Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

brown derby grapefruit cake

Yesterday would have been my Nana’s birthday. She passed away this July, but a few days before she died, she shared this recipe with me. We were talking about the old Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood, and she told me how she used to go there every night after work. They had this amazing grapefruit cake, she said, and she was sure she had a copy of the Brown Derby cookbook around the house somewhere. Ten minutes later, she put a small, yellowed paperback in my hand and said I could keep it, as she rarely cooked anymore and she knew I would use it.

I never got a chance to bake her this cake, but her birthday seemed like a great day to try it out. And let me tell you, it is just as delicious as my Nana said it would be! The chiffon cake is moist and though I doubted that such a small amount of grapefruit juice in the recipe would really bring the flavor through, it absolutely does. The cream cheese frosting is not too sweet, and full of citrus flavor as well. As I’m not generally the biggest grapefruit fan, I would love to try this out with other ┬ácitrus fruits, or even use the basic chiffon cake for other base flavors… but my mom has declared this her new favorite cake. Period.

As layer cakes go, this was pretty simple to make. The cake is baked in a single layer and split with a knife, and the frosting spreads easily onto the prepared cake. Decorating with grapefruit is simple and beautiful, as long as you remember to save back the prettiest sections for the top of the cake! I made a couple little changes to the frosting, but seriously nothing major. If you have anyone in your life who loves grapefruit or remembers spending nights at the Brown Derby long ago, bake them this cake. You won’t be disappointed.

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (this means sift before measuring)
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp grapefruit juice (I used the “lightly sweetened” juice that the grapefruit sections for the frosting came in)
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; add the egg yolks, water, oil, juice, and zest to the flour mixture and whisk until well-combined and smooth. In another bowl, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff peaks. Add the batter mixture to the whites a little at a time, folding together with a rubber spatula to combine the two without deflating the whites. Transfer the mixture to an ungreased 9×2″ round pan and bake 25-30 minutes, until cake springs back when touched. Invert the pan on a wire rack to cool completely, then run a knife around the edges of the pan and carefully remove the cooled cake. split in half horizontally with a serrated knife.

Grapefruit Cream Cheese Frosting

12 oz cream cheese, softened (I ran a little short, so I used about 11 oz cream cheese and 1 oz unsalted butter)
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3/4 cup powdered sugar
food coloring (I used 3 drops each of red and yellow)
1 1-lb can grapefruit sections, well drained (I found fresh ones in juice in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)

Beat the cream cheese (with butter, if using) until light and smooth. Add the lemon juice and zest, mixing till well combined. Add the sugar a little at a time, then beat till light and fluffy. Finally, add 2 tsp. of mashed grapefruit sections along with the food coloring and beat till the frosting reaches a nice spreading consistency. Spread about 1/3 of the frosting on the bottom half of the cake, and top with some of the grapefruit sections (I used the ugliest ones for this, and broke them up a bit to more evenly distribute the grapefruit pieces inside the cake). Replace the top half of the cake, and use the rest of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with the remaining well-drained grapefruit slices.

Keep cake refrigerated, but let it come to room temperature before serving.

1 comment to Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

  • Jacqui


    I love how you did this. It’s fabulous. Even though I have never eaten anything of yours, everything always looks so appealing and wonderful. Ever consider food photography?

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