The Massive Atomic Cake Is A Sweet Staple Of Chicago's South Side

If you've ever paid a visit to Chicago's South Side, perhaps you've taken a peek into a local bakery window and noticed one pastry you don't quite recognize. This layered cake concoction will most likely be covered by homemade whipped cream and look just as delectable as it does ginormous. In fact, the Chicago Tribune said the cake is so tall it often "defines gravity." It's called the Atomic Cake. While the history of the Atomic Cake is debatable and there are as many variations as there are South Side bakers — although bananas seem to be a constant ingredient – it's become a Chicago South Side staple, attracting residents and tourists alike.

"It's our most popular cake and we've been making it for as long as we can remember," said Weber's Bakery, a South Side institution since the 1930s in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood of Chicago, in an Instagram post that also boasts plenty of comments from Atomic Cake fans declaring how wonderful and tasty they find the cake.

Where did the Atomic Cake come from?

There is no verified history of the Atomic Cake, and everyone's stories about where it really came from and who invented it are rightfully questioned. The origins — the original baker who created it and just why it's actually called an Atomic Cake — are all basically mysteries. Is it called Atomic because of its sheer size? Is it because the ingredients such as chocolate, banana, and strawberry will most certainly provide a taste explosion in your mouth? Apparently, some bakeries prefer to call it a bomb cake. But one thing's for sure: The cake is most definitely a product of Chicago's South Side.

One somewhat definitive theory regarding the history of the Atomic Cake states that it was invented by a baker named George Kremm in the 1940s or 1950s during the Atomic Age. While the cake may be attributed to Kremm, the answer as to which bakery it can be credited to is a little trickier. Kremm allegedly invented the cake when he was a baker at Calumet Bakery, but he brought it with him when he opened his own bakery, Liberty Bakery. Therefore, both bakeries have laid claim to inventing the Atomic Cake.

How is the Atomic Cake made?

It appears as if every Chicago South Side bakery has its own variation on the Atomic Cake, but some ingredients and components seem to be pretty constant across the board: multiple layers of different kinds of cakes; the incorporation of bananas in some shape or form, whether it be a banana cake recipe or sliced bananas; and usually the cake is covered in whipped cream frosting or sometimes buttercream frosting.

La Petite Pastry, a bakery that served Chicago's Southwest side for 55 years made the cake with banana cake, chocolate cake, and yellow cake with layers of Bavarian cream, chocolate fudge, and strawberry glaze between the cake parts. Weber's Bakery, on the other hand, makes its Atomic Cake — they call it by another name: the Banana Split Torte, or BST — out of two layers of banana cake and one of chocolate cake with custard, bananas, and strawberries in between, all covered in whipped cream (via Instagram). No matter how it's made, one thing's for sure: You can't buy Atomic Cake by the slice. If you've got a hankering, you'll have to buy the whole cake. This is because the fresh bananas will brown if the cake is sliced and not eaten immediately.

Where can you get an Atomic Cake?

If you're looking for an Atomic Cake for an upcoming celebration or purely just to try it out, your best bet is to head to Chicago's South Side, where the cake hails from. "It's a Chicago thing," said Kim Goebel, former president of La Petite Pastry. In fact, Chicagoans as close as the North Side may have no idea what you're talking about if you mention an "Atomic Cake" to them. So, head to the South Side and pay a visit to Calumet Bakery or Weber's Bakery, where they're bound to have the cake, or search out another area bakery to snag an Atomic Cake. It's likely at some bakeries you can even request one based on what ingredients you'd like, whether it be banana, chocolate, strawberry, or other flavors.

Despite being born on Chicago's South Side, the concept of the Atomic Cake has been slowly spreading to other parts of the country, such as C's Cake & Coffee House in Alabama and Lisa's Rum Cake in Arizona, but both bakeries give a nod to Chicago in their Instagram captions of pics of their cakes by including #chicagoatomiccake.