Los Angeles Cake Revival
by Robert Trachtenberg
Addicted to cake at an early age, I watched helplessly as bakeries, department-store tea rooms and restaurants in my native Los Angeles met the wrecking ball, taking with them my favorite recipes (and pretty much all of my childhood happiness). Enter my savior, Valerie Gordon, of Valerie Confections , who has brought back some of California’s best-loved desserts with her “vintage cake” collection. What started with Blum’s coffee crunch cake has grown to include the Brown Derby grapefruit cake, Bullock’s Wilshire coconut cream pie and Chasen’s banana shortcake.
A San Francisco native, Gordon has fond memories of Blum’s coffee crunch cake, which was served at every major family event. Last year, in a stroke of pure kismet, a food editor asked Gordon if she could re-create it for a story on unique wedding cakes. “My mouth dropped open – I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls. After publication, it was “absolute mayhem. The phone would not stop ringing with orders. The level of gratitude and emotion was overwhelming, and it got me thinking about how important these ‘extinct’ desserts were to people.”
Though the recipes are sometimes easy to find, adapting them to today’s palate has proven a little harder. “Both the grapefruit and coffee crunch called for large amounts of liquid that resulted in a very porous sponge texture that I didn’t find enormously palatable,” Gordon notes, while the original coconut cream pie filling had her standing over a double boiler for two hours — not very practical for a bakery. “I have to do about ten passes with each cake before it seems like a delicious, logical representation of what was originally served.” Gordon, who will soon open a second location of her chocolate, cake and confection shop, is currently only selling whole cakes ordered 24 hours in advance.
The inevitable, crushing irony of it all occurs when I ask Gordon if she’d consider recreating my favorite: Van de Kamp’s chocolate pecan cake. “Oh, we’ll never, ever do that,” she says. “I’m allergic to pecans.”