Once a week, Bella Beckett, a software developer, hosts a themed dinner with a group of her friends. The 27-year-old’s apartment in Bushwick won the group’s vote for location-of-choice by unanimous verdict—largely because she has the biggest kitchen. An average of five people attend each dinner, the themes of which range from the comparatively bland “Italian” to the most recent: “Harry Potter.”
“We try to keep things interesting,” said Beckett, as she drizzled canola oil into a baking pan. When Beckett and her friends started holding these weekly meals, they would just have a basic potluck. They would cook whatever recipes they found in time to go to the store. “It was okay,” she said, “but it was also kind of boring.” She ripped open a box of Pillsbury cake mix and poured it into a bowl. The oven was set to preheat.
Beckett doesn’t like boredom; she cooks with a soundtrack and dances around the kitchen while she prepares. For this meal, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was playing on the television in the background, while she stirred eggs, oil, and water into the cake mix. “We’re making Cauldron Cakes for dessert,” she said. “There’s a 100 percent chance I screw the handles up.”
The recipe she used, which she found online, starts out fairly simple but steadily grows more complex. The final product is a small, cauldron-shaped cake with a single top-handle and a frosting “potion” inside it. Beckett says she likes to challenge herself, but not too much. “I saw other recipes that I thought looked better,” she said, “but I knew I would already have enough trouble with the chocolate handles.”
The handles are flat, small pieces of chocolate and sit in the corner of the counter on some type of parchment paper, awaiting judgment. With a surprised yelp, Beckett drops her mixing spoon and shouts. It seems that she has forgotten to put the handles in the refrigerator, as required.
She doesn’t appear to do half-measures. The meal, dessert, drinks, and even the evening’s dress code all fit the theme. Beckett said an online quiz sorted her into Slytherin house—the Hogwarts house of the ambitious and cunning, whose colors are green and silver. So she chose to wear shimmering green lipstick and a dark green shirt to “support her house.”
“I don’t make anyone else dress up for these, but I usually try to at least a little,” she said. “This time was easy, though. All of my friends love the ‘Harry Potter’ books.”
The books, she clarified several times. The movies were okay, she says, but the books were better.
The Cauldron Cakes were baking in the oven by the time she moved on to another popular recipe: Butterbeer. She mixed cream soda and butterscotch syrup together without much fuss; but when the time came to make the topping, she paused. And swore. “I forgot to get marshmallow topping,” she said to her friends, seemingly disgruntled.
After several (Beckett-led) minutes of hypotheticals, it was decided the group would make a topping out of whatever they had available in the apartment. She apologized.
“I’m sorry you came to one of these, and of course, it’s been a complete mess,” she said to me. Beckett explains that she deeply dislikes making mistakes. “In software, even the smallest mistake can cause a massive problem,” she said. “I guess I kind of take that attitude back from the office.”
Beckett is a self-professed nerd: She reads old “Batman” comics and watches “Game of Thrones” reruns in her spare time. But she also claims that she is pragmatic. “I come up with all the themes. I’ll let you in on a secret,” she said conspiratorially. “Next week, we’re doing ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Oh, and my Cauldron Cakes came out just right.”