When Caroline Ragsdale Reutter read Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel The Help, there was one character that stood out to her: the caramel cake. As the owner of Caroline's Cakes, home of the "world's best seven-layer caramel cake," Reutter felt a connection each time the dessert was mentioned. And when she got word that the book would be made into a movie, she knew that her cake had to make a cameo appearance.
Reutter took to the internet to find out everything she could about everyone connected with the film, which follows three very different women who build an unlikely friendship in 1960s Mississippi. She ended up shipping out more than a dozen cakes to people like Chris Columbus, Steven Spielberg, and executives at Dreamworks. Eventually, she hooked up with actress Octavia Spencer via Facebook. Once Spencer, who stars in the film as Minny, tried the cake, she loved it. Reutter then sent her cakes to a major book-signing event at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Miss., which was attended by several of the film's producers and cast members. Not too long after that, Reutter was contacted by someone associated with the film about providing cakes to be used as props. She says you'll see the cake in a pivotal scene in which the maids tell Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, that they'll help her write a book.
The brief movie appearance is just one event in a series of successes that began for Reutter nearly 30 years ago when she served the cake at her son's christening. Friends raved about it, and Reutter discovered a new passion — not for baking, but for sharing her creations with strangers.
"I didn't realize what I was responding to, but I was responding to those few little minutes that we would visit and delight in the cake," Reutter says. "Hearing stories and memories that the cake was bringing back to people, because this is an over-100-year-old, time-honored recipe. The way I make this cake, not many people have the time or patience or know-how to make it like this anymore."
Reutter grew up making the cake — and many other recipes — while visiting her grandmother in Charleston, where she attended Ashley Hall.
"A lot of people did this recipe because wives were always at home, there was always help in the kitchen, and there was time to make it," she says. "It is temperamental, from the ingredients that go into it to how you handle the ingredients to the atmosphere around the pot as the ingredients are cooked and taken through the process." The recipe is a descendant of a doberge torte, which has strong ties to Hungary, France, and New Orleans.
Reutter started making cakes out of a test kitchen in her basement and eventually moved into a larger space in Annapolis, Md. She's in the process of moving her operations back south to Spartanburg. A retail shop will remain in Maryland, and Reutter plans to open a space in Charleston as well. Besides the seven-layer caramel cakes, she sells five other varieties of caramel cakes (like Carrot Caramel Delight and Praline Cake), as well as chocolate, lemon, red velvet, and many other flavors of cakes and cupcakes.
In honor of the premiere of The Help, Reutter is partnering with the Terrace Theatre to serve slices of her cake to movie-goers on Thurs. Aug. 11.
"I would call this event taking it to the seventh layer," Reutter says. "We always say when we hit something big like this that we've taken it to the seventh layer, and that's what we always achieve to do."