The Citrus Will Remember

Over the next few months, as we wait for fresh produce to return from winter vacation, citrus will spring gloriously into season, returning the brilliant sunshine it spent all summer gathering.  With so many limes, oranges, clementines and grapefruit filling the shelves, the sheer exuberance alone is sufficient to warm the spirits until local farms begin producing again.

Californians celebrate just such an abundance with Grapefruit Cake, a vibrant concoction the Golden State has made its own. and which KCET, the L.A. PBS affiliate, features on its website.  This treat was a favorite for decades at the Brown Derby restaurant, an institution in golden-age Hollywood.  Though the original restaurant itself is gone, many fondly recall its exemplary dessert, hence the recipe.

Of course, today’s preparation is modified for cupcakes – much more portable and amenable to sharing that way – and it features ruby red grapefruit juice and sections.  Brighter, more flavorful and sweeter than the standard version, they’re a perfect way to give this sparkling creation even more of a boost.

Elevate it does (who wrote this, Yoda?).  The notion that as winter descends one can enjoy fresh fruit, one so expressive of uplifting  sunshine, challenges belief.  All quite real, though, and the sunny optimism these cupcakes inspire makes one wish for snow to hurry to us, setting in motion the seasonal clock.

Better yet, this contains two desserts for the price of one.   There’s the sweet, silky cupcake, of course, awash in tanginess.    Topping it is a flourish of whipped cream cheese, fluffy and sweet, and enlivened with flecks of grapefruit.  Evocative of cheesecake, more than anything else.

Common to both is the grapefruit, unadorned.  It needs no enhancement, as it’s exuberantly sweet all by itself, particularly the ruby red variety.  Even as a storm rushes in from parts distant, the grapefruit recalls the sunshine which brightened our past and which surely will illuminate our future.


Grapefruit (Cup)Cake(s)

For the cake:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 3 tablespoons grapefruit juice (*1)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind (*2)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cram of tartar

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 2 6-ounce packages of cream cheese
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice (*2)
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (*2)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1-pound can of grapefruit sections, drained (*1)

Place the cream cheese on the counter to soften, then start making the cake.  In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Make a well in the center and into it add the water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice and lemon rind.  Whisk until smooth.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites and cream of tartar.  Starting at a low speed, blend the ingredients.  Once they’re incorporated, gradually increase the speed to high.  Mix until the whites are firm but not quite stiff (*3), about three minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350° and place cupcake liners in a cupcake tray.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, scraping clean the whisk with a spatula.  Slowly pour the egg yolk mixture over the egg whites, folding them together with the spatula.  Take care not to mix them too vigorously, as that will “deflate” the egg whites.  Folding them until they’re just incorporated is all that’s necessary.

Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 of the way with batter, then bake for 25 minutes.  While the cupcakes bake, wash the mixer bowl and whisk.

Remove the cupcake tray to a wire rack.  When cool enough to handle, after about ten minutes, remove the individual cupcakes and place them on the rack individually to finish cooloing.

After the cupcakes have started their final cooling, make the frosting.    Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment again and add the now-softened cream cheese to the bowl.  Beat the cream cheese at high speed until fluffy, about two minutes.  Stop the mixer and add the lemon rind and juice.

Return mixer to low speed and slowly pour in the powdered sugar.  Once incorporated, increase the speed to high for a moment to revive the fluff.

Take two or three grapefruit sections and mince them.  Using a spatula, gently fold these into the frosting.  Put the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.  Garnish with grapefruit sections and serve.


1 – Do yourself a favor and opt for the ruby red grapefruit juice and sections.  Normal grapefruit is fine, though ruby red is extraordinary.

2 – Likewise, use Meyer lemons if you can get them.  As Meyers are a lemon-tangerine hybrid, their mild sweetness makes them a perfect accompanyment to grapefruit.

3 – Just what did you think I meant?


20 thoughts on “The Citrus Will Remember

    1. Drip, drip, drip…

      Patient is the water. It makes a canyon of a mountain, and a Gourmet of a Poet.

      A year ago, who would’ve thought you’d be offering clever insights about food and cooking? Thus, the journey begins…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I like that, Rachel! Witty and wonderfully descriptive.

        Our baker may smile for many reasons. Anticipation of that first delightful bite is the most obvious among them.

        Perhaps satisfaction at seeing what all that work – 72,000 folds (only slightly off the mark) – made possible. Could be, even, happiness at avoiding one of those infamous press gangs forced to make arancini.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Tamara!

      Actually, I was aware for years of the grapefruit cake the (original) Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood made famous, though it occurred to me only within the last couple months to try making cupcakes with the recipe. It worked, believe it or not, and now you no longer need a trip to L.A. to sample them!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Of course there is the Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios at Disney World… they serve some kind of grapefruit cake… a knock-off from the original I suppose. I’m actually not a fan of grapefruit so I can’t say anything about it specifically but grapefruit lovers do seem to like it.

    Swapping out the grapefruit for any other kind of fruit would be easy peasy although the cream cheese frosting must stay! Rumor has it that this was supposed to be a healthy dessert alternative… just because of the grapefruit. 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a bunch, JoAnn – particularly for appreciating the dessert’s overall structure, despite not caring for the featured ingredient.

      Absolutely, any other citrus would be superb here. For that matter, so would most fruit with a pronounced sweet-tart duality, such as pineapple.

      As for Hollywood Studios, their grapefruit cake is much more than a knockoff; it’s a continuation. As the original Brown Derby was a fixture in classic Hollywood, why not resurrect its signature dessert? Of course, I got the recipe from the KTLA (L.A.’s PBS affiliate) website., and they were trying to replicate a dessert that made its mark in old-time Hollywood.

      The last time I was at Disney, as a child, Hollywood Studios didn’t exist yet. When I go, I definitely want to hit the Brown Derby, if for no other reason than to compare its grapefruit cake to one I baked!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Somehow, citrus goes very well with sunshine. Thank you for the vivid image in my head now. You are right about citrus being everywhere in CA, now. I have been enjoying tangerines from a neighbors tree, oranges from our own little tree, and pomelos from Costco. Great in salads too. 🙂
    P.s, I manually looked you up. Not going to depend on updates from now on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Greatly appreciate that, Angela! Wise move, the manual thing. Indeed, that’s how I keep up with your site, as I never received email notifications of your posts.

      As for citrus going well with sunshine, I’ll do you one better than that – citrus IS sunshine. How can you glory in even one exhilarating bite and reach any other conclusion?

      You have an orange tree too? No way! One lifelong memory I have of our time in Huntington Beach is of picking oranges from the tree in our back yard. My goodness, even the county is Orange. Now that’s a state that values its citrus!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Merci, Mar!

      Would you believe I didn’t like grapefruit until I was an adult? My grandparents retired to Florida, and they had a small grapefruit tree in their front yard. I approached the fruit cautiously at first, but the flavor resurrected my taste buds.

      Ever since, I’ve looked for recipes that would recreate that first rapturous bite. This one, I think, comes close.

      Actually, it comes from a dessert enjoyed at a legendary restaurant in old Hollywood, the Brown Derby. Though the restaurant has been closed for years, stories of its extraordinary Grapefruit Cake survive, hence the recipe.

      Lucky for us, Mar, now (mid-winter) is the grapefruit’s peak season. Enjoy!


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