February 26th, 2015

Grapefruit Cake, at last


Soft chiffon crumb, fragrant with zest, dotted with bittersweet syrup, coated in cream cheese icing…

Before I tell you more about this “at last” cake, I need to tell you its backstory,
which curiously begins with cornbread.

Recently I was invited to participate in “Dirty Pages,” a photo and story-telling exhibit about Nashville women and their storied recipes. Each person was asked to submit a favored recipe, one whose splattered, ringed and tattered page demonstrated not only its much-loved use, but told its tale of food–family–community.

I knew immediately where I’d find mine, inside Recipes from Foods of the World. My first cookbook, it was a gift from my soon-to-be mother-in-law, presented on the eve of my wedding in 1974. The marriage didn’t last—but the cookbook is still with me.


The recipe I had in mind was “Leola’s Cornbread.” Over the years, especially during my catering career, it was a workhorse. My staff and I tweaked and modified the recipe, cut back on the sugar, increased the butter, deleted the margarine, even created a version with buttermilk. We baked it into countless loaves, muffins, hoecakes, croutons, and stuffings. We sparked it with chilis, cheeses, pimentos and scallions.

The recipe became encrusted with cornmeal.

I smile poring over the page: A mess of meal and flour, the blurred notes in the margins jotted by my cohorts Wendy and Tonya, the release of a musty, almost rancid scent from smears of batter, set in now for decades. A veritable “Dirty Page” from my life.

But the cookbook holds other treasures.


Turning pages, stirring memories–look at that picture of the Grapefruit Cake! When I first saw this as a young cook, I was enchanted by the look of it. I loved the campy tropical staging. But, in my early twenties, I wasn’t crazy about grapefruit, so I didn’t make it. (I know–silly youth.)

My tastes matured, thank goodness. Whenever I–the older, more sophisticated caterer and chef—would peruse the cookbook and land on that page I’d think, “I’d really like to make that cake. I bet it’s delicious.”

I never got to it. Until last week, I had forgotten about it.

Everything in its time, they say. A prompt to review the past, through all my “dirty pages,” and I decided it would be different this time. I was going to make this beauty.


It took me almost forty one years. But I’ve made it, Amen, at last.

adapted from Recipes from Foods of the World published by Time/Life books, 1972

2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fresh squeezed and strained grapefruit juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon fresh grated grapefruit zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the sides and bottom of cake pan(s) with softened butter, then dust with flour.

Sift cake flour, baking flour, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
Pour grapefruit juice and oil into a measuring cup. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the 4 egg whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff, unwavering peaks. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the 4 yolks with 1 cup sugar for 4-5 minutes. Mixture will become thick and light yellow.

Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of the juice-oil mixture. Repeat this process until the batter is well incorporated. Beat in the grapefruit zest.

Fold in the egg whites gently but thoroughly. Pour the batter into the cake pan(s); smooth the tops, and place into the preheated oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check with a toothpick or cake tester for doneness. Remove and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting.

Invert cakes onto racks and remove pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

makes a 2-layer 9″cakes, or one 11″ springform round, split


for great visual “how-to” steps, visit here at Cooking Light
1 grapefruit
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

Carefully peel the rind of the grapefruit into long strips. Place the strips into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Drain, add fresh water to cover and repeat. Drain and add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, stirring to dissolve.
Cover and place on medium heat. Simmer for 12-15 minutes.

Remove the strips, now supple and glazy, and lay them out on a rack to dry, reserving the syrup.


1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
2 teaspoons grapefruit syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Beat in the zest, syrup and vanilla.
Beat in the powdered sugar, tasting for desired sweetness.



If you baked the cake in one large (10-11 inch) springform pan, split the cool layer in half.
Dot one layer with reserved syrup from making the candied peel. Spread a layer of frosting and place the other half (or other layer) on top.

Coat the top and sides with frosting.

Decorate the sides with candied peel. Cut the zested grapefruit into supremes–slices or sections without the pith or membrane. Arrange the slices on top of the cake.

Serves 12-16



Posted in Desserts, Recipes

24 Responses to “Grapefruit Cake, at last”
  1. Johanne Lamarche Says:

    Great story Nancy and gorgeous cake! I LOVE grapefruit, always have, even as a young girl. I will have to try this cake. The icing ingredients alone will require a serious session at the gym! ! OMG,

  2. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Thank you, Johanne. It really is a lovely cake–light, like chiffon cakes can be. I love the pastel colors right now too—it has been a cold and dreary winter here, and this brings some needed warmth. And, yes, serious gym sessions are necessary!

  3. ernestine Says:

    I love this story
    and my old recipe cards and books
    are just like some you described.
    I like grapefruit
    find it tart
    and wonder if I would like this cake.
    It looks beautiful
    and I know taste great.
    Just my thought :)

  4. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Ernestine, It is fun to look back over those old cookbooks and recipes–they trigger memories for sure and remind us not only of our roots, but also the spirit of the times.

  5. Maggie Stanford Says:

    Hey Nancy, this looks scrumptious!!! Love the story! And, I think we’re all ready for spring!

  6. Teresa Blackburn Says:

    Nance what a beautiful cake this is. Sometimes I wonder why it takes us so long to make a recipe that we find, love and just never seem to get to? Life is full of such moments of intentions…to cook something…to go somewhere…So it is so great to see you finally made this cake which was encouraged by a wonderful project.

  7. heather Says:

    Wow that looks amazing! Great story, thank you Nancy!

  8. K-Run Says:

    What a Gorgeous Cake and even better memory. It is so much fun and nostalgic to look back through Old cookbooks that house so many wonderful flavors and times in our lives. Thanks for sharing!

  9. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hey Mag—miss you! hope to see you soon.

    Terese–I know. Life gets so busy and there are only just so many things you can do. Some things of great interest get set aside. At least we finally get to them.

    You are so welcome, Heather!

    Hi K-Run—you will remember, no doubt, many things from the cafe and catering kitchen days, and will enjoy the Dirty Pages exhibit when it opens March 19th!

  10. Adri Says:

    What a great story! I love the exhibit, and its name is perfect. Don’t you love your old cookbooks? There was a time, back in the eighties, where I rarely looked at my older cookbooks, seduced as I was by all things new and trendy. But nowadays I often find myself looking back to those well worn and well used books.

    And about this cake – it reminds me of my childhood. We used to dine at a restaurant here in Los Angeles called The Brown Derby. They were famous for their Grapefruit Cake, and this is quite similar, even down to the cream cheese frosting. It is a cake I make to this day, one that everyone enjoys. When I serve it, we all get to talking about when we were kids. Gotta love these old recipes!

  11. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Adri—I love learning about your childhood memories, triggered by this cake. I have heard of The Brown Derby, which was quite famous, of a time. I didn’t know that they served Grapefruit Cake—but it does fit into the same time frame as my cookbook. I really value my old cookbooks now, more than ever.

  12. Beth Says:

    There aren’t nearly enough recipes using grapefruit! I think I’d love this cake. And I love the idea behind the Dirty Pages project.

  13. Dedy@Dentist Chef Says:

    Simply damn delicious dessert!!!
    Dedy@Dentist Chef

  14. Barbara Says:

    Those old cookbooks hold many memories for all of us, Nancy. What fun to take time to go through this one. Years ago, I went through mine and put the recipes in a program called Mastercook. (there is just so much space for cookbooks I’ve collected since the 50’s! and they were all falling apart.)
    I eat grapefruit every morning of my life..this gorgeous cake is right up my alley!

  15. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Beth–I think you would too. Grapefruit has become my favorite citrus.

    Hi Dedy–It is, indeed! Thanks.

    Hi Barbara–I bet you have many fabulous cookbooks in your collection. Thanks for the tip on Mastercook for storing those prized recipes that span a lifetime!

  16. Gerlinde Says:

    I love the “Dirty Pages” expression, what a great idea. So many of my recipes and pages are stained and yes dirty. There is something about old books, especially cookbooks and photos.
    Your cake looks delightful, and I love anything citrus.

  17. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    i want that cookbook! It sounds amazing and full of good old fashioned recipes but ones with creativity! this cakes looks fantastic

  18. Juliana Says:

    I love the meaning of “dirty pages” and all the memories behind…
    The cake sounds and looks delicious, refreshing grapefruit with cream cheese filling/frosting and the candied peel…
    Hope you are having a lovely week Nancy :)

  19. Denise Says:

    I don’t usually frost or ice my cakes, but this looks so wonderful it just might make me change my ways… ;)

  20. Karen (Back Road Journal) Says:

    I enjoyed the story as much as I know I would enjoy the grapefruit cake.

  21. Kath Says:

    What a wonderful back story and I love the dog eared look to that book. A book well loved and well used. The cake looks pretty good too. I have never thought about a grapefruit cake.

  22. sue|theviewfromgreatisland Says:

    I can’t even read the title of this post without getting all excited, I adore grapefruit and love it in every possible kind of recipe, but there is something about a cake flavored with my favorite citrus that sends me…love the decorations!

  23. Good Food Matters » Blog Archive » apricot-sorghum glazed ham, cornbread with the works Says:

    […] told you a little bit about this interactive art show: portraits of Nashville women and their beloved “dirty page” […]

  24. David Miller Says:

    This looks yummy!

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