Plus, get a discount on their famous caramel concoction!
While the most eye-opening parts of Katie’s book Going There were no doubt the one-of-a-kind analysis of the media industry and Katie’s honest admissions and touching stories, the most drool-worthy moment of her memoir had nothing to do with her experiences, relationships, or career. No, it had to do with a cake. A caramel cake, to be exact.
If you have a sweet tooth, you may have dog-eared a page in chapter 75. The chapter is about her father’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, and starts off with a sweet story about his 90th birthday. Katie hosted a big bash in the Hamptons, and since Katie’s dad, John, was from Georgia, she made sure to have all the Southern foods he loved, including honey-baked ham, fried chicken, cheese grits, and biscuits. But it’s the dessert we haven’t stopped thinking about: a seven-layer caramel cake from Caroline’s Cakes in Annapolis — “caramel being my dad’s favorite,” she writes in the book.
If you’re anything like us, you underlined that part of the book and immediately googled the bakery wondering how you could get your hands on this cake. Luckily, Katie caught up with Richard, whose mom Caroline Ragsdale Reutter founded the bakery, to get the scoop on caramel cake-making — and how to get it if you don’t live near the famed bakery.
Katie: Richard, how did the business start?
Richard: Mom first served our now famous 7-Layer Caramel cake at my christening in 1982. People went wild for the cake and mom would often jump back in the kitchen and make several upon request. These cakes would be left on the joggling board on my parents’ front porch for local pickups, however, this was done on a very small scale. Because of how delicate the caramel recipe is, I believe that mom was only able to make about eight cakes per day in our home kitchen, so I’m not sure you could really call it a business at this point. That all changed in 2000 when mom received a phone call from somebody who had tried her cake and wanted to send them as a corporate gift. “How many would you like?” mom asked. “2,000.” came the reply. For those of you who were lucky enough to have known Caroline, it will come as no surprise that she loved a challenge and wasn’t afraid of hard work, so this was just the “aha” moment she needed to realize that the idea of Caroline’s Cakes could become a reality. I remember helping package that first order in the garage and basement of our home when I was home on breaks. For me, the stressful energy and excitement were awesome to be around and it was amazing to watch mom pull together and lead a team.
What are the challenges of not only making the cakes but mailing them so they get delivered in one piece? (Well, a whole cake might be one piece for me!)
Consistency is key for all of our recipes. We don’t cut corners, we cut cakes! All of our recipes are, and always will be, made the same way that many remember making them in their kitchens with their parents and grandparents. Our caramel recipe, in particular, takes all day to make and, although there are a variety of caramel recipes that could be made faster, they come up short on the nostalgia and fond memories and traditions associated with caramel from Caroline’s Cakes.
We ship cakes nationwide, which can be tricky. We are helped by the fact that our cakes can be frozen and refrozen for up to size months, so all of our cakes are shipped on dry ice. People eat with their eyes first, so we want the cakes to look as amazing as they taste whether you’re picking them up from us in Spartanburg, SC, or if you’re having it delivered to your apartment in New York. There is a lot invested in our packaging as well. I enjoy seeing our red boxes fill up the trucks and hope that people get excited when they arrive home and see one on their doorsteps, but we also want our packages to stand out to our partners at UPS so they take extra special care of them during transit. Mom also designed and patented the cooler that each cake is shipped in. It holds the cake tin securely in place and allows for the dry ice to sit in a cavity below the cake to keep it cool until it arrives.
Even with all of our preparation, things can happen and we take a lot of pride in our ability to think creatively to take care of our customers. I realize that our cakes are for specific events like birthdays and weddings or holidays, so it’s very important that they arrive on time. Thanksgiving isn’t on Friday, so if a shipping delay means that we need to send another cake just in case it doesn’t arrive on time, we’re going to do what it takes to take care of our cake community.
Also, I think it’s important to note that we are a nut-free bakery.
How many employees do you have?
Most of the year we have about 20 team members between our kitchen, phone bank, and shipping department. During the holidays that number goes up as high as 40 or 50. It’s a lot of fun to see how excited our team gets as the holiday orders start to come in and the phones start ringing off the hook. It’s not uncommon for me to race around the bakery in an elf costume or for the kitchen team to wear their elf hats. I imagine the bakery is pretty close to what Santa’s workshop is like.
Why did the business move back to South Carolina, where your mom grew up?
Mom was born in Charleston and grew up in Lake City, South Carolina. We spent a lot of holidays here and since caramel is a traditional Southern treat, we saw our customer base grow in the southeast. Moving to South Carolina allowed us to grow the business and reduced the time in transit for a majority of our customers. We love the Annapolis, Maryland community and their support is and always has been an important part of the Caroline’s Cakes story, but the move to South Carolina has been an important part of our story too.
What are your most popular cakes?
Our 7-Layer Caramel cake is a showstopper — the BEST, truly. After that, we have so many other amazing flavors that it can be hard to choose from. Our Coconut Cloud cake is fantastic as are our Southern Chocolate and Red Velvet cakes. I recently enjoyed a slice of our Carrot Caramel Delight cake, which has four layers of carrot cake that are midfield with caramel and then iced with cream cheese icing. Recently we began offering Cake Bites, which allow customers to have a slightly smaller portion and try some of our cake flavors before taking the leap on a whole cake. Salted Caramel, Pink Champagne, and Chocolate Peppermint have been customer favorites so far this holiday season.
I know you also sell delicious pimento cheese, another Southern favorite. (My cousins from Alabama used to eat pimento cheese sandwiches on top of peanut butter and jelly…yuck!) I do love your pimento cheese. What else do you sell?
Almost all of the food that we sell was served during Caroline’s childhood. The pimento cheese is no exception. My grandfather owned a charcoal company called Embers Charcoal and he would often host oyster roasts and barbecues for his customers. They would cook a whole pig dressed in pepper and vinegar sauce, marinated coleslaw, baked beans, and Brunswick stew. All these foods bring back memories of those parties and time spent with friends and family, so by offering them to our customers I hope they bring back wonderful memories for them as well.
Want to try these delicious cakes for yourself? Enter our exclusive discount code, KC10, to order something delicious from Caroline’s.