The Pound Cake Chronicles

October 12, 2009 Current Commentary Comments Off
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My co-workers sometimes have trouble seeing the connection between personal finance, which is the mandate of this Web site, and the topics I choose to write about. So, today, I’m going to spell it out:

Money often makes people anxious. Anxious people often turn to food for comfort. Today’s topic is comfort food. To be specific, pound cake.

To be even more specific, I recently acquired seven Sara Lee Chocolate Swirl frozen pound cakes. For Baby Boomers, this is the Holy Grail of store-bought cake. Actually finding one is like finding a unicorn. Or Elvis. Or a presidential candidate who does not claim he can balance the budget just by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.

If you know pound cake, you know the basic Sara Lee yellow pound cake. It is the one labeled “all butter,” which has always left me wondering how you can make a pound cake using nothing but butter. My kids used to frost and decorate these plain-vanilla pound cakes for arts and crafts projects. It kept them from tearing up the house on rainy days.

But my kids never saw the Sara Lee chocolate swirl cake. That’s because, sometime after the mid-1970s when I left for college, these cakes simply vanished from supermarket freezer cases. Nobody seems to know where they went. Maybe global warming forced all of America’s frozen chocolate swirl cakes to move to Canada.

As I traveled about the country during the past 20 or 30 years, I kept an eagle eye on the freezer case in every grocery I visited. No chocolate swirl ever appeared.

Finally, I decided to try the Internet. Sometimes it takes me a while to do the obvious. In my defense, I have had a lot on my plate. Just in the past six months my wife and I discovered Nip/Tuck, which is entering its sixth season, and Dexter, which just started its fourth. That’s an awful lot of gory television to catch up on. We also had a dot-com bubble, a global financial crisis and some horrific train wrecks by the New York Mets. So it’s been a busy decade.

I figured an online search would prove one of two things. Either those chocolate swirl cakes had gone the way of the dodo bird and Howdy Doody, or there is some corner of the world where they live happily ever after.

Instead, I came up with one vendor — just one — who advertised real, live Sara Lee Chocolate Swirl cakes for sale. If I lived in Manhattan below 34th Street, maxdelivery.com said it could have my cakes to my door in one hour or less. But I don’t live in Manhattan, on either side of 34th Street.

No problem. This Internet-only grocery welcomes the public to come to its warehouse, which sits behind a steel door in a low-rise building on White Street, just north of Manhattan’s Financial District.

So, on a recent Saturday morning, I went to the vendor’s Web site, fired up the on-line chat feature, and asked Miguel whether there really, truly were chocolate swirl cakes in stock. We have “some,” he said. My wife and I hopped in the car, and an hour later a helpful clerk (“Oh, you’re the guy who asked about the pound cakes!”) told me they had seven, at $4.99 apiece. I took them all.

The clerk had no idea why his store, and his alone, seemed to carry these items. My associate Eliza Snelling called Sara Lee headquarters in suburban Chicago. A customer service rep told her that some Kings Super Markets in the New York area sometimes have them. A Kings spokeswoman could not confirm this.

Eliza also called Publix, a prominent supermarket chain in Florida and nearby states, to ask why their cases are bereft of chocolate swirl cakes. But the Publix representative passed the buck, saying this is a matter handled by managers of individual stores. Apparently, none of them understands pound cake.

The cakes are pretty much as I remember them. Maybe a little less chocolate, though the chocolate that is swirled into the pound cake tastes the same. At 11.75 ounces, the cakes could be a tad smaller than they used to be. But this odd size might be a clue. In the metric system, 11.75 ounces is 333 grams, or one-third of a kilogram. Maybe Sara Lee has diverted our pound cakes to overseas markets. I would call my elected representatives and ask them to look into export controls, but I’m sure the World Trade Organization has rules about pound cake protectionism.

I am not taking any pound cake requests. My seven units are spoken for. Two have been consumed at home, one went to my chocolate-loving mother, and the remaining four will be served to the ever-hungry staff at Palisades Hudson. I consider it part of their professional education.

After all, sometimes we have to deliver some pretty bitter financial news. Bad news always seems to go down better with pound cake.


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