The name says it all.
Caroline Reutter's scrumptious caramel cake is a taste that is
keeping the traditions and memories of the South alive. The recipe
for this seven-layer delicacy was passed down through Caroline's
family, as it was in many Southern families, and is as much a
part of her Charleston, S.C., heritage as magnolia blossoms and
While food and entertaining are at the center of Southern hospitality,
Caroline never expected to make cooking into a business---her
background is in design and decorating. "I certainly didn't see
myself doing this," she says. It was the occasion of her youngest
son's christening 21 years ago that started the ball rolling,
when Caroline served her caramel cake for dessert. Clearly, what
evolved from there is not only a thriving gourmet gift business
but also a means of connecting people to each other and to some
of their most cherished memories.
Faithful customer Paul McGaughy of Beaumont, Texas, enjoyed "good
Southern cooking and an incredible caramel cake" as a boy growing
up in Mississippi. "I was telling my wife one day that I've just
got a sweet tooth, and I'm wishing for some caramel cake like
we used to get in Tupelo," he says. His wife went searching on
the Internet and found Caroline. "I picked up the phone and called
her on a Saturday night," he recalls. "I told her I was 64 years
old and hadn't had this cake for decades, and I wondered if hers
was close to it." Caroline assured McGaughy that her cake was
made from an old Southern recipe. McGaughy ordered a cake and
says, "It's just 100 percent what I remembered as my grandmother's
cake. It brought back a lot of great memories of dad and mom and
grandmother and Tupelo, Miss. We'll probably send $300-$500 worth
of it to our friends. We don't want them to miss this before they
die!" Of Caroline, he says, "She glows. Caroline is such a delightful
person. She just radiates love and compassion and sincerity and
a desire to make people happy."
Caroline notes that her cake can be frozen, thawed and re-frozen
up to six months and can be enjoyed either cold or at room temperature.
The cake is shipped frozen to retain freshness. When the frozen
ones come out, there is no difference in taste or consistency.
Customers have called Caroline to say, "I can get 200 slices out
of your cake. I go to the freezer every night with our sharpest
knife and I take a sliver and that's my bedtime snack." Or, "My
breakfast every morning is a hot cup of coffee and a piece of
frozen caramel cake." Then there were the two men who called at
11:30 one night to say, "Caroline, I just got your cake today.
That's the best thing I have ever tasted. I have eaten the whole
thing, and I want another one!" Caroline responded, "You've eaten
the whole thing? What do you want me to do, call 911?"
The extraordinary caramel cake takes the better part of a day
to make and, according to Caroline, there is only one right way
to do it. The caramel is the tricky part. "Sugar is just an animal,"
Caroline says, "and if you don't treat it right at certain stages,
it turns on you. Sugar always wants to return to its natural state
and what you're trying to do is keep it in another state. If one
molecule or grain turns, they all turn---like a domino effect."
Perhaps the largest order Caroline ever filled was from a company
in Florida that wanted 2,000 cakes shipped within three days after
Thanksgiving. "We got the order in April," Caroline recalls. "I
was sitting at my kitchen table planning my garden, and the phone
rang. They asked me if I could do it, and I said, 'yeah,' and
when I got off the phone, I said, 'Time to incorporate!' I have
not stopped running since. I have customers who call at Christmas
and order 10, 40, 57, 64. Because my business is a gourmet/gift
food business, my volume increases at Christmas, so I go from
four employees to 30 for the last six weeks of the year. At that
time of year, I'm in the kitchen all of the time."
Caroline insists that service be courteous and personal. She tells
her employees, "If you come to work and you're not in a good mood,
when you answer the phone, be sure you have a smile on your face
because people will hear that smile and that's part of the reason
people call. Yes," she says, "I have an extraordinary caramel
cake; there's no doubt about it. But people call Caroline for
other reasons. They know how we're going to make them feel. It's
not about the product. It's about people."
One of Caroline's personal treasures is a file folder filled with
notes from customers which she has collected over the years. There
are notes from famous people like Bob and Dolores Hope, Billy
Dee Williams and Marshall Field.
Caroline will be moving her business into a storefront at Jemal's
Bay 50 on Route 50. She will continue to offer her caramel cake,
chocolate cake (seven yellow layers with chocolate icing between
and on top) and the five-layer white coconut cake, and she plans
to add some new variations. Also in the plan---hopefully in time
for Christmas but certainly first on the agenda for January---is
a Southern pecan pie. Caroline is in the process of developing
and perfecting the recipe. Caroline's Cakes can be accessed on
the web at www.carolinescakes.com.
Callaghan is a freelance writer and native Marylander who
enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.