Like us on Facebook!


David Lissner
Publisher
 
SEARCH
for restaurants

Chicago ushers in the Atomic Age — and its cake

Atomic Cake from Orland Park Bakery

Atomic Cake from Orland Park Bakery

Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi

In 1942, on a squash court in Hyde Park, Enrico Fermi and his colleagues cooked up an “atomic pile,” a roughly spherical stack of graphite bricks layered with uranium. With this pile, on Dec. 2, the physicists achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, an event that led to the atomic bomb and nuclear energy.

At some point after that, an enterprising Chicago baker dubbed his latest layered creation the “atomic cake.”

The quintessential birthday cake for many South Siders, atomic cake features layers of chocolate, yellow and banana cake interspersed with fudge and fresh strawberry and banana fillings and generous billows of whipped-cream frosting. Most South Side and south suburban bakeries offer versions of the cake, including Fleckenstein’s in Mokena, Orland Park Bakery and Ace Bakery in Bridgeport. It’s a little harder to find on the North Side.

Our efforts to track down who originally baked atomic cake turned up no information, although Kurt Schmitt, president of Deerfields Bakery, recalled that his father adapted the recipe to honor a visit to Chicago from the queen of England in 1959.

“I remember asking my dad that very question some time ago, and he said it had to do with the atom bomb testing back in the ’50s — if you can remember back then everybody was naming stuff, restaurants, etc. after the bomb,” Schmitt said. “I know my dad decided to change it a little and turned it into the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ in honor of the queen coming to Chicago — again back in the ’50s. The idea was that the ladyfingers around the sides and the center jewel (a strawberry) created a cake that looked like the royal crown. Personally, I think that is a nicer version of the atomic cake idea.”

One fan of the cake suggests, “They call it atomic cake because when you cut it, it explodes and falls apart and you have to eat it in a bowl.”