This delicate chocolate derby cake is first in its class by appearance, as it looks like a “derby hat.” Many bakers of this cake have succumbed to its fresh and fruity, chocolate creamy bliss and have admitted to eating it all in one sitting.
The appearance of the cake is striking in that its dome shape is likened to a derby hat. While you can wear most hats all year long, this cake is best had during spring and summer, when fresh fruits make their best run for the roses!
This brown derby cake is not for the faint of heart. There is a level of skill required to create this fancy confection. It involves whipping cream to a beautiful firm peak, which takes effort and time. With this procedure, the cake takes on the shape of a dome. The most challenging part is to keep the cake aligned and stable throughout the whole process.
For those who aspire to be a great British baker, mastering this cake can put one on the path to qualifying as a contestant on The Great British Bake Off.
History of the “Brown Derby Cake”
This infamous chocolate cake has a rich history. It is modeled after the famous hat worn by many different types of people all over the world. Here in America, it is mostly remembered by its association with the Kentucky Derby, and it is also rumored to have been created at the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood, California.
This chocolate cake comes with lots of flavors, and where it is sold in bakeries, it is usually the “most popular” cake that is sold out by noon each day.
The American Derby Hat
The brown derby cake’s shape and appearance are related to the derby hat (called the bowler in England), which was designed for gamekeepers in England back in the late 1800s. Gamekeepers, whose job traditionally required that they spend a large portion of their workday riding horses, needed an alternative to top hats, which would always hit low branches while riding horses in the countryside.
The American derby hat was the hat of choice in the Wild West for cowboys, and railwaymen favored the hat for its toughness as did English gamekeepers. During strong winds, while horse-back riding, the hat did not blow off. Nor did the hat blow off when sticking one’s head out of a moving train, nor was it easily damaged when dropped. Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid were known for wearing the well-liked derby hat.
The Kentucky Derby
The brown derby cake is a lavish cake with fruit inside that reminds you of the spectacular fashion that is tradition at the Kentucky Derby. As ladies hide from the sun in their festive and ornate hats, the sweet taste of impending victory is in the air.
The crowds fill the stands each year in Millionaire’s Row, often with a generous slice of this gluten-free brown derby cake. It is usually served alongside a refreshing mint julep cocktail.
Brown Derby Restaurant – Hollywood
The Brown Derby restaurant was a well-known formal celebrity dining place that was established in the late 1920s by Robert Howard Cobb, the restaurateur who also created the renown American favorite Cobb Salad.
The restaurant was unique and an architectural gem in that the building was shaped like a derby hat. The glitz and glamour of this restaurant were based on its design. The interior of the restaurant was just as marvelous as the exterior. And it stood as an excellent example of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
This gluten-free brown derby cake is popular with bakeries; however, the price for this chocolate cake is a bit pricey, ranging from $30 – $50. This fact makes it a baker’s treasure and something rare to perfect. The following is a Brown Derby Cake recipe that you can learn to master.
Brown Derby Cake Recipe
This is a must-have recipe. This cake has such a rich history and impressive presentation that you can use this recipe for any special occasion.
PREP TIME: 40 mins COOK TIME: 30 mins READY IN 90 minutes
For the Chocolate Cake
- 1 cup of boiling water
- 1 cup of milk
- Vanilla extract 2 teaspoons
- Vegetable oil 1/2 cup
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons
- Baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 cups of white sugar
Topping for Brown Derby Cake
- 4 cups heavy cream (or stabilized whipped cream*)
- ½ cup white sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Filling for Brown Derby Cake
- 1 fresh ripe banana
- 2 fresh ripe peeled peaches
- ½ lb. fresh strawberries
- 2 – 3 oz fresh blueberries
Make the Cake
- Grease and flour (2) nine-inch (9”) cake round pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Use a large bowl with a mixing spoon, stir together the dry ingredients (cocoa, flour, baking soda, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking powder).
- Then add the wet ingredients milk, eggs, oil, and vanilla, mixing and making a well-blended batter. If using a hand mixer, set speed to medium for 2 minutes.
- Stir the boiling water into the batter. Note: This produces a thin batter.
- Pour batter mixture into each of the prepared baking pans. Prepare 1 pan with a good helping of cake batter because the finished cake will be sliced width-wise to make it a 2-layer cake. The other pan will make the cake that will be crumbled up and used as a garnish.
- Bake cakes 30 – 35 minutes in the preheated oven until they test done with a toothpick.
- Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the Topping
- Gather topping ingredients and pour whipping cream into a large bowl and start whipping up the cream with a blender.
- Stir in vanilla extract to the whipped cream and then add sugar, increasing whipping speed and continuing to whisk until medium-firm cream peaks have formed.
Assemble the Brown Derby Cake
- Slice the completely cooled baked cake through the width to make two identical layers with one layer being thicker to serve as the bottom layer of the cake and the other being thinner to represent the top layer of the cake.
- The top layer of the cake will be the shape of a dome. So cut out a triangle slice so you can fold the cake into a cone-like shape.
- Pipe a whipped cream layer to cover the entire bottom layer of the cake. Then pipe an outlining layer as the second tier of whip cream, forming a bowl of whipped cream.
- Put aside one strawberry to use as a cake topper and then take the bananas and slice them into thin full-length halves. Then dice the peaches into cubes and chop the remaining strawberries and blueberries into smaller bite-sized pieces.
- Place bananas onto the cake into the bowl-shaped whipped cream lightly, then cover bananas with a good portion of peaches. Scoop whipped cream over bananas and peaches covering them completely, making an even layer.
- Now place the top thinner layer of cake onto the cake, gently shaping it into a dome. The cake will split and break; just do your best.
- Fill in the cracks of the cake with more whip cream, completely covering the cake with another layer by piping in another bowl like layer, then add chopped strawberries and blueberries.
- Get the second cake and crumble it up into tiny pieces — drizzle cake crumbs over the assembled cake along the sides and top, covering it completely.
- Garnish the top with a dollop of whipped cream and set a whole strawberry on top.
Voilà, the famous “Brown Derby Cake.”
Tips for Making and Storing Brown Derby Cake
This delicate brown derby dessert needs some tender loving care in its preparation and storage because the cake is mostly whipped cream. The following tips will help you master the brown derby cake, and your friends and family will be amazed.
- Make sure heavy cream is well-chilled up to the time of whipping.
- Avoid using pasteurized whipping cream as it is harder to whip.
- Aluminum foil can be used to keep cake moist and cooked evenly while baking in the oven.
- Use a covered cake display plate to store the cake filled with fruit and place in the refrigerator; the cover will prevent the cake from absorbing refrigerator odors.
- Set refrigerator at 36 degrees Fahrenheit and the topping should keep its shape well at this temperature.
The Finish Line
Surprisingly, not many bakers are familiar with brown derby cake and the original way to make it. There are many variations, such as a white derby cake with frosting and even a derby pie, which in no way looks like a derby hat. The brown derby cake is a lost recipe that is only being made in family-owned bakeries across America, where bakers were handed down the method from a family member.
This fantastic chocolate cake recipe is one of the great delicious American delicacies from the Great Depression-era. It goes along with other lost recipes like Cinnamon Toast, Dutch Baby Pancake, Popovers, Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Tea Sandwiches, Beef Stroganoff, and Pot Pies. Learn to make this cake and serve it well and often to help preserve American cuisine.
Hope you enjoy this chocolate derby cake recipe and its history. It’s a great show stopper for any special occasion.