Except for the caramel petit fours at the old Seessel's grocery store bakery, the first actual caramel cake I ate was at Folk's Folly Prime Steak House. I used to get a free 9-inch cake with my dinner on my birthday. It always followed one of those thick, buttery steaks.
You can still get those caramel cakes at Folk's Folly, but they're not free anymore. You have to special order them. The restaurant continues to feature free birthday desserts, but now you choose from the dessert menu.
The free caramel cakes were for people who had Folk's First credit cards, said the restaurant's general manager, Diane Kauker. The late restaurant owner Humphrey Folk came up with the credit cards, in-house accounts based on points. You got a certain number of points for how many times you visited the restaurant or how much you spent. If you were a Folk's First member, you got a free birthday cake. And you got free balloons attached to your chair.
They did away with the in-house credit card in 2003 when Folk decided it wasn't cost effective, Kauker said. When the credit card went away, so did the free caramel cakes. But people still wanted them, so the restaurant continued to make them for people who wanted to special order one maybe for a "Saturday morning coffee cake," Kauker said. The cakes originally sold for $12, but now they cost $16.
The cakes actually are made of a doctored-up Pillsbury yellow cake mix, said Folk's Folly executive chef Javier Lopez. But, literally, the "icing on the cake" is the frosting — a delicious caramel icing made from scratch.
Back in the day, family members were going to use canned frosting for the cakes, but Beverly Kimbrough, who was the restaurant's pastry chef, said she had a recipe, recalled her sister-in-law Terry Martin, the restaurant's retail sales manager.
I called Kimbrough, who told me the recipe came from her mother, the late Susie Baptist. She believed it was passed down in the family "for a long time."
What makes the frosting so good is the way it's made "because it's boiled," Kimbrough said. "When it makes that certain bubble, you take it off; when it sticks to the spoon."
Then you put it in the mixer. "Let it whip, whip, whip until it becomes creamy."
As for the ingredients, Kimbrough said, "That's a secret."
Folk's Folly Prime Steak House is at 551 S. Mendenhall, (901) 762-8200.