It’s Bea’s eleventh birthday on Tuesday and so we threw a little party on Saturday.

Matilda and Martha usually have very clear ideas about what they want to do for their birthdays, who they want to invite and what they want in the way of presents.

Bea is only ever clear about one thing – the cake.

This year she wanted a zombie.

Hidden beneath the thick layer of green icing is my go-to birthday cake – Nigella’s buttermilk birthday cake which I have written about many times (prettier version here).
I make one cake, slice it in two and then layer it back together again with Nutella into which I whip lots of double cream. If you are tempted to try this, be warned: the Nutella always resists the addition at first, and then sort of gives up and goes soft and glossy and completely delicious.


After a somewhat stormy start to the new school term, life has calmed down a little. That’s not to say that the days aren’t without their explosive moments, but generally everyone is a little less fraught (apart from my relationship with Sybil and her relationship with the garden, that is) and we have established a rhythm to the week. Martha has moved up to the juniors, and I feel we have passed a major milestone now that we no longer have a child in the infants.

On Sunday we celebrated Bea’s tenth birthday and another milestone was reached – two children whose ages are in double figures*. As ever there was a cake, the last birthday cake of the year for my immediate family. It was the usual buttermilk number from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, but with 25g of cocoa powder replacing the same weight in flour. The middle is Nutella mixed with whipping cream, which blends more easily than the extra thick double cream. Bea and Matilda decorated it, Sybil caught the crumbs.

It didn’t last very long.

* I had an odd moment when I typed that phrase, and wondered whether it should be double digits instead. Naturally enough I googled “double figures vs double digits” and came across a lovely book on British English, which I can’t seem to link to, though I will try later – must go now, as I am already late for the school run. Ooops.

cake two

Yesterday was Matilda’s last pre-teen birthday party, which is quite a strange thought.

It was lovely to meet some of her new school friends, and a huge relief not to have to deal with party bags or party games – just a trip to the cinema and supper back here. But although most aspects of the celebration have changed, the cake remains the same –

Nigella’s Buttermilk birthday cake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. It’s very versatile and I used it for last week’s cream and raspberry cake as well. 

Over the years I have adapted my own butter icing, which I judge by eye and taste, simply slinging the stuff in the mixer and adding a few drops of milk if it gets too thick; Nigella’s icing recipe contains so much sugar I find it completely inedible. I usually only make one cake which I slice in half and spread with Nutella mixed with extra thick double cream, again a something I’ve adapted over many years – it’s very simple and extremely moreish. Just splodge about three heaped tablespoons of Nutella in a small bowl and then add thick cream, stirring vigorously between each spoonful – it will seem to split and go very sticky at first, but as you add more cream it will gradually emulsify, becoming smooth and glossy, but with a mousse-like texture. For a more sophisticated, grown-up version, you can melt some good quality dark chocolate and add that to the mix.

martha’s day

Today is Martha’s birthday, and because a full-on witchy cake is required for her party, I decided to take the easy route with today’s cake: lots of pink icing, studded with silver balls and little sugar flowers. I made the filling by melting half a bar of good dark chocolate and mixing in a little cream and a couple of tablespoons of Nutella – just looking at it makes my teeth ache.