Not a lot of people know that I used to live in New Jersey. In fact, I spent the first half of my childhood in Parsippany. We lived half an hour from the city (New York City, that is), and life was great. For every special occasion, my family and I would go to a local bakery in the Short Hills area and order a brown derby cake. Brown derby cakes must be a Jersey thing because nobody around here has ever heard of them. A brown derby cake is a devil’s food cake with a whipped cream and fruit filling. The cake is frosted with whipped cream and covered in devil’s food cake crumbs. It’s called a brown derby cake because the domed shape is supposed to resemble a derby hat.
I had the most difficult time finding a brown derby cake recipe for Addison’s 2nd birthday. I came across two recipes, and neither piqued my interest. (Side note – apparently there is a place in California called the Brown Derby that makes a grapefruit cake. Most of my search resulted in recipes for this.)
Finally, I came across a YouTube video by someone calling themselves the Crumb Boss. I was intrigued and thought I’d check it out. Crumb Boss is a bakery owner/pastry chef in New Jersey, so I figured that her recipe was trustworthy and tried it out.
I’m so glad I tried the Crumb Boss’ recipe! This cake gives me great memories of my old stomping grounds. The cake is not too dense and is paired nicely with the whipped cream and fruit filling. The outer cake crumbs help the cake from being over the top with whipped cream (I am not usually a fan of whipped cream). My parents were overjoyed when I told them that I was looking for a brown derby cake recipe, and they loved it! Addison, the birthday girl, even enjoyed a slice!
The cake did seem a bit on the dry side when we cut into it to eat, even though I had stored it in the refrigerator overnight (for one night). I may try a different version of devil’s food cake next time or serve it on the same day to prevent overdrying. Otherwise, this cake was a pretty good imitation of what we used to buy in New Jersey!
Addison, my mom and I (photo courtesy of my brother–he uses a professional Nikon camera)
Brown derby cake
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces butter softened
- 2 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 5 eggs
- 6 ounces buttermilk
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Whipped cream filling and frosting
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup confectioners sugar or to taste if you like sweeter or less sugar
- Gelatin mixture directions below; I used 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar instead
Brown derby cake filling
- Strawberries hulled and sliced
- Canned peaches drained (can use pre-bought or homemade peach pie filling)
- 1 banana sliced
Make the cake
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar. While the butter is creaming, sift all dry ingredients (cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, salt) in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
- Add eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time. Then add half the dry ingredients. Mix well.
- Add half the buttermilk and then the remainder of the dry ingredients. Finally, add the rest of the buttermilk and then the vanilla extract.
- Bake in three 8-inch round pans for 35 minutes or until center is springy. (I used three 10-inch pans and baked for 25 minutes).
Make the whipped cream filling and frosting
- If using gelatin, "bloom" 1 Tablespoon of gelatin in 1/4 cup of cold water for 5 minutes.
- While gelatin is "blooming," whip the cream in a stand mixer (or a handheld one). Slowly add the confectioners sugar and cream of tartar (if using) until you reach stiff peaks.
- Melt 1 TBSP of the gelatin mixture in the microwave on low for about 10 seconds or until melted. Add the mixture to the whipped cream to help it stabilize. (Again, I did not use gelatin so I skipped this step.)
Assemble the cake
- Put one layer of the chocolate cake down on a cake pedestal or a cake board. Build a whipped cream "wall" around the circumference of the cake. Do this twice so you have two layers of whipped cream. Crumb Boss uses a large star tip, but any tip will do.
- Fill the inside of the cake with peaches, strawberries and bananas.
- Add more whipped cream to the top of the cake so your cake now looks like a pyramid on the top.
- Take the second layer of cake and crumble it so you have a lot of small crumbs and set aside. (I added a second layer of cake, whipped cream and fruit filling and crumbled the third layer instead.)
- With the final layer of cake, cut a wedge out of it so it looks like Pac-Man. Fold the Pac-Man layer into a cone and set it on top of the cake. (I ran out of whipped cream so I skipped this step. Instead, I crumbled this layer and used it as the exterior crumb for the cake.)
- Using an offset spatula, smooth out the whipped cream all around the top and the sides of the cake. To get a perfectly smooth surface, use a parchment cut into the shape of a triangle and using one swift motion, drag the parchment from the bottom to the top of the cake and over to the other side. (I did not do this step.)
- Add the cake crumbs over the cake and garnish with additional strawberries if desired.