In movies, we get a thrill learning about when Spiderman first felt the tingle of that spidey-sense, or when Indiana Jones first donned that tattered old hat.
When it comes to food, however, the origin of certain dishes, recipes or traditions can be muddy or completely lost to time. (I was reminded of this while researching the origin of the term “trinity,” as it refers to onions, bell pepper and celery.)
But that’s not the case with one very popular cake in New Orleans: The Whole Foods Berry Chantilly Cake.
This superhero confection was born right here in New Orleans, on Magazine Street. The cloud of a cake filled with fresh berries turns up at New Orleans weddings as well as birthday, debutante, graduation and retirement parties. It’s a go-to for bridal and baby showers, too.
Visit the Whole Foods website and you’ll read this: “Berry Chantilly(r) Cake [note the registered trademark!] first made its debut nearly 13 years ago in our Arabella Station store in New Orleans. One of our talented bakery team members whipped up the cake based on her grandmother’s recipe, and in no time it became a local favorite.”
Within a year or two, Whole Foods stores throughout the South and Southwest added it to their bakery menus. Now it is made at Whole Foods Markets across the United States.
When she left Whole Foods, Conrad became bakery director for Rouses Markets, which now has more than 50 stores. There, she re-created a version of the popular cake, calling it a Berry Gentilly Lace Cake and making it with Rouses’ white almond cake, rather than the yellow cake used at Whole Foods. (You can find a recipe for a make-at-home, two-layer version at Rouses Market’s website.)
“Rouses’ white almond cake is really delicious,” she said. “When I had the choice of using the white almond or yellow cake, I stuck with the white almond.”
Besides, she said, “people in New Orleans love almond,” she said. “It’s definitely an iconic thing in New Orleans. You don’t see (almond cake) everywhere.”
Now, Conrad owns her own business with partner Steve Walkup and at Bywater Bakery, which opened right around King’s Day in 2017, she continues to make versions of the cake she created on Magazine Street.
Imagine that delicious creamy white icing between layers of chocolate cake, with fresh sliced strawberries draped with a generous pour of ganache. She also makes the cake in coconut, fresh lemon and passionfruit flavors.
“Everybody adds a little twist on it,” she said, noting that the cake has taken on a life of its own, showing up in other grocery stores and bakeries throughout the South. “That’s what’s great about food. Everybody puts their own personal stamp on it.”
Conrad is more than OK with her cake being adapted by other bakers. Recipes are not protected intellectual property or trademarked, nor should they be, she said.
“It’s cool. I feel like I’ve had a real impact,” Conrad said. She’s honored that people enjoy the cake so much that they make it the centerpiece for major life events.
When folks find out she created it, they often ask to have their photos taken with her or bow down in mock homage. (I saw this happen while I was interviewing her for this story.)
That makes the modest baker grin with pride.
If you want to make the cake at home, you can use your favorite yellow or white cake mix or recipe. Add a 1/4 teaspoon or so of almond extract to give it that New Orleans flavor.
If you’re going to use Conrad’s cake recipe, however, invest in an inexpensive kitchen scale to ensure that you get it just right. This recipe is written by weight, not volume. It makes one 8-inch white almond cake. The cake pan should be at least 2 inches deep. The cake is then sliced in half to make two layers, or into thirds to make three layers.(Conrad, Rouses Markets and Whole Foods make the cake by cutting two 8-inch cakes in half and then using three of those layers to make one tall cake.) The icing recipe below makes enough to generously fill and cover one cake.
This finished Chantilly cake is best if allowed to sit in the refrigerator overnight or for at least six hours. Cut it earlier and you risk crumbling.
At Bywater Bakery, Conrad no longer brushes her berries with apricot glaze, which is what makes them shiny like the ones you see in bakeries and stores. “I like this rustic look now,” she said. If you want to make a glaze, simply use your favorite apricot jam and add a splash or two of water until it is thin enough to paint onto berries.
The smooth or decorative finishing is up to the individual baker. Conrad uses a pastry bag fitted with a leaf-shape tip to pipe the stiff Chantilly cream up the sides of the cake, creating a lovely pattern.
“A lot of time people will call it a Chantilly Lace cake, so I like something light and frilly on it,” she said.
Bywater Bakery Berry Chantilly Cake
Makes 1 cake
1/2 cup each whole strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries
Makes 1 8-inch round
15 ounces all-purpose flour
1-1/2 ounces cornstarch
1/8 ounce salt
1/2 ounce baking powder
11 ounces sugar
8 ounces butter
7 ounces egg whites, about 7 egg whites
12 ounces milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, or to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder in large bowl.
In bowl of mixer, combine sugar and butter. Whip until fluffy and light. With mixer on low to medium speed, gradually add egg whites until incorporated. With mixer on medium, slowly add milk until fully incorporated. Add almond flavoring to taste.
Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in bowl, adding about 1/3 at a time until each portion is fully incorporated.
Prepare a 2-inch-deep (or deeper) 8-inch cake pan by spraying with cooking spray. Then place a circle of parchment paper on the bottom. Spray parchment lightly. Pour batter into cake pan.
Bake cake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cake should be just golden on top and spring back when gently pressed.
Allow cake to cool completely before assembling.
Makes enough for a two- or three-layer 8-inch round cake
1 pound mascarpone
1 pound cream cheese
1 pound powdered sugar
2 pounds (or 1 quart) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, or to taste
Chill mixing bowl in refrigerator, whether using hand or standing mixer. Keep all ingredients chilled in refrigerator until ready to use.
If using a stand mixer, fit it with paddle. When bowl is chilled, add cream cheese and powdered sugar to bowl and mix until well blended, ensuring there are no lumps. Scrape down sides of bowl.
Add mascarpone and mix until fully combined. Scrape down sides of bowl. Then, slowly add whipping cream at low speed, stopping and scraping down sides of the bowl as needed, until all is added. Add almond extract.
Fit mixer with whisk attachment. The mixture will be very loose at this point. Whip mixture at medium-high speed until ribbons begin to form in the cream. Turn mixer to high and watch closely, mixing just until icing is the consistency of whipped cream or mousse. Do not over-whip. Mixture should stand in peaks on a spoon or spatula.
Keep chilled until ready to use.
- This recipe calls for equal amounts of mascarpone, cream cheese and powdered sugar to two parts heavy cream. The recipe can easily be adjusted to make a larger amount as along as these proportions are maintained, Conrad said.
- Have too much Chantilly cream? Place leftovers in an airtight bowl. Then, when ready use, place back in chilled mixer bowl and re-whip with whisk attachment until consistency of whipped cream or mousse again.
Makes 1/2 cup
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup sugar
Combine water and sugar over low flame. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator.
Note: Simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar, with the sugar dissolved into the water. It’s a great to keep on hand for use in tea, coffee and recipes. For this cake, feel free to add a dash of almond, lemon or orange extract to the simple syrup.
To assemble cake:
Clean berries, removing stems and leaves from strawberries. Drain well and set aside.
Slice cake layers in half. Place cake layer on surface top side down, exposing the sliced side. Sprinkle with simple syrup to moisten. (Do not douse). Then, using a spatula — an off-set spatula works best — place a generous amount of icing on top and spread until it is about the same height or thickness of the cake layer.
Cover Chantilly cream evenly with berries, ensuring a layer of berries covers the surface and that fruit goes all the way to the edge of the cake layer.
Add second cake layer, with sliced side exposed, and repeat, adding simple syrup, thick layer of Chantilly cream and even layer of berries.
Top with final, third layer, sliced side up. Sprinkle with simple syrup.
Cover the entire cake with Chantilly cream. Do one coat to completely cover the cake, the so-called crumb coat. Then, go back and add more Chantilly cream to decorate. (Conrad uses a pastry bag fitted with leaf-shape tip to pipe up the sides, but it’s up to you as to whether you want a smooth or frilly-looking cake.)
Add fresh berries to the top. Then, refrigerate at least six hours or, preferably, overnight before serving.