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Matilda Cake Scene: Economics is Everywhere

Matilda by Roald Dahl was my all-time favorite book growing up. I loved listening to teachers read it, learning to read from it, and even sometimes reading it out loud so that I could practice the voices.

I’ve never actually watched the whole movie released in 1996. I already have in my mind what it looks like for the Trunchbull to fling a girl out of a window by her pigtails or to be locked in a room with spikes. I don’t want those images to be ruined.

But I have watched the chocolate cake scene. If you have read the book or watched the movie, you know what I’m talking about. But for those who haven’t let me paint the picture for you:

The Trunchbull, a huge and mean headmistress of a grade school in the UK, finds out that an 11 year old boy - Bruce Bogtrotter - took a slice of her chocolate cake and ate it. As punishment she gathers the whole school together and calls the boy up to the front. She then has a slice of cake brought out. In a cruel and evil tone, she tells the boy he must eat it. All of it.

After timidly trying a bite of cake to make sure it isn’t poisonous, he happily digs in. I mean - how amazing! He gets slice of cake to himself.

When he is done, she asks how it was and he says good.

And then the chef brings out the rest of the cake. The rest of a HUGE chocolate cake.

The Trunchbull tells Bruce to eat it. All of it.

He starts to eat it. While he enjoyed the first slice the second slice is not as good. As he eats more and more he enjoys each bite less and less.

Less and less enjoyment - what is that in economic speak? Diminishing marginal utility (or diminishing marginal benefit). Each bite and each slice give less and less enjoyment.

It’s one of the reasons we have downward sloping demand curves. For each additional slice you would enjoy it less and less so you’d be willing to pay more per slice for one slice of cake than 3. Or probably 12 in poor Bruce’s case.

So what’s the moral of this story. Economics really is everywhere! Even in your favorite childhood story.

I finally found the perfect chocolate cake. I'm not a chocolate cake eater... or even much of a cake eater. I prefer cookies (or the dough), pie, creme brûlée, etc. But this cake... is divine. Incredibly moist and chocolatey. The cake batter has a whole cup of coffee in it and the icing has a Tbsp. of coffee powder in it. (Coffee helps bring out the chocolate favor.)

Here are a couple tips based off of errors I made:

1) Don't forget the baking soda... your cake won't rise.

2) Make sure you use a deep cake pan (she says 2 inches high). As an added measure, put a cookie sheet below the cake pans. On my second making of the cake, I put the batter in some shallow cake pans. I went upstairs and when I came down to check on the cake, I could smell something burning... The batter had overflowed and was burning on the bottom of the oven. Fun.

3) Use parchment paper on the bottom of the cake pan. There is no easier way to get a clean cake out of the pan.


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