The heyday of the original Brown Derby restaurants was the golden age of Hollywood, when Mary Pickford, Clarke Gable, Spencer Tracy, and the young starlet, Lucille Ball, among others, frequented the lush booths in the hat-shaped buildings. Disney World’s Hollywood Brown Derby is fashioned after the Hollywood Brown Derby on Vine Street (there were three other Brown Derby restaurants as well), and bears an incredible resemblance inside and out. But what I find truly fascinating about the restaurant are the stories it’s keeping alive.
One of my favorites is about Louella Parsons, who worked for William Randolph Hearst and was considered one of the most powerful gossip columnists in Hollywood for many years (to the dismay of her colleague and rival, Hedda Hopper, who often held court on the opposite side of the Derby from Parsons).
One day, Parsons complained to Derby owner Robert Cobb that all of his desserts were too fattening and requested something healthier. Cobb quickly told the chef “to put grapefruit on something, because everyone knows it’s slimming.”
So the chef invented his Grapefruit Cake, a dessert with multiple layers of cream cheese frosting that are anything but slimming, and it’s gone down in the history books along with several other Derby-invented classic recipes.
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs (separated)
3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350º F. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into mixing bowl. Make a well in center of dry ingredients.
Add water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice, and lemon rind. Beat until smooth.
Beat egg whites and cream of tartar separately, until whites are stiff but not dry.
Gradually fold egg whites into the cake batter, folding gently with a rubber spatula until just blended. Do not stir the mixture.
Pour into an ungreased 10-inch cake pan. Bake at 350º degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched with a finger. Invert pan on cake rack until cool. Run spatula around edge of cake. Carefully remove from pan. With a serrated knife, gently cut layer in half.
Grapefruit Cream Cheese Frosting
2 six-ounce packages of cream cheese
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
3/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted)
6 to 8 drops yellow food coloring
1 one-pound can grapefruit sections (well-drained), reserving 2 tablespoons of juice OR 3 fresh grapefruits, peeled, sectioned, and drained, reserving 2 tablespoons of juice.
Let cream cheese soften at room temperature. Beat cheese until fluffy.
Add lemon juice and rind.
Gradually blend in sugar. Beat until well blended. Add food coloring.
Add reserved grapefruit and blend into frosting.
Divide the frosting evenly into two bowls. Roughly chop 2/3 of the grapefruit sections and add them to half the frosting. Spread this mixture on the bottom half of cake. Top with several grapefruit sections. Cover with second layer of cake. Frost top and sides. Garnish with remaining grapefruit sections.
As much as I love this cake, I did have some issues with it. First I had to borrow a 10 inch cake pan which is when I am glad I have friends that bake too. Second I really was second guessing myself when it said ungreased pan.....Next time I will listen to my gut and just spray the bottom of the cake pan. Next issue with the size of the pan. It was a bit of a pain to slice it to make two layers. If I make this again, I will certainly make it in a smaller pan like an 8 or 9 inch round.