“I’m looking for the recipe for Harolds Club’s banana cake!” emailed my old friend and faithful reader Misha Miller (pictured right).
Misha’s not alone in wishing for this treat of yore when Harolds Club opened a bakery, first for its own restaurants and eventually leading to a take-out bakery business rivaling mighty Rauhut’s Bakery, as the place to go when you wanted to paraphrase Hallmark Cards by serving the very best – at home or business parties. The distinctive pink box they packaged their cakes, cupcakes, pies and other bakery items in told all that the host had let it all out for the occasion.
Harolds Club ruled.
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 the banana cream cake, banana nut cake, banana cake – your choice of appellations. 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.
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.
OK- the time is propitious – I keep getting alarms when I type Harolds Club, wanting me to insert a possessive apostrophe. I thought I fixed that in my spellcheck, but I’ll now honor Reno adman Tom Wilson and leave the little squiggle out, as it has been since 1951.
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 Misha’s question: How do we make a reasonable household-sized cake, like Harolds Banana 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!