Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quest for a tearoom's famous cake

Recently I mentioned a new teacup I had purchased which originally came from the famous Wanamaker's department store. That set me to thinking about the most famous department store in my own state, the late great Rich's. Years ago I found this vintage knife from Rich's on one of my junkin' expeditions and knew I wanted to save it as a memento of that dear, departed store.

I thought I had eaten at Rich's famous tea room, The Magnolia Room, as a little girl, but my mom said no, she doesn't think so, when I asked her about that recently, and I trust her memory over mine! One thing I know for sure, however, is that my family was a frequent customer of the Rich's Bake Shop, and a recipe that both they and the Rich's tea room were known for is their legendary Rich's Coconut Cake.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had printed what was supposedly "the" recipe years ago, and I dutifully tried making it but it was a dud. It called for fresh coconut and had a gazillion steps, and it just tasted like a dried-out coconut cake. Soooo not worth the effort!

Recently, I saw the AJC had on its website an updated recipe for Rich's Coconut Cake, one developed with the assistance of a gentleman who had actually worked in the Rich's Bake Shop. I made one for Daddy, whose birthday was yesterday. The review? It was fairly tasty and definitely moister than the previous version but merely OK in my book. My dad — who is an expert cake baker himself and makes THE best coconut cake since Rich's — said convincingly that he thought it was "gooood." But I know better. I'm his daughter and he would have said that no matter what! So, my quest for the "real" Rich's Coconut Cake continues. Meanwhile, I've come across another department store tea room recipe for a dish I learned about from Phyllis in Michigan, the famous Maurice Salad once served at J.L. Hudson's Department Store in Detroit. I'll let you know how it turns out!


  1. Good Luck in your recipe search. Do you think that it could have been published in a church or community cookbook?

  2. We went to the Magnolia Room every Christmas and then rode the Pink Pig. My daughter ate her first grilled cheese sandwich there when she was 9 months old. I have so many fond memories of the downtown Rich's!!

  3. Drove from Rome to Atlanta Richs to buy my first prom dress.
    I will ask around the church ex-Atlanta folks about the cake recipe.

  4. I am afraid I can't help you with the recipe but the one you made looks so delicious. Good luck in your search.

  5. Your dad sounds like a special guy!
    Keep looking for that recipe, but my friend, Mary, always says "you can't compete with a memory."

  6. Why are good coconut cakes so hard to duplicate? My husbands grandma made my favorite to date, and she would not write down her recipe. She just used a box mix for the cake, but she made a cooked coconut frosting with coconut and canned milk. I have never been able to make it like hers. Mmmm, it was so good. I sure hope you are able to find that recipe.

  7. I went to the Magnolia Room one time for lunch. It was a wonderful treat. I think I was about 13 years old. I don't remember what I ate but I do remember the hot tea. I don't think I had ever been to a restaurant where they served hot tea before. I did not get out much! I never had the coconut cake (unless it was that day) but have often heard about it ... always spoken of reverently.

  8. Your cake looks delicious, Angela!
    Happy Birthday to your Dad, he sounds so nice - good luck with your quest for the perfect recipe,

  9. Happy Birthday to your Dad. Your cake looks pretty, even if it didn't meet your expectations.

  10. It is so sad that all these department stores are gone. They were such a tradition. Good luck finding Rich's read coconut cake recipe. It seems like there should be a cookbook with department store recipes.

  11. Mmmmm, love coconut cake! Finding that special recipe can be a challenge but always worth the effort.
    I would suggest using a recipe using butter for the cake instead of shortening. As we all know everything is "better with butter." My Mom used butter in her recipe and it was divine.

    Happy Birthday to your sweet Dad.

    Mary Jane

  12. Happy belated birthday to your dad!
    Good luck with the Maurice Salad.
    I know you'll enjoy it. Wish we
    lived close enough to share tea
    and the salad together!


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