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Miss Hulling's split-layer cakes: A St. Louis favorite

Miss Hulling's split-layer cakes: A St. Louis favorite

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Unlike many historic St. Louis favorite bakery confections lost to time, the iconic split layer cakes from the long-shuttered Miss Hulling’s Bakery live on, and not just in memory. The cakes that defined generations of birthdays, showers, celebrations, dinner parties and personal indulgences are available today through Straub’s Fine Foods.

The recipes for the chocolate and lemon split layer cakes have been one of the most popular reader requests at the Post-Dispatch. The sacrosanct formula has remained a trade secret that cannot be disclosed. Florence Hulling Apted, who died on April 3, 1984, at the age of 92, lives on in the fond memories of many St. Louisans.

Florence Hulling Apted Feb 1967

Mrs. Florence Hulling Apted with a split layer cake, the biggest seller in Miss Hulling's bakeries. Printed in the Post-Dispatch on Feb. 27, 1967.

POST-DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

Florence Hulling moved to St. Louis in 1908 hoping to find work with the telephone company. When she didn’t get hired, she hired out as a private cook, and later worked at Child’s restaurant from 1910 to 1930, when she opened her first restaurant in downtown St. Louis. Her husband, Stephen Apted, soon joined her in the business.

By 1957, Miss Hulling’s restaurants served nearly 8,000 people each day, according to an article in Institutions Magazine. Her grandson, Dan Apted, worked with his grandmother at the 11th and Locust streets location from the time he was a sophomore in high school. He closed the store in 1994.

This story began when subscriber Toby Chod requested the recipe for Miss Hulling’s chocolate split layer cake after she and her husband, Steve, moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. The search illuminated how much people still love these many-layered cakes.

“Our family birthday tradition after we moved to St. Louis was to buy two of Miss Hulling’s split layer cakes, one chocolate and the other lemon,” Toby Chod says. “Everyone got to choose his or her favorite flavor.” Although she buys the cakes when she visits St. Louis, and Straub’s will ship the cakes overnight, she would enjoy the challenge of baking these cakes at home.

At the Apted family events, however, different cakes took center stage. “The split layer was the trademark cake for our cafeterias from back in the '30s. When we had family events, to be totally honest, my dad and my grandmother both liked our carrot cake with cream cheese icing,” he said. “My grandmother ate very, very few sweets. She would just as soon have a little piece of a pear or peach. My dad needed a piece of cake now and then. It was almost standing joke in our family because he would bring home a big decorated cake, and we all wondered what would be inside that cake this time? He was not traditional,” Apted says.

Miss Hulling's

Miss Hulling's lemon Old Fashioned Split Layer cake is sold at Straub's Markets. 

At Straub's, chocolate and lemon are by far the top sellers, Straub's general manager Tim Hollenbach says. These two cakes average seven to eight thin layers of goodness each. The chocolate cake gets encased in a boiled chocolate icing with a rich chocolate ganache filling between each layer. The lemon cake, frosted in a lemon buttercream, boasts a bright lemon filling, similar to lemon curd.

Caramel, strawberry and coconut cakes stand as tall as their counterparts, but with three layers each. Flavored buttercreams frost the caramel and strawberry cakes; sticky marshmallow frosting and coconut flakes top the coconut cake, with coconut custard between the layers.

Miss Hullings feature

Marilynne Bradley captures the 1950s vibe of Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria with its sleek entry, big-shouldered cars and crush of customers from ladies who lunch, office and factory workers, to businessmen, like the gentleman in a fedora. 

“We use the original recipes from Miss Hulling’s through an arrangement with Apted-Hulling,” Hollenbach says. “We pay a royalty on each cake sold, and the recipes are not ours to share. We make these complicated cakes in-house at our bakery with a specially trained staff to maintain the highest quality. Each layer is baked in a full sheet-pan size, filled and layered. Once this is done, we cut each cake.” The cakes, which are then frosted or iced, are picture-perfect loaves, revealing their layered beauty when cut.

The cakes are baked to order and must be ordered 48 hours in advance. Luckily, locals can order and pick up their cakes at Straub’s locations. Locals and out-of-town folks can order online as well. Straub’s freezes, then ships the cakes overnight to ex-pats hungry for the sweet taste and sweeter memories of times shared with friends over cake and conversation.

Connections of St. Louisans to Miss Hulling’s run deep, as evidenced by the high prices paid for the 1969 cookbook, "Miss Hulling’s Favorite Recipes." The cookbooks are so prized by collectors they sell for $125 to $800 at booksellers nationwide.

At the beginning of March, Michelle Barron, owner of the Book House in Maplewood, located a copy in her warehouse. Before we could photograph it, the book sold for $125. “We would be very interested in copies of Miss Hulling’s books,” she said.

Miss Hulling's split layer cakes

Owner Michell Barron at the Book House in Maplewood currently has two copies of" Miss Hulling’s Favorite Recipes" in stock in her warehouse. 

For artist Marilynne Bradley, trips downtown included a stop at Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria. “It was a rare thing when we went downtown, but when we did Miss Hulling’s was the place to go for lunch, and to have that great cafeteria experience,” she says.

She later immortalized the 1950s era at Miss Hulling’s in a lively watercolor that tops the Miss Hulling’s entry on her friend Harley Hammerman’s Lost Tables website.

She continues to document the restaurants of St. Louis, then and now. “I don't know how many restaurant paintings I’ve done — probably over 60, many of which are no longer around,” she says.

For eateries long closed, she consults with her friend Greg Rohmberg, whose far-ranging collections include neon signs and ephemera of St. Louis. Prints of her painting of Miss Hulling’s, and of many other St. Louis landmarks and restaurants, can be found on her website, marilynnebradley.com.

Former Sen. Jean Carnahan also chronicled the relationship of Miss Hulling’s to her city in a lively post on her blog, Good Food St. Louis. “... Sixty-five years after the first restaurant opened, the last of the [Miss Hulling’s] restaurants closed. For many of her culinary fans, it was akin to losing the Rams football team. But all was not lost. Today Straub’s Bakery offers the multi-layered cakes to customers each day. The sweet tradition lives on."

We did find a few other Miss Hulling's recipes in our archives. 

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