Submitted by Karl Breckenridge
I stole today’s tale from myself, following a piece in a national mag about folks cooped up at home as we all are and re-learning the joy of cooking and sewing and, receiving a phone call, “Where’s that story of the Harolds Club cake?”
This is too easy; enjoy! (And lemme know how your cake comes out.)
About 20 years ago – and I’m damned if I can find my file about it now, imagine that – a reader pleaded for the recipe for Harolds Club’s banana nut cream cake. I was able to locate the head bakery chef for Harolds, then retired, and communicate with him through his daughter, who was fluent in his native Italian. We all talked. And echoing ad-man Tom Wilson’s 1949 edict to Harold Smith, I’m not using a possessive apostrophe in “Harolds.”
He chuckled. I was not the first, he said. But, there was a huge problem with utilizing Harolds’ process for baking the banana cakes, which he recalled as their hottest-selling effort in the house, in private home parties, office parties, and even following its sale to other local restaurants – Eugene’s at the south end of Reno and Les Lerude’s Wigwam Cafe a block west of Harolds are two I remember.
Moving right along…He went on to explain that the basic ingredient of the cakes that the bakery used was a mix they bought through a food broker that came in a five-gallon tin. And contained neither bananas nor nuts. To that mixture he added on a daily basis a couple dozen eggs, a few gallons of milk and a bunch of other stuff, put it into a huge mixing machine and then ladled the resulting concoction into 24 baking tins, each about 22 inches by 22 inches, four inches deep, which then went into an oven that made the street lights go dim when he turned it on, and baked the tins for a period of time that he couldn’t remember which was OK by me.
When they were done, they were sent for icing and decorating to the clients’ wishes – Happy Birthday, Happy Wedding, Happy Divorce, Happy Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Happy Retirement, Happy Baby Shower or whatever else the buyer was happy about. Ten went across the alley the night that Harrah’s opened the hotel tower and Harolds turned off their floodlights forever, but I’ve already written about that.
Now – let’s address the friend’s question: How do we make a reasonable household-sized cake, like Harolds banana nut cream cake?
The best in the biz have attempted to scale down the recipe to a single, small cake, he recalled, and wound up with a dish of viscous glop or a burned-out, charred, vulcanized inedible hunk rivaling a moon rock. The stuff that comes in the five-gallon tins does not do well when reduced to a household cake tin. If you can find any to buy, which you can’t.
Ergo, a word I once promised never to again scribe, our chief bakery chef who started with the Roaring Camp in 1948 and knows whereof he speaks, recommends doing what he does in retirement: he goes to Raley’s and buys a package of Betty Crocker banana cake mix, follows the instructions to the letter, and never lets on how he got the dessert!
And that’s our contribution today to This is Reno in the keeping-thee-and-me-somewhat-sane-during-the-hunker-down-at-home effort. Meet y’all back here tomorrow. Be safe huh?
Karl Breckenridge is slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally and loves to yak it up with friends…now sitting six feet apart.
Read more from Karl Breckenridge
Karl shares the origins of Herb Caen’s ace researcher, Etaoin Shrdlu, which may or may not be a real name.
Karl looks back to a time when shouting mnemonics to classmates was frowned upon, and there were few enough cabinet offices to have a sensible mnemonic.
Karl is home baking, or at least dreaming of, Harolds Club’s famous banana nut cream cake.
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