Harry Potter Series · Rowling

Sir Nicholas’ Tombstone Deathday Cake


Author: Rowling, J.K.
Book: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Difficulty rating: Pride and Prejudice
Deliciousness rating: Poor

Part of Sir Nicholas’ 524th Deathday Feast

In pride of place, an enormous grey cake in the shape of a tombstone, with tar-like icing forming the words, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, died 31st October, 1492 (Book 2: UK 102, US 133).

Did it measure up?IMG_4761Jenne had to bake and construct the cake on her own on her day off, brave soul. We were terribly proud of Jenne’s idea to make the sponge look granite-like — mixing black and gray sprinkles into the batter for a depressing Funfetti! We also threw in Earl Grey tea to add a gritty look, and to add flavor. Admittedly, the cake turned out a bit hard, dry, and bland … but how appropriate for a tombstone! (And the frosting was certainly delicious!) And we thought it looked very impressive, despite my difficulty in getting the date to fit for the frosting epitaph.

Maybe with a yummier sponge recipe, a shorter bake time, and perhaps an Earl Grey-flavored simple syrup brushed on the layers before frosting, the cake would be more fun to eat as well as look at.




  • 250g pack unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 5 large eggs, cracked into a jug
  • 85g all-purpose flour
  • 100g full-fat Greek yogurt (we used Total)
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 3 tbs whole milk
  • Black food coloring
  • Black sprinkles
  • Silver sprinkles
  • 1 Earl Grey tea bag’s worth tea leaves


  1. Preheat the oven to 320 F. Grease half-sheet cake pan with butter, and then line with parchment paper.
  2. Using electric beaters or a tabletop mixer, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and ¼ tsp salt together until pale and fluffy.
  3. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well before adding the next. Add 1 tbs of the plain flour if the batter looks slimy instead of fluffy. Add the yogurt and food coloring.
  4. Mix the flours together. Using a large metal spoon, fold the flour into the batter, then the milk, sprinkles, and tea leaves.
  5. Pour into the pan and bake for 1 hr 20 mins / until a toothpick comes out clean. In the meantime, make the syrup. Heating 50ml water with the sugar and vanilla gently until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
  6. Once the cake is done and has cooled for 30 minutes, use a skewer to poke holes all over the cake, going right to the bottom. Pour the syrup over the cake, letting it completely soak in after each addition.
  7. Once the cake is completely cool, wrap it or ice it.

Based on Swiss Buttercream recipes from Serious Eats and Misty Birchall (formerly of Pubcakes)


  • 1 cup egg whites from about 8 large eggs (Be sure to use fresh eggs! Except we didn’t.)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (2.5 cups)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) salted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • Black food coloring


  1. Heat a small saucepan of water.
  2. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar.
  3. Turn the water on the stove down to a simmer (not boiling). Place the bowl over the saucepan, making sure it doesn’t touch the water. Keep whisking so it doesn’t cook too quickly until the sugar dissolves. (You can tell if it has by rubbing a bit between your fingers, it shouldn’t feel grainy.) If you’re not worried about salmonella, you can take the mixture off the heat and proceed to Step 4. If you are, pasteurize the meringue by whisking the mixture until it reads 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat.
  4. Using a mixer, beat the warm mixture on medium-high until the meringue holds stiff peaks and has cooled to room temperature. The bottom of the bowl should be cool to the touch — no heat AT ALL.
  5. On medium-low, beat in vanilla. Add the butter, one cube at a time, beating well after each addition. (If you didn’t let your meringue cool enough, this is when you’ll find out.) Once you’ve added all of the butter, make sure to stop and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add pinch of salt.
  6. Continue to mix. The mixture may start to look as if it’s separating during this process but don’t panic! Just keep beating, and the buttercream will come together and become smooth.
  7. Drop in a few drops of black food coloring and mix until it’s a nice tombstone gray.
  8. Use immediately. To make ahead, you can refrigerate the buttercream in an airtight container up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.  (To use buttercream that’s been kept in the fridge or freezer, let it come down to room temp, and then beat it a mixer to make it smooth again. Cakes or cupcakes decorated with buttercream keep up to 3 days in the fridge in an airtight container.




  • 1 half-sheet cake
  • Double-recipe of gray Swiss buttercream
  • A tube of black frosting for writing


  1. Bake 2 recipes of cake in a parchment-lined half-sheet pan.
  2. Cut it in half the short way, so you have two smaller rectangles.
  3. Stack the two cakes and round one end into a tombstone shape.
  4. Split each half horizontally with a cake splitter or knife, to give you four layers.
  5. You might want to moisten the layers with simple syrup at this point–we didn’t and our cake turned out really dry.
  6. Frost between each layer with a thick layer of buttercream.
  7. Frost the outside of the cake — make sure you start with a crumb coat (like primer for walls) to ensure a smooth finish.IMG_4703
  8. Write the epitaph decoration: it should read, “Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, died 31st October, 1492.” If you mess up on the writing, use a hot knife to lift off any mistakes you make.


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999.

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