Q: My father is a native Chicagoan. Someone once asked me where, exactly, he grew up. I asked Dad and he replied, "Tell them I grew up on the corner of Kostner and Van Buren...and then watch them recoil in horror."
I think the intersection no longer exists, but somewhere around there (I think) was a bakery called Dressel's. They made a cake that was white or yellow and involved strawberries. I think there was some kind of custard filling in the middle. Dad liked those cakes. A lot. He never asks anyone for anything. And in my 42 years, I've never heard him complain about anything except pain, once, while he was in the hospital. But every year he requests "real birthday cake."
According to him, there is only one kind of birthday cake on the whole freaking planet and it was the Dressel's cake. He is 70 and I don't know how many birthdays we have left, so I'm going out on a limb and writing to people who might know. I'd like to get it for him, if there is any way. ... Is anyone making this cake? Or is there anyone with a recipe who could be bribed into making it or selling the recipe?
—Kelly Wilson, Chagrin Falls, Ohio
A: The intersection is still there in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, but I'm afraid the Dressel's cake you are looking for is also a thing of the past — and it's apparently going to stay that way. I don't know of anyone who is making or selling a re-creation of the cake. (Readers, let me know if you do.) And Dan Dressel, for one, isn't talking.
"The whip cream formula was never revealed,'' Dressel wrote in a recent email. "My dad and two employees, who are deceased, were the only ones who knew all the ingredients.
"I suppose some of the items could be duplicated in the home, but we will never know since we do not provide information on ingredients,'' he added. "There are few local bakeries that have tried to duplicate the Chocolate Whipped Cream Cake but have not come close."
That chocolate fudge whipped cream cake was Dressel's most famous item. The cake was also made in strawberry and banana, says Monica Kass Rogers of the Lost Recipes Found blog.
The Daley Question ran a recipe for a Dressel-style chocolate fudge whipped cream cake back on May 15, 2012. The recipe was a collaboration between Kass and Heidi Hedeker, associate professor and pastry chef instructor at Kendall College.
Dressel said that cake was "not quite the same" as the original because of the whipped cream.
You could, if you want, get the chocolate fudge whipped cream cake recipe from Rogers' blog (lostrecipesfound.com) and start making your own substitutions to create a white or yellow cake, then work up some sort of strawberry flavored filling. Or, you could tell your dad, gently and kindly, that you tried but failed in finding that cake for him. Then wheel out whatever cake he likes second-best.
Take comfort in this one fact: Memories and taste buds change over the years; not everything we adored eating once will be as delicious today because nostalgia tends to burnish flavor, making dishes seem better than they really were.
Do you have a question about food or drink? Email Bill Daley at: email@example.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.