The Hollywood Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

May 29, 2020 (Last Updated: July 29, 2020)
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake is a classic dessert that dates back to Hollywood’s heyday. A light grapefruit-infused sponge cake is frosted with cream cheese icing and finished with fresh grapefruit. This citrus cake is available at Disney World‘s restaurant by the same name, but you can make it at home with this recipe!

A slice of grapefruit cake on an antique plate with the full cake in the background

(This recipe was originally published in February 2012, but was updated with new photos and content in 2020).

This Hollywood Brown Derby grapefruit cake is truly a classic! It’s quite delicate and lightly sweet, with just a touch of grapefruit in the actual cake. The frosting is a fairly thin layer of tangy cream cheese with even more grapefruit juice and zest.

On it’s own, the cream cheese frosting is pretty luscious, but paired with the fluffy cake and some juicy pink segments of grapefruit, it’s a perfect balance.

The Hollywood Brown Derby

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.

Lucy basically stalks William Holden. He 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, it burned down in the late 1980’s. If you never had the privilege of dining there, there’s still hope. At Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, you can actually dine at a replica of the Hollywood Brown Derby. I’ve eaten there, and absolutely loved it!

If a trip to Disney isn’t in the plans, you can live vicariously through a couple of their recipes including this grapefruit cake and the original Cobb salad. It was supposedly invented by owner Bob Cobb while throwing together a midnight snack.

Overhead view of retro Brown Derby Grapefruit cake, with grapefruit segments decorating the top

What is chiffon cake?

The classic Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake uses a chiffon cake as its base. Although you may have heard of sponge cake and even genoise (a French sponge cake), chiffon cake is a bit different.

Chiffon cake is a sponge style cake that was invented in America in the 1920’s. It gained popularity from the late 1940’s through the 1960’s. When you think about it that way, it makes sense that this is the style of cake used for this retro grapefruit cake.

A distinction compared to those other two cakes is the use of vegetable oil as the fat. It also requires you to separate the eggs and beat the whites separately. The yolks are mixed into the batter, and then the whites are folded in later. Chiffon cakes also use a bit of commercial leavening, in this case baking powder.

A slice of Hollywood Brown Derby grapefruit cake on an antique plate

How to make the Brown Derby grapefruit cake

I made some adjustments to the recipe from Disney. In this recipe, I replace the one pound can of grapefruit segments for a couple of fresh 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. Here’s how you make it.

Begin by zesting and segmenting your grapefruits. Put the zest in a small bowl and cover with a damp paper towel to keep it from drying out until you need it.

To supreme the grapefruits, first cut off the top of bottom of a grapefruit and stand it up on one of the cut edges on a cutting board (STEP 1).

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 (STEPS 2-3). Carefully cut in between each membrane to remove grapefruit segments (STEPS 4-6).

step by step photos of how to supreme a grapefruit

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.

Next, sift together cake 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 (STEP 1).

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 (STEP 2).

before and after pictures of dry and wet mixture for grapefruit cake, and the mixtures combined

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 (STEP 1). Fold half the beaten egg whites into the batter to help loosen it up (STEPS 2-4). Then fold in the second half of the egg whites until just combined, and no white streaks remain (STEPS 5-6).

step by step photos of how to fold beaten egg whites into cake batter little by little

Pour the batter into the prepared pan (STEP 1) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched with a finger and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (STEP 2). Invert pan on a wire rack until cool.

before and after baking pictures of grapefruit cake in a round cake pan

When the cake is cool carefully remove it from the pan and peel off the parchment paper circle from the bottom of the cake.

How to assemble and decorate it

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 yellow food coloring, if desired (I do not).

With a serrated knife, gently cut the cake in half to form two layers (STEP 1). Do your best. Even if it’s not perfect it will still taste great!

To assemble the cake, invert the cake so the top of the cake is on the bottom and the smoother bottom is now the top. I usually like to arrange pieces of foil or parchment paper around the edges of my cake (between the cake and serving dish) to make for easy cleanup after I finish frosting.

Spread about 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting on top of the first half of the cake to make the filling. Frost the cut side of the other cake half with another 1/4 of the frosting (STEP 2).

Save the 8 prettiest grapefruit segments for topping the cake, and roughly chop the remaining grapefruit. Distribute the chopped grapefruit over the first frosted cake half (STEP 3).

Cover the bottom half (with the grapefruit on it) with the other half frosted-side down. This makes it like a sandwich with frosting on both sides surrounding the grapefruit (STEPS 4-5). The flat, browned bottom of the cake should now be the top.

Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting (STEP 6). Garnish your Hollywood Brown Derby grapefruit cake with the remaining grapefruit sections and serve.

step by step photos of how to assemble and decorate the Hollywood Brown Derby grapefruit cake

If you don’t plan to serve this cake on the day you assemble it, you may store it in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days without greatly impacting the texture. I would still encourage you to serve it the day you make it for the best results.

Other recipes you may like

classic Hollywood Brown Derby grapefruit cake with cream cheese frosting and grapefruit

Have you ever visited the Hollywood Brown Derby at Walt Disney World? Did you try the grapefruit cake? The version they serve seems a bit modified and updated. I’d love to hear what you thought of it. If you try this recipe, don’t forget to leave a rating and comment! Thanks!

A slice of grapefruit cake on an antique plate with the full cake in the background

The Hollywood Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake

Victoria
The Hollywood Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake is a classic dessert that dates back to Hollywood's heyday. A light grapefruit-infused sponge cake is frosted with cream cheese icing and finished with fresh grapefruit. This citrus cake is available at Disney World's restaurant by the same name, but you can make it at home with this recipe!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 50 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 20 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 514 kcal

Ingredients
  

Assembly:

  • 2 large grapefruits

Cake:

  • 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

Frosting:

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

Instructions
 

  • 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 (supremes).
  • 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 (about 1/2 at a time), folding gently with a rubber spatula until just blended, but do not over mix.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched with a finger and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 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 about 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting on top of the first half of the cake to make the filling. Frost the cut side of the other cake half with another 1/4 of the frosting.
  • Save the 8 prettiest grapefruit segments for topping the cake, and roughly chop the remaining grapefruit. Distribute the chopped grapefruit over the first frosted cake half.
  • Cover the bottom half (with the grapefruit on it) with the other half frosted-side down. This makes it like a sandwich with frosting on both sides surrounding the grapefruit. The flat, browned bottom of the cake should now be the top.
  • Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. 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.*

Pin it for Later!

A slice of grapefruit cake on an antique plate with the full cake in the background

3 Comments

  • 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
      Victoria
      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!

  • Reply
    Lucy Reinbold
    August 4, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    5 stars
    This is hands-down one of my most favorite citrus desserts of all time! Amazingly light, crisp and fruity, I request this one regularly!

  • Leave a Reply

    Recipe Rating




    shares