Canasta Cake

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Created in the 1930s by two Uruguayans—one an architect and the other an attorney,  canasta came to the U.S. in 1948 and soon rivaled bridge as one of America’s favorite card games.  In the ’50s, canasta clatches were the rage. And in Chicago? This quadruple-chocolate canasta cake was the hostess-with-the most-est treat to have on hand.

Originally created in the early 1950s by the Charles Fingerhut bakery, which operated for 82 years at Cermak and Central, the canasta cake eventually migrated to other Chicago area bakeries that—like Fingerhut’s—were part of a retail bakers idea-exchange group called the Baker’s Dozen. (The group still meets today.) While I was not able to reach Herb Fingerhut for comment in California, at least one Baker’s Dozen member, third-generation baker Michael Weber of Weber’s Bakery on Chicago’s Southwest side–still makes the canasta cake, and was willing to share the recipe. Two 8-inch square chocolate layers, with chocolate buttercream filling, chocolate fudge frosting and milk-chocolate jimmies trimming the sides, the canasta cake is built on the premise that you can never get too much chocolate. The original is a high-volume, production cake recipe, using professional baking ingredients such as nulomoline (a type of invert sugar) and chocolate flavoring, plus non-home-baker methods.

Our version adapts that, using a more-readily-available invert sugar (corn syrup), whole milk instead of powdered-plus-water, a little buttermilk for tenderness, and plenty of cocoa. The chocolate buttercream filling and garnish Weber uses is a recipe handed down from Daniel Hedeker, who was another of the Bakers Dozen. Interestingly, the ingredients for the original canasta cake, very closely resemble another production cake Lost Recipes Found reduced to home-baker proportions last year from Max Spoth’s 1930’s bakers manual, Best Wishes for Your Success, A Reference Work for Bakers.

Once you’ve got this cake assembled, give it a little chill in the fridge to set up. That will give you time to get out the canasta decks and make the coffee (!) let us know how that all goes. Cake tastes best eaten the same day you make it.

 

Makes one, two-layer, 8-inch square cake

Canasta Cake Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cane sugar
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups cane sugar
  • 1 stick softened unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp shortening
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp each, salt and baking powder

Chocolate Fudge Frosting Ingredients

  • 1, 3.5 ounce bar of Lindt Bittersweet Swiss chocolate
  • 2, 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 5 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Chocolate Buttercream Filling and Garnish Ingredients

  • 1 and ¾ sticks (14 Tbsp) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate jimmies

 

Instructions

  1. Make cake: In a medium-sized pot, heat 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp corn syrup to boiling–this will happen quickly. Set aside.
  2. Combine cocoa powder with vegetable oil and stir until smooth. Stir chocolate mixture into sweetened milk mixture.
  3. Cream together 1 1/2 cups sugar with softened butter and shortening until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Add buttermilk. (Do not worry if this curdles the mixture–it will sort itself out once you add the dry ingredients.)
  4. Heat oven to 375. Spray two 8-inch-square pans with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add dry ingredients alternately with the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans. Tap pans to ensure bubbles escape. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cakes on wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert layers onto racks to cool completely.
  5. Trim off any “dome” on each layer to ensure layers are level.
  6. Make chocolate buttercream filling:In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy. Melt chocolate over double boiler and cool to lukewarm. Add vanilla to creamed butter mixture. Fold in chocolate mixture with a spatula, or at low speed. Cool slightly.
  7. Make chocolate fudge frosting: Melt butter and chocolates together at 50% power on microwave, or, in double boiler. Cool slightly. In bowl of standing mixer, combine powdered sugar with milk and vanilla. Add chocolate mixture and whisk until spreading consistency.
  8. Frost cake: Cover bottom layer with buttercream filling. Place the rest of the buttercream in a pastry decoration tube and set aside. Place top layer on cake; cover top and sides with chocolate fudge frosting. Garnish sides of cakes with milk chocolate jimmies. Garnish top of cake with buttercream rosettes or squiggles.

4 thoughts on “Canasta Cake

  1. You may contact me at homeboy industries for the low down on how the “canasta cake” was created by my grandparents in the 1950′s. Mike gave a great formula to make the canasta cake and believe it or not, I am now teaching young men and women how to make and we use the original canasta cake formula in California. Thanks, Herb Fingerhut

  2. I bought Canasta Cakes for years the last couple of decades at Weber Bakery. I left the Chicago area about ten years ago, but the Canasta cake I used to buy had a delicious white filling, not chocolate. Anyway, this is the best cake ever invented. Thanks for the historical information too. I grew up around Central and Cermak.

    • Cool! Chocolate cake with delicious white filling makes me think of the SuzyQs we used to sneak down to the corner store to buy, hahaha! (Of course, a packaged snack cake comes nowhere close to the flavor of fresh-baked from a bakery or home kitchen!) Happy to know there are variations!

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