Tucked into a nondescript Bainbridge Street storefront 30 some odd yards east of Malcolm X Boulevard in Bed-Stuy, Doc’s Cake Shop is a sweet Southern breeze in dessert form. From the door, one is greeted with the syrupy fragrance of a Southern grandmother’s kitchen. This is to be expected, as its eponymous owner (Darell Darwood, but he goes by Doc) learned to bake at the ends of his Savannah-raised grandmother’s apron strings in her Bed-Stuy kitchen.
Doc grew up in the same building that his bakery now fills with intoxicating aromas. His grandfather bought the building in 1965 and it came to Doc a few years ago. His grandmother, Joyce, taught him to feed people with love and honesty, using recipes she learned in Savannah. His very devout family practiced fasting for religious reasons, some lasting 21 days. When the fasts ended, an array of delicious dishes filled their home, none of which made more of an impact on Doc than Joyce’s banana pudding, the first dessert he ever learned to cook.
His approach to food is simple: Feed people with love and stay true to your roots. When he first started selling dessert out of his house at age 25, he distributed free banana pudding to the teachers of PS-21—the school he attended and at which his mother taught—in Champagne flutes with encouraging messages. After two years filling growing catering orders from his home kitchen, he opened the first-floor shop that one can visit today. He hasn’t lost his dedication to the community, as Doc’s regularly provides fundraising fare for the kids, and he has brought on staff, with plans to expand.
He uses his grandmother’s recipes, with minor tweaks here and there, save one. Her yellow cake recipe is not to be trifled with and is replicated rigidly, no substitutions allowed. “Baking,” says Doc, “is my way of telling those stories and keeping the flavors of my childhood alive.” Growing up with family of Jamaican and Southern descent meant a constant flood of big flavors. Oxtails and curry were just as common as collard greens and macaroni and cheese. The robust memories of the tastes and smells of his upbringing are his inspiration for preserving the classics, even the obscure. Hummingbird cake, that ancient Southern monolith, is on the menu here because that’s what his grandmother cooked. Rarely is it found outside the homes of spry octogenarian bakers anymore, even down South, although it has lately mounted something of a comeback.
A few items stand out. The German Chocolate Cake (named for its use of American baker Samuel German’s proprietary dark baking chocolate, despite apocryphal culinary mythology), another Southern classic, is a uniquely successful rendering of the original. This is not the stodgy, clunky potluck fare you know. Doc’s German Chocolate Cake is a fudgy, not-too-sweet symphony of textures and flavors—the shredded coconut, toasted pecans and semisweet chocolate a synergistic dervish, each making the others more robust.
The banana pudding is also revelatory, a study in carefully balanced contradictions: It is both light and dense, subtle and deeply flavorful. There is a brightness which both surprises and reinforces the expected flavor profiles, causing each element to sing on its own, but in perfect harmony.
Doc’s German Chocolate Cake
Yield: 1 double-layer or triple-layer cake
For the cake:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks room temperature)
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
For the coconut pecan filling/topping:
3 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar or brown sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ⅓ cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray the bottoms and sides of round cake pans (3 8-inch or 2 9-inch) with cooking spray. Cut rounds of cooking parchment paper (3 8-inch or 2 9-inch). Line bottoms of pans with the paper.
In a medium bowl, stir the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt until mixed; set aside.
In another medium bowl, beat 2 cups sugar and 1 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy; set aside.
On medium speed, beat 1 egg yolk at a time into the sugar mixture until mixed. On low speed, beat in the melted cocoa mixture and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Still on low speed, beat in ½ of the flour mixture just until smooth, then beat in ½ of the buttermilk just until smooth. Repeat beating in flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk just until smooth.
In a small bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until beaten egg whites form stiff peaks when beaters are lifted.
Add egg whites to the batter; to fold in, use a rubber spatula to cut down vertically through the batter, then slide the spatula across the bottom of the bowl and up the side, turning batter over; rotate the bowl ¼ turn, and repeat this down-across-up motion; continue folding until batter and egg whites are blended.
Pour batter into pans; use a rubber spatula to scrape batter from bowl, spread batter evenly in pans and smooth top of batter. (If batter is not divided evenly, spoon batter from one pan to another.)
Bake 8-inch pans 35 to 40 minutes, 9-inch pans 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes.
To remove cake from pan, invert onto cooling rack, then invert right-side up on second cooling rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour.
For the filling/topping:
In a 2-quart saucepan, stir the 3 egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, ½ cup butter, the evaporated milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla until well mixed. Cook over medium heat about 12 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and bubbly. Stir in the coconut and pecans. Cool about 30 minutes, beating occasionally with a spoon, until mixture is spreadable.
Place 1 cake layer, rounded-side down, on a cake plate; using a metal spatula, spread ⅓ of the filling over the layer. Add second layer, rounded-side down (if doing 2 layers, rounded-side up); spread with ⅓ of the filling. Add third layer (if applicable), rounded-side up; spread with remaining filling, leaving side of cake unfrosted.
Store cake covered in the refrigerator.
Doc’s Cake Shop (a/k/a Doc D’s Southern Desserts)
214 Bainbridge Street (Bed-Stuy)
Brooklyn, NY 11233
(Tues–Sat noon–9pm, Sun 1–9pm, closed Mon)