Mother Nature's Sweetest Gift of Winter: Grapefruit Cake

I have some fairly predictable shopping habits whenever I visit my parents in Los Angeles. My routine stops include Surfas restaurant supply, the Westfield Topanga mall, Gelson's supermarket, the Old Town Calabasas Farmer's Market, and Mitsuwa Japanese grocery. If I happen to be visiting between the months of December and March, I also make a point of getting a hold of as many Oroblanco grapefruits as I can possibly cram into my suitcase.

The Oroblanco (the name means "white gold" in Spanish) is an amazing gem of a white-fleshed fruit that is almost inconceivably sweet, with none of the tartness typical of grapefruit. I can't stand to eat other varieties of grapefruit without a liberal coating of sugar, but I can happily pop plain Oroblanco segments like candy. The thick-skinned cross between a white grapefruit and a pummelo was developed at the University of California 50 years ago and patented in 1981. Besides being sweet and juicy, the Oroblanco has the delighful quality of being very easy to segment.

Unfortunately, while Oroblancos are plentiful in Los Angeles, they are fairly difficult to find here in D.C. Domestically, they are cultivated only on the west coast and have a short window of availability in the winter. On occasion I've resorted to having my mother mail grapefruits to me, but this quickly becomes a prohibitively expensive proposition. In past years I have been able to purchase Oroblancos at Harris Teeter for $2.99 each, but I can no longer find them there. The only place I've been able to find Oroblancos lately in the D.C. area is Asian grocery stores, and even that is fairly hit and miss. Last weekend I went to Kam Sam grocery in Rockville, and when I saw they had a plentiful supply of Oroblancos, I purchased 23 pounds of them. That's actually a completely reasonable quantity for me to have on hand. I eat one or two daily and the grapefruits keep well in the refrigerator for weeks.

Having an ample supply of Oroblancos gave me the perfect excuse to try a recipe I've been holding onto for a while, Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake. The Brown Derby is a now-defunct Hollywood restaurant, and the Los Angeles Times printed the recipe for the Derby's well-known grapefruit cake in its Culinary SOS Column. The recipe is included in Dear S.O.S.: Dessert Recipe Requests to the Los Angeles Times and is also available online here (on pages 4 and 5 of the article). The recipe is not written for Oroblancos, but I figured that anything that is good with regular grapefruits has got to be positively spectacular with Oroblancos.

The cake is flavored with lemon zest and grapefruit juice. It contains no butter, includes only 1/4 cup of oil, and is leavened with baking powder and whipped egg whites. The cream cheese frosting is flavored with lemon zest, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice. There is segmented grapefruit both between the cake layers and on top of the cake. I ended up using three entire grapefruits -- one between the layers and two to garnish the top.

The cake itself had a nice light lemon flavor, but I felt it was a bit dry. The grapefruit segments and the frosting helped add needed moisture to the cake, but there was one huge problem with this recipe. It didn't make anywhere near enough frosting. The frosting recipe only calls for 6 oz. of cream cheese, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, citrus juice, and lemon zest. In contrast, when I frost a two-layer red velvet cake of the same size, I mix up a frosting recipe of 12 oz. cream cheese, 2 cups powdered sugar and 2/3 cup butter, which yields the perfect amount to fill and frost a 9-inch cake. You can see in the pictures above that the frosting layer was so thin that you could see right through it, and you can barely see any frosting in between the layers. In the future, I would make a double or triple recipe of the frosting to make sure I could adequately cover and fill the cake.

Oh, and and if you try this recipe, I strongly recommend you use a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of your pan. The recipe specifies use of an ungreased cake pan, but the cake sticks! I understand that not greasing the sides of the pan probably helps the cake rise a little higher, but I don't see any reason why you shouldn't grease and/or use parchment on the bottom.

All in all, this was pretty tasty, but it wasn't quite as good as I had hoped. I think my expectations were sky high, considering how much I love Oroblancos. But to be honest, a plain Oroblanco grapefruit makes for an equally good dessert all on its own!

Recipe: "Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake" from Dear S.O.S.: Dessert Recipe Requests to the Los Angeles Times; also available in the Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1989.


Anonymous said…
I thought the cake was delicious and not dry at all. I didn't know about the oroblanco variety before, but I'm now a fan.

I agree with Jim, it was not dry at all. I have never had a grapefruit that I have liked but this was great in fact I ate 4 pieces. Thanks for the left overs!