Every Disney restaurant has some great menu items that keep guests coming back over and over again, but there are some dishes that are actually legendary.
The heyday of the original Brown Derby restaurants was the golden age of Hollywood, when Mary Pickford, Clarke Gable, Spencer Tracy, and the young starlet, Lucille Ball, among others, frequented the lush booths in the hat-shaped buildings. Disney World’s Hollywood Brown Derby is fashioned after the Hollywood Brown Derby on Vine Street (there were three other Brown Derby restaurants as well), and bears an incredible resemblance inside and out. But what I find truly fascinating about the restaurant are the stories it’s keeping alive.
One of my favorites is about Louella Parsons, who worked for William Randolph Hearst and was considered one of the most powerful gossip columnists in Hollywood for many years (to the dismay of her colleague and rival, Hedda Hopper, who often held court on the opposite side of the Derby from Parsons).
One day, Parsons complained to Derby owner Robert Cobb that all of his desserts were too fattening and requested something healthier. Cobb quickly told the chef “to put grapefruit on something, because everyone knows it’s slimming.”
So the chef invented his Grapefruit Cake, a dessert with multiple layers of cream cheese frosting that are anything but slimming, and it’s gone down in the history books along with several other Derby-invented classic recipes.
Have you tasted the Derby’s famous Grapefruit Cake, or have you tried making the recipe? What did you think, and how did it go? Share your thoughts in our comments section below.
For more information, to book online, and for menus at the Disney World Brown Derby, see our Brown Derby Info page.
I’ve had the original at the Hollywood Brown Derby , and LOVED it. tried making it at home . It was good , but just not the same.
Allison, I think Disney has a secret ingredient they put in their food that ensures that our versions at home will never be quite the same as they are in the World… good…but not the SAME. 😉 Thanks for your comment!
Heather I. says
I actually wanted to make this the other week, but got distracted and forgot- oops! Thanks for the reminder 🙂 I really, really want to try the original- maybe on the next Disney trip. Do you think The Brown Derby offers it for carry-out??
Matt Hochberg says
I tried the Grapefruit Cake once because of the rave reviews and didn’t love it honestly, but then again, I’m not a huge fan of grapefruits either. However, if someone wants to go to the trouble of making this recipe, I won’t turn it down without a few (dozen) bites 🙂
Heather — *Reminder* — make it and show us 🙂 And, I’m going to do another whole post about this , but I got an email a few months back from a reader who was able to go to the podium at Brown Derby (during a slow time) and request an order of the grapefruit cake to-go. 🙂
Matt — Notice I didn’t *review* the cake 😉 We didn’t love it either at first, but I’m a huge cream cheese frosting fan, so I fought the good fight and ate a bunch. After the first few bites, it grew on me a bit… I’d probably order it again for the frosting.
Bonnie Brister says
Ah…the secret ingredient is “magic”!!!
I have had it at the restaurant and loved it! Love the Brown Derby…they are so accommodating to picky eaters too. Don’t quote me on this, but I think you can get a slice to go at the bakery next door.
I tried to Grapefruit back in December and LOVED it so much I came home and made it for a Christmas Eve party! My homemade one was very good, but not AS good as the Brown Derby’s.
I too heard that if you ask at Starring Rolls, they can sell you a piece. I will be trying this on Tuesday and find out for sure!
Bonnie — I think you’re right! 🙂 Everything tastes better at WDW.
formrcastmbr — Thanks for the news! Agreed that they’re good with picky eaters; myself included!
Abby — Oh gosh, if you can report back on the grapefruit cake at Starring Rolls, that’d be awesome! Have a great trip!
The fact that there’s cream of tartar in it probably means it’s a really old recipe; strange that they haven’t updated it. I want to make this, but having never tried the one at DHS, I won’t have anything to compare it to. Maybe this means I need to make a research trip to DHS?
Why, yes, Chris, I think that’s exactly what it means… I’m so excited you’re going to be at the parks in October. Really want to say hello!
My wife made this for my birthday this year. Tasted just like the one at Brown Derby. Great memories!
I made it a few years ago and it was good. It didn’t look anything like that one, though!
Steve — Thanks for the review, Steve! Tell your wife she’s welcome over here any time! 😉
Anna — I’ll go check it out on CookieMadness! (Every time I go over there I find something new I want to try!)
Hello everyone from Homestead fl. My son and his family thought this cake was out of this world and asked me to make it at home. Being a baker of cakes and pies in my time i tried it. I followed the recipe to a “T” but it did not come out the way he said it tasted at WDW. Sometimes, when braking down a recipe to a much small cake the math is done on paper not as the taste buds tell us. I would like to tweek this recipe to taste at least close to The Brown Derby cake. Any suggestions? thanks
The Boxing Guru says
Haven’t tried it yet… oh man… does that look AWESOME!
I love this cake , I have had it also at the Brown Derby and going to try to make it also. From what I have read from the reviews, I am wondering if the difference is the “sauce”? They are saying to garnish withgrapefruit, but even in picture it’s more of a grapefruit sauce not pieces of grapefruit , so that is what I am going to try. Hope it works 🙂 either way the cake is good and think it will be an awesome summer time treat.
I’m watching some behind the scenes show (Amusement Eats on Food Network) and they just talked about the WDW Brown Derby. The chef said he was using some kind of Grapefruit Juice Simple Syrup out of a clear squeeze bottle. Hope that helps! They also garnished it with a slice (full, round) of grapefruit.
If you watch that show (Amusement park eats) or something like that. You see that the cake is cut into four thin layers, and first one layer is placed in a spring form pan. The cake is doused with a mixture of fresh grapefruit juice and sugar liquor then it is smeared with the frosting, and onto to the next layer. You repeat this through out, spread the frosting on top with a bit of blood orange syrup. The cake is then refrigerated until it is set (appx 2 hours) it is removed from the spring form pan, and garnished with blood orange syrup and a thin slice of dehydrated grapefruit. Blood orange syrup is the key.
Amy H says
I adore this cake and it gets rave reviews at showers and parties. I first discovered the recipe in the book Butter, Flour, Sugar, Eggs. It’s always more dense than I’d like, but they don’t include water or cream of tartar. Will have to try that. I also have to make two cakes in order to have any height. Thanks for the great post!
I’ve made this cake before, but the BEST way I’ve had this recipe was to make the cake part of it, cube it up and make trifle out of it… It was AMAZING.
Cream of tartar doesn’t make this an “old” recipe. Cream of tartar helps stabilize egg whites when you’re whipping them so they’re less likely to collapse. It’s not a dated ingredient. It actually serves a purpose, even in modern baking.
How can you replace the ‘cake’ flour with ‘regular’ flour? If I can get past that, I’d like to try this as we love to bake and we enjoy grapefruits very much. Thanks
I had it at the Brown Derby and loved it! I’m not a huge grapefruit fan but there was something about it that made me keep eating it 😉
I needed a cake to make for a birthday and this recipe is going to be perfect!
This is my favorite dessert in Disney World.
Becca Porter says
@essie You can find cake flour at any grocery store. It comes in a box, and is usually on the top or bottom shelf on the flour aisle. It is bleached though, and I hate the taste of bleached flour. King Arthur now offers an unbleached cake flour, but it is hard to find.
You can also substitute 3/4 cup bleached flour sifted with 2 tablespoons cornstarch for every cup of cake flour.
( yeah, lots of recipes use cream of tartar.)
Stacey Vetterl says
Ive lived here in Orlando, Fl my whole life. In fact I worked at Hollywood studios when I was in high school, back when it was MGM studios. Ive only heard of this cake recently on foodnetwork. Im dying to give it a shot! Im a annual pass holder, and I go running out at the different parks and resorts a few times a week. Totally gonna pick up a piece after my run. Then try to copy at home w/ the recipe!
Someone wants me to make this cake for them. The only information I don’t see is what size pan this is for. Anyone know? Would an 8″ or 9″ pan be okay?
Rosemary Reno says
I had eaten the Grapefruit Cake at the Brown Derby in Hollywood many times. In fact I was in for lunch one day, and knowing how much I enjoyed the cake, they gave me a whole cake to take back to the studio. I made it a few days ago, but was very disappointed. It didn’t rise, pulled away from the sides of the cake pan and was very dry. I don’t know whether I cooked it too long, or what happened, but it wasn’t as I remembered. I will try again and see if I can determine what I did wrong.
Want to know the secret? 🙂 … The ingredient left out of the cake recipe is the grapefruit glaze! It makes all the difference between a good grapefruit cake and a GREAT grapefruit cake that taste identical to the cake at the Studios. …And it is very simple to make!
A few years ago we discovered the grapefruit cake at the Brown Derby and it quickly became my favorite sweet in all WDW. Three years ago I found the recipe online and my wife used it to make my birthday cake that year. We noticed that the cake didn’t taste the same, like it was missing something. Then it hit us, it was missing the glaze on top. However, the recipe for the glaze was not there. Having a little experience in the kitchen it wasn’t hard to figure out. Here it is…
1 cup of chilled Pink Grapefruit Juice
2 Tablespoons of Powdered Sugar
1 Teaspoon of Cornstarch
Mix ingredients together while juice is cold. >>Make sure all cornstarch is dissolved.<<
Put into sauce pan and heat over medium heat while stirring.
When it starts to heat up the mixture will become transparent and will thicken into a syrupy glaze.
Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled.
Pour this over the top of your Grapefruit Cake and ENJOY!
Epcott Scott – Thanks for the glaze recipe! Do you pour it over each layer, then frost or just over the top? – Thanks again!!
This cake is my husbands favorite WDW dessert, so he asked me to bake it for his birthday today. It was pretty easy to make and so was the frosting. It was a little dry, not sure why but still delicious! I especially loved the frosting!! My husband loved it!!
Cindy Brabon says
I tried this cake at the Brown Derby, twice. Loved it. Tried the recipe at home. The cake was more dense and when I made the frosting it was runny. I had to add more sugar to it to thicken it and eventually some whipped cream. It turned out yummy, but it wasn’t the same. I think I will try Epcot Scott’s glaze.
I made this cake and it was awesome!! I’m not a big grapefruit fan but this was soooooo good. It was easy to make. I had to call on my trusty handsome assistant to cut cake into even layers. But otherwise, it was easy and will be making it again for Easter.
It is a wonder summer cake and will make for a festive Easter desert.
I have had the grapefruit cake several times at the Brown Derby, and I have made it numerous times at home. Love it!! But what us that on top? Obviously it is a slice of grapefruit but what has been done to it? I don’t recall the cake ever being served like that, and this recipe doesn’t call for it. Neither does the recipe that is in one of my Disney cookbooks. Thanks in advance for the info.
Connie — It’s a thinly sliced piece of grapefruit that’s been dehydrated at a very low temp in the oven. It’s technically edible, but mostly for looks. 🙂
I love the Cobb Salad but I have a suggestion: the cheese is VERY strong and when they offer to chop the salad for you the cheese is dispersed throughout the salad. I recommend NOT having them chop the salad with the cheese. Remove the cheese, chop the salad, then lay the cheese on a corner of the top. The problem is that you can get a rather large proportion of cheese to other ingredients while eating.
Toni Hall says
Did we ever find out if you put Epcot Scott’s grapefruit glaze just on the top or in between each layer? I’m planning on putting it in between each layer on top of the frosting. I love this cake; had it first time last month on my first trip to DW!
Toni Hall says
Yes, EpcottScott’s glaze totally necessary…and you can substitute about 1/8 cup Torani Syrup: Blood Orange flavor to the glaze in place of the pink grapefruit juice. I topped the frosting layers with the syrup…absolutely a must for a nice moist and delightfully tangy taste that will recall the Grapefruit Cake you had at DW! Excellent!
Melanie Durham says
Well…..I think all of you have twisted my arm into trying this cake! 😋😁
I’m perfectly fine with that. I do not like grapefruit but I think I will like this cake. It does look delicious. Thank you all for your rave reviews.
What size cake pan do I use? 😬
DFB Gigi says
Hi Lisa! A 9-by-2-inch round cake pan should work just fine.