Butterscotch Birthday Cake

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One of my kitchen idols (please tell me I’m not alone in having ‘kitchen idols’) is Nigella Lawson. Or perhaps I should say that her television and cookbook persona is my idol, as tabloid stories and a prominent court case last year suggest that her real life, like so many other celebrities, is vastly different from the one we see onscreen. But that doesn’t make me like her any less as a cook.

On TV, Nigella appears calm and confident. She doesn’t hurtle through a series of thirty-minute meal recipes, or sling pans across the counter with the bravado of her male counterparts. She cooks as if she actually enjoys it. She potters about the kitchen, taking time to test, taste, and savor, describing the ingredients she uses with poetic (if sometimes overwrought) prose. Nigella’s cookbooks are written in a manner similar to her presenting style: each recipe is lovingly described and she seems to make suggestions rather than order you about.

In short, Nigella’s cooking style is one I aspire to. It’s how I would cook if every day were a lazy Sunday afternoon: slowly, comfortably, but enjoying every step without working to a time or budget constraint.

So when my birthday came around last week, I decided to immerse myself in Nigella-world and spend a Sunday afternoon making myself this gorgeous Butterscotch Layer Cake from her book ‘How to Be a Domestic Goddess.’ One of the perks/pitfalls of being a baker is always winding up making my own birthday cake, but I do enjoy the excuse to make a fancy celebration cake. It was also a great excuse to bust out the lovely new food processor my mom gave me for Christmas…thanks, Mom!

This cake is a stunner. It’s rich, creamy, and sweet without being cloying. In true Nigella form, this recipe takes a bit of time, but none of the steps are complicated and the result is so worth it. My only regret is my poor drizzling technique with the butterscotch sauce at the end! Hopefully yours will be more artistic.

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Butterscotch Layer Cake
Adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

I am including the British and American equivalencies below for ease of use, as the ingredients are slightly different. Also, the original recipe calls for self-raising flour, which seems a bit old-fashioned , so I substituted plain flour + baking powder. She also baked hers in two cake tins, but as I only have one and did not want to wait for two batches, I made one large cake and then sliced it in half and filled it, like a Victoria sponge. Either way works!


300g caster sugar (1 cup white sugar)
125ml cold water (1/2 cup)
250ml thickened cream (1 1/4 cups heavy cream)
400g cream cheese, softened (14 oz or 1 3/4 cups)


225g unsalted butter, soft (1 cup)
125g light muscovado sugar (7 tablespoons brown sugar)
100g golden caster sugar (1/2 cup white sugar)
4 eggs
225g  flour (1 1/2 cups) plus 3 tsp baking powder, sifted together
2-4 tbsp thickened cream

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Start by making the butterscotch: put the sugar and water in a small saucepan over very low heat and allow the sugar to dissolve (don’t stir it!). Once all the sugar has disappeared, turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until it is golden (think the color of squeezable honey). Do watch carefully as once it starts to color it gets dark quickly! Take it straight off the heat and whisk in the cream to cool the mixture and stop it cooking any further. Keep whisking until smooth, then set aside or refrigerate until needed.

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Next make the cake: Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 F). Butter and line you cake tin(s) with greaseproof/baking parchment.

Add all the cake ingredients, except for the cream, in a food processor and blitz until combined. Then add in the cream, a tablespoon at a time, until it has a nice, slightly runny, cake batter consistency. (If you don’t have a food processor, cream the butter and sugar together, mix in one egg, then a little flour/baking powder mixture, followed by the second egg and a little more flour mixture. Add the rest of the flour mixture, then the cream as above.)

Pour into your tin(s) and bake for 25 minutes (slightly longer if you are baking one large cake like I did…but keep a close eye on it after 20 minutes). When a cake tester comes out clean, remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for ten minutes before taking out of the tin(s).

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Make the frosting: Mix the cream cheese with 1 cup of the butterscotch, beating until soft and completely combined. If you have one large cake, slice it in half with a large bread knife held perpendicular to the counter. Spread slightly less than half the frosting on your bottom layer, top with the second layer and frost the top of the second layer, too. Drizzle with as much of the remaining butterscotch as you like.

If you don’t have eight hungry guests there to eat this straight away, cut it into slices and put in an airtight container in the fridge. It keeps well for several days.


– Helena


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