The Hollywood Brown Derby’s Famous Grapefruit Cake

February 28, 2012 (Last Updated: March 29, 2020)
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Happy 3rd birthday to my beautiful blog!! Time sure flies when you’re having fun. I wanted to bake something special in honor of this occasion. Something old school and maybe even glamorous. Something that reminds me of classic Hollywood (the Oscars were just a couple days ago, though they paled in comparison to past years). There’s nothing more “classic Hollywood” than the Brown Derby.

When I think of the Brown Derby, I think of Lucy aka Lucille Ball, the queen of comedy. I recall the hilarious episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy, Ethel, and Fred head to lunch at the famous Hollywood hangout of the stars. She basically stalks William Holden, who sits at the adjacent booth and orders a Cobb Salad, an original invention of the Brown Derby. She later accidentally causes a waiter to hit him in the face with a pie, in true Lucy fashion.

Although for many years the Hollywood Brown Derby was known as a celebrity mecca, featured so prominently in this classic episode of one of my favorite shows ever, it burned down in the late 80’s. I never had the privilege of dining there, but there’s still hope.

At Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, you can actually dine at a replica of the Brown Derby. I haven’t been to Disney World since I was very young, but I hope to return one day soon! And maybe while I’m there I will stop by the Hollywood Brown Derby and feel like a star.

Until then, I can live vicariously through a couple recipes I have from the Hollywood Brown Derby in a Disney cookbook I own. The book contains a recipe for the original Cobb salad, supposedly invented by the owner Bob Cobb while throwing together a midnight snack, as well as a recipe for the famous grapefruit cake. For over 5 years I’ve had this cookbook and have been eyeing the grapefruit cake recipe. I can’t understand why it’s taken me so long to make it, but alas, the day finally came.

I made some adjustments, replacing the one pound can of grapefruit segments for a couple of fresh pink grapefruits. I also replaced the lemon zest in the cake, and the lemon zest and juice in the frosting with fresh grapefruit zest and juice. Now THAT’s a grapefruit cake.

It’s quite delicate and lightly sweet, with just a touch of grapefruit in the actual cake, it’s not overwhelming. The frosting is a fairly thin layer (which is fine by me, as I don’t care for overly frosted cakes) of tangy cream cheese laced with even more grapefruit juice and zest. On it’s own, it’s pretty luscious, but paired with the fluffy cake and some juicy pink segments of grapefruit, it’s a perfect balance.

I love the tart juiciness of the grapefruit paired with the simple sponge cake and cream cheese frosting. I also perpetually use the reduced fat cream cheese also known as Neufchatel for pretty much all of my cream cheese baking needs, and I find it to be a solid replacement with reduced guilt.

Hollywood Brown Derby grapefruit cake

The Hollywood Brown Derby’s Grapefruit Cake

Prep Time 50 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 20 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 514 kcal



  • 2 large grapefruits


  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 eggs separated (at room temperature)
  • 3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grapefruit zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar


  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon grapefruit juice
  • 1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar sifted
  • Yellow food coloring optional


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan and line with a parchment circle. Lightly grease the parchment and set the pan aside.
  • Start by zesting and then segmenting the grapefruits. Reserve the zest for later in a small bowl covered with a damp piece of paper towel to keep it from drying out. Cut off the top of bottom of a grapefruit and stand it up on one of the cut edges on a cutting board. Use your knife to carefully cut off all of the rind moving from top to bottom in strips, keeping with the natural curve of the fruit. Carefully cut in between each membrane to remove grapefruit segments. Put removed segments in a strainer set over a bowl to collect juices. When all segments are removed, and only a juicy mass of membrane is left, squeeze the remaining juice from the membranes into the same bowl over which the grapefruit is draining. This fresh juice will be strained and used in the cake and frosting later. Repeat with the remaining grapefruit.
  • To make the cake, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into mixing bowl. Make a well in center of dry ingredients.
  • In a separate bowl add the water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice, and zest. Beat until smooth. Then add the wet ingredients to the well in the center of the dry ingredients and beat until just mixed. Do not over beat.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until whites are stiff but not dry.
  • Gradually fold the egg whites into the cake batter, folding gently with a rubber spatula until just blended, but do no over mix.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched with a finger. Invert pan on a wire rack until cool (If the pan slides off by itself, that’s fine, but if not, just leave the pan on until the cake is cool). If still in the pan, run a spatula around the edge of cake. Carefully remove from pan and carefully peel off the parchment paper circle from the bottom of the cake. With a serrated knife, gently cut the cake in half to form two layers.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on high speed until smooth and fluffy. Add the grapefruit juice and zest. Gradually blend in confectioners’ sugar and beat until well blended. Add food coloring, if desired.
  • Invert the cake so the top of the cake is on the bottom and the smoother bottom is now the top. Spread cream cheese frosting on top of the first half of the cake to make the filling. Top with the grapefruit sections, saving the 8 prettiest pieces for the top. Cover with the second layer of the cake (with the flat bottom facing up) and frost the top and sides. Garnish with the remaining grapefruit sections and serve.

Notes & Nutrition

Adapted from Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs
Servings 8.0 * calories 514 * Total Fat 29 g * Saturated Fat 14 g * Monounsaturated Fat 2 g * Polyunsaturated Fat 5 g * Trans Fat 0 g * Cholesterol 129 mg * Sodium 408 mg * Potassium 167 mg * Total Carbohydrate 58 g * Dietary Fiber 2 g * Sugars 42 g * Protein 8 g
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*

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  • Reply
    Faye Newsom
    March 4, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Do you have the recipe for the rolls in your Disney cookbook from the brown derby.

    • Reply
      March 4, 2020 at 1:25 pm

      The recipe for the rolls is not included in that book, unfortunately. Just the grapefruit cake and the Cobb salad. Sorry 🙁 Try reaching out to Disney directly to see if they can send you the recipe!

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