June 2010

Historic Appeal

Valerie Gordon is on a mission to resurrect some of Los Angeles’ sweetest memories—first up, the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake


grapefruit cake photo by Amy Neunsinger

After I asked her to re-create the Coffee Crunch Cake from my beloved Blum’s for a wedding-cake story we did in this magazine last year, Valerie Gordon—of Valerie Confections—was both overwhelmed and surprised by the response. After the article, she fielded more than 150 inquiries in the first week and sold 40 cakes—none, ironically, for a wedding.

That rousing success got Gordon to wondering what other treasured L.A. desserts are still etched in people’s hearts just waiting to be rediscovered. And so the Classic Cake Collection was born.

Kicking off her project is the exquisite Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake. As there are many online recipes purporting to be the original, Gordon worked hard to research the confection’s history. Eventually, she honed in on a recipe that both honors the spirit of the classic while adding new vitality with fresh ingredients.

Other pastries in the pipeline: the Bullock’s Wilshire Tea Room’s Coconut Cream Pie, Chasen’s Banana Shortcake and Blum’s Lemon Crunch Cake. And the retro list is sure to expand. “I’d be happy to take suggestions from fans of classic Los Angeles—and California—desserts,” Gordon says. Sweet.

You can reach her at 213-739-8149

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

by Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections

Serves: 12–15
Special Equipment: offset spatula, paring knife, cake stand, two 9–inch cake pans, parchment paper, wire rack

1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Preheat oven to 325. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Separate eggs. Beat egg white and cream of tartar to a stiff peak and set aside. Beat yolks until fluffy and pale yellow. Combine water, oil, grapefruit juice and fruit zests. Slowly stream water mixture into egg yolks. Fold egg-yolk mix into egg-white mix. Incrementally add dry ingredients to wet mixture. Pour mixed batter into cake pans. Bake 20 minutes then rotate and bake an additional 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

1/3 cup butter (room temperature)
1 1/4 cups cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
1 3/4 teaspoon grapefruit juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

With paddle attachment, beat softened butter on medium setting until smooth. Add cream cheese and mix until thoroughly blended. Add powdered sugar in 1/4-cup increments, making sure it’s thoroughly incorporated after each addition. Add zest, juice and extract.

Candied-Grapefruit Garnish
2 pink grapefruit
5–6 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar

Prepare one day in advance (or up to a week ahead). Cut ends off grapefruit to create flat surface on both sides. Cut peel off grapefruit in even strips from top to bottom, including only a small portion of pith. Blanch peel in 5–6 cups boiling water until peel softens, about 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Create simple syrup by boiling 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water. Add blanched peel to simple syrup and return to boil. Reduce heat to low and cover surface with parchment paper. Candying process takes about 30 minutes; peel is finished when translucent. Drain candied zest onto wire rack and cool. Dredge zest in sugar and let sit overnight. Store in airtight container. Makes more than is necessary for the recipe. Reserve balance for snacking.

Finishing the Cake
Using a sharp knife, segment two grapefruit. Place one cake on cake stand and using an offset spatula, evenly spread 1/3 cup of frosting across its surface. Arrange fruit segments from one grapefruit evenly on frosted surface. Spread 1/3 cup frosting on top of second cake. Carefully stack cakes by inverting frosted side of second cake on top of first. Gently press top so the two layers stack evenly. Frost exterior using remainder of frosting. Slice two pieces candied grapefruit into 1/3-inch strips, then cut strips in opposite direction to create small squares. Arrange remaining grapefruit segments along circumference of cake. Sprinkle candied grapefruit squares between segments. Refrigerate until ready to serve.