 122)

The cook disappeared. Almost at once she was back again staggering under the weight of an enormous round chocolate cake on a china platter. The cake was fully eighteen inches in diameter and it was covered with dark-brown chocolate icing. (Dahl 124)

In 4th grade, I was president of the Roald Dahl Fan Club (which consisted of 3 members, including me). I have a Roald Dahl quote tattooed on my back. Many a librarian and avid reader dread the question, “What’s your favorite book?” How are you supposed to pick ONE, amirite? But for me, there’s an easy answer — it’s obvs Matilda. I still have the copy that I bought at an elementary school book fair, and due to countless re-readings and being carried around all the time, it is now in a very sorry state (see above). I read Matilda the night before I took the ACT the second time, and my score went up 4 points. Reading Matilda makes you smarter. Like eating fish oil. -Miko

[I (Jenne) am also a huge Roald Dahl fan, but since Matilda was one of his later books (and I am 9 years older than Miko) it wasn’t quite as formative for me.  I’m more of a BFG person but I’d rather eat chocolate cake than snozzcumbers!]

Our friend and fellow librarian Chelsie had also read Matilda and vividly remembered Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake. So we resolved to recreate it! But what would we then do with an 18″-inch cake? Why, share it with our friends, of course! We created a Facebook event: Help Us Eat Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake!, and invited a ton of people to come to our aid at a nearby park. Furthermore, we would not be allowed to leave the park until THE ENTIRE CONFECTION HAD BEEN CONSUMED, Trunchbull-style.



This recipe is Cockeyed Cake from The I Hate to Cook BookTo make each layer, we use the following amounts of the ingredients, which is quadruple of the recipe for a standard cake. We suggest 3 layers total.

  • 6 cups fluffed flour
  • 12 tbs cocoa
  • 4 tsp baking soda
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup + 4 tbs oil
  • 4 tbs vinegar
  • 4 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups cold water
  • Butter for lining the pan and parchment paper
  • 3 cups butter
  • 1.5 cups cocoa powder
  • 12 cups of powdered sugar
  • 6 tbs vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • Additional melted chocolate to taste

Supplies Needed:

Pizza Box
Jenne got us a giant pizza box to transport our cake! One of the giant pizza places wanted to charge us SIX DOLLARS for an empty box, but thank you, URBN in North Park, for your donation to our cause!
  • Big board to put cake on…or a pizza box. It was not fancy, but the pizza box worked beautifully, actually.
  • 18″ cake pan, preferably 2
  • Oven big enough for cake pan
  • At least 4 large mixing bowls
  • At least 1 medium-size mixing bowl
  • Hand mixer
  • Pots to brown butter
  • Plastic wrap
  • Wooden spoons
  • 2 rubber spatulas
  • 1 offset spatula for frosting
  • Cake strips
  • 3 flower nails
  • Parchment paper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line the inside of the cake pan with a layer of butter, then parchment paper, and then once again with butter.

3. Put fluffed flour (the recipe said to sift it, but you don’t really have to), cocoa powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt into a large bowl. Mix.

4. Make three wells in the dry mixture. Pour oil into one, vinegar into another, and the vanilla into the third. Pour cold water over it all.


5. Beat with a spoon or whisk until it’s somewhat smooth.

6. Pour the cake batter into the pan. Put greased flower nails into the middle of the pan in a triangle.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan. Bake for another 15. Keep checking every 10 minutes or so until it’s done. (The old toothpick trick works well.) Repeat for second and third layers. Make sure to cool before flipping the layers out onto Saran Wrap. (The cake’ll stick to the board if you don’t put the plastic wrap down!) Cover the layers with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.


Browned Butter Chocolate Frosting

8. While the cake layers bakes, start working on the frosting. Put butter in two pots on the stove over medium heat.

Browning butter is the best idea ever. Try it for cookies, pasta, frosting, anything! It gives everything a delicious, nutty, caramely flavor.
9. Once it melts and starts foaming, stir with a wooden spoon to keep it from burning.


10. The butter will foam with small bubbles, and then larger bubbles, and then the foam will go down. Turn heat to low.


11. All of a sudden, it will turn a lovely chestnut brown. Turn the heat off and keep stirring because the pot is still hot.


12. Pour into a metal bowl and chill in the fridge until it sets. (Soft enough for mixing.)


13. Add powdered sugar, a little at a time. Mix in cocoa powder and vanilla with a hand mixer. Add cream and melted chocolate until you reach the desired taste and consistency. Adjust ratio as needed.


14. Make sure to keep cool — in the fridge if possible.


Putting the Cake Together


15. Whip small portions of the frosting at a time with a hand mixer, just before you spread it on the cake.


16. Use at least 6 hands to move/flip layers. Layer frosting between cakes, using an offset spatula. Cover top and sides with frosting.
17. Keep the cake and frosting cool! Heat will make the butter-heavy frosting start separating.

Notes from the Cooking Session

  • Doesn’t this all sound like a piece of cake, especially since we had so successfully conquered the Pringle Pound Cake just a mere month ago… But O, how fraught with disasters this bake was, with puzzling catastrophes along the way. After much experimentation and error, we have come up with the recipe above, and we still can’t guarantee its success.
  • We had initially planned to make a two-layer cake, using triple of the standard cake recipe for each layer. But then this happened with our first attempted layer:
So sad and flat.
  • The first layer also tasted odd right out of the oven — like cornbread, strangely — and the sides felt dried out and potentially rubbery.
  • In the meantime, we had added 14 cups of sugar to the cocoa powder, browned butter, vanilla, and cream to make the frosting. We took a taste…and it was TERRIBLE. Tooth-achingly sweet and powdery, with a hint of unpleasant cocoa bitterness. At this point, we were imagining serving a shrunken, dried-out, dish-sponge-texture pancake, coated in cavities, to our poor friends. We hurriedly mixed in leftover melted chocolate from our dinner fondue. A bit better, but not great.
  • We then tried a second layer with a sextuple recipe of the standard cake. This one went quite beautifully! It was higher, moist, and looked like it would flip out of the pan easily.
  • Encouraged by the success of the second layer, we decided to bake a third layer, using another sextuple recipe, the next morning, giving us a few hours to spare to prep for the great cake-eating event at 1 PM.
  • We also found that after sitting overnight, the first layer and frosting were greatly improved! The cake had softened while wrapped in plastic wrap, and the flavors in the frosting had melded together — maybe the powdered sugar had finally soaked in the butter.
More Sadface
Mixing the batter with hands works as well as using a whisk.
  •  Unfortunately, the attempted third layer was a FIASCO.
  • We don’t know WTF happened, honestly. We used a sextuple recipe, the same as with the second layer. But the batter ballooned and spilled over the sides, deforming the layer horrifically, dripping and burning onto the oven. It also would not bake properly because there was just too much batter for the pan — it took almost an hour until a toothpick came out clean. But the top was burnt and looked weirdly warty.
  • Since we had but a half-hour until the cake-eating party to try get the third layer on our cake, we constructed an efficient cooling system. We cranked Jenne’s air conditioner on high, made an ice bath for the cake pan, turned the fan on, and put ice packs on top of the cake. This all worked splendidly, and cake was sufficiently cooled within half an hour so we could put frosting on it without it all melting.
  • However, the cake was so burnt onto the pan that it refused to flip out. We finally had to give up our third layer in despair.


  • However, even without the third layer, our cake looked fairly impressive. We frosted the top and sides. It was the required 18 inches in diameter, and made with real butter and real cream.
  • Our lovely friends joined in to help us eat the Bruce Bogtrotter Cake!


Cake Progress
John steps up to finish the last pieces for us. “Well done, Brucie! Good for you, Brucie! You’ve won a gold medal, Brucie!” (Dahl 131)

Did it measure up?
Actually, after all that drama, the cake turned out pretty delicious, and the flavor was almost exactly what we intended it to be. The brown butter came through wonderfully in the frosting, and the Cockeyed Cake was moist and not too sweet. We do regret the failed third layer, but we will try to salvage what we can of the ruined sponge and make cake pops.

As always, a great many helped us with this literaculinary quest:

  • Chelsie, who suggested making this cake in the first place and made our first two layers and frosting with us. She also provided us with a giant kitchen and enormous amounts of counter space for the first evening of baking.
  • Rob H, who acted as invaluable assistant throughout the rather frazzled morning of the party.
  • Mireya, who lent us her 18″ cake pan so we didn’t have to go buy another ridiculously large cake pan.
  • Our many friends who came to keep us company and help us eat cake so we didn’t have to stay forever at the park! Thank you for waiting around an hour till it was finally finished and delivered!


Dahl, Roald. Matilda. Illus. Quentin Blake. New York: Puffin Books, 1988.

4 thoughts on “Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake

  1. 1. As a child, I loved Mr. Dahl's work more than I can say at this time. Transformative, whimsical, hilarious, poignant. Imagine feeling all of those emotions as a child! A bit overwhelming but lovely.

    2. I can't even believe you guys did this. Impressive! The amount of money you spent on ingredients alone…can't imagine. And the heartbreak (and heartache) with the third layer disaster. Oh man. How awesome that you pulled off the first two!

    3. Found your blog via the Writing American Food Facebook group!


  2. Yum!! It is looking so delicious. You know I just love chocolate cakes. In all the parties that I host, I always place an order for a huge cake. Now I am going to celebrate my birthday at one of the domestic party places in the Bronx and would love to have a huge cake in this party!


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