In my quest to capture American desserts, I've polled friends and relatives for favorites from their childhoods. Among Michiganders, especially those with Detroit roots, Sanders' Bumpy Cake commands some serious nostalgia points. What is Bumpy Cake? Short answer: addictive. Long answer: a Devil's Food Cake with stripes of sugary buttercream topped with "pourable fudge" frosting. Yes, pourable fudge frosting.
This recipe has been in the works since January. The first step was a little recon to uncover the bumpy history behind this regional treat. The Sanders Confectionery was founded by Fred Sanders in Detroit in 1875. What began as a candy company expanded overtime to include ice cream and soda fountain treats as well as baked goods. One hundred years and three generations later, they had 58 shops in the metro Detroit area.
Serious Eater CityMinx shared this description from her cousin who grew up in Detroit in the 60s: "Sanders was a counter style luncheonette (there are only a few left) who made the best hot fudge cream puffs...Our treat was to go there and have a tuna sandwich and then yummy cream puff. They still sell the hot fudge everywhere and I happen to have a jar in my fridge.
The bumpy cake was a chocolate cake (genoise-like, not too light and not too dense) that had big straight pipings of a whipped white buttercream frosting from end to end of the cake. The cake was then coated in a ganache-like fudge icing. You didn't see the white buttercream since it was covered. The surprise was when you cut into it and found out what the "bumps" were!"
For Detriot-folk, Bumpy Cakes were the stuff of celebrations. Another friend told me, "If you ever went to a baby shower or your grandma's house, there was often a bumpy cake." Alas, the original Sanders lives on only in memory. Sanders was purchased in 2002 by Morley Candy, another Michigan-based candy company. Morley's has been revitalizing the brand, putting Bumpy Cakes back in circulation, and now you can get Bumpy Cakes shipped to you anywhere in the country. Naturally I needed to order one to taste the real deal for myself. The cakes are $9.99, but because of potential frosting-meltage issues, they need to be over-nighted and shipping will cost you around $30 alone. The other catch is they only ship cakes from October to March.
Fortunately you can make a really good facsimile of Sanders' cake at home. How good? I don't want to brag, so I'll let my Michigan-born co-worker do the talking for me. "Wow, Alexandra, the first bite of your cake, and the aroma, it took me back to when I was about 4 years old and we lived in Detroit (within reasonable driving distance to a Sanders Bakery). I definitely did have that cake when I was little, probably a special treat at my grandparents' place. This Detroit native would say you hit the mark with your bumpy cake! Thanks for the scrumptious treat and peeling the years away for a few happy mouthfuls!"
So there you have it. What you have before you is a moist dark chocolate cake topped with sweet, sweet buttercream and a fudgy, almost caramelly chocolate frosting. Though there are three separate components that require freezer cooling to obtain picture perfect results, this cake is well worth the effort. Happy mouthfuls, indeed.
Got a favorite classic American dessert recipe you'd like to see featured here? Email us with the subject: "American Classics."