Next up in my little trip into 1980s dessert trends is a cake with a cheeky name. Better Than Sex cake was definitely not a cake I heard of till probably I started collecting vintage recipe boxes. It is definitely a recipe that was passed around. I am amazed though that I have never come across this cake as I was a younging during the height of popularity. Though I guess bringing this cake with its name and all was not the right choice with kids running around.
What ingredients are in Better Than CaIke?
This cake can go by many names. Usually, it is called Better Than Sex Cake but it can also be known as Holy Cow Cake (to give it a more PG name is what some guess) or supposedly Better Than Robert Redford cake. On the subject of Robert Redford and this recipe, I actually never found a recipe by that name. What I did find was a version of this cake sometimes called The Next Best Thing to Robert Redford. This is also unique to a lot of the recipes I talk about on this blog as there are four completely different versions that this cake.
The first is a yellow cake that has first been topped with a layer of crushed pineapple that has been cooked with sugar, then vanilla pudding which is finished with a layer of whipped cream (or whipped topping) that has been mixed with coconut flakes. This and the next variations are the two that appear to be the earliest incarnations.
The next is a yellow cake mix where a box of instant vanilla pudding and sour cream has been added to the batter. Next chocolate chips and sometimes chopped nuts and/or 4 ounces of grated German chocolate are mixed in and after it is baked and cooled the cake is frosted with whatever frosting one desires. Sometimes the cake mix and instant pudding are changed to chocolate in this recipe. (Personally my least favorite of all the variations.)
The third is probably the one that has most endured and that starts with a baked chocolate cake. It is then poked all over with the back of a spoon. First sweetened condensed milk is poured into the holes and then caramel ice cream topping while warm. It is then placed into the fridge to cool. This whole cake is then topped with whipped cream or whipped topping. Lastly chopped Heath bars are sprinkled over the top. Some recipes use Butterfingers instead. This is also the version that is most likely to also be called Holy Cow Cake. (Spoiler this is the recipe that will be including in the post today!)
The fourth cake is the one that usually has the Robert Redford name tied to it. It can be called Better Than Cake but usually, it is called The Next Best Thing to Robert Redford. First flour, butter, and chopped pecans are mixed together and pressed in a pan, and baked. A layer of cream cheese, confectioners sugar, and whipped topping are spread on top of that. Then vanilla pudding and chocolate pudding are mixed together and spread over that. It is then topped with whipped topping and garnished with shaved chocolate.
Who and where was Better Than Cake created?
I can’t really give a who created Better Than Cake but it did start appearing in newspapers in the early 1980s. What I can tell you is how it spread across the country. The epicenter seems to be a June 1981 meeting in St. Louis of newspaper food writers from across the country. This recipe seemed to be passed around between editors. A Pittsburgh paper who posted the recipe said that she got the recipe from a fellow editor at the St. Petersburg Times (Florida) who in turn says she got it from a mutual at the Charlotte Observer (North Carolina). So it should be no surprise that after the conference, it kept getting passed around by the reader word of mouth. Mary Alice Powell wrote in her 1983 food column that this cake recipe proved the “neighbors still exchange recipes over the backyard”.
When was Better Than Cake popular?
Better Than Cakes were a very popular food trend of the 1980s. It was a highly requested item by the readers of the food columns through the 1990s as well as considered a popular recipe submitted to community cookbooks. Though less popular, it is a cake that is still made today.
I am sure the cheeky Better Than Sex name helped color the perception of the dish as it was often referred to as “sinful”. A 1991 article wrote that “it’s sinfully delicious and worth its weight in calories”. Another called the cake a “seductive dessert” while another said it was “”sinful, positively sinful.”
Why should I make Better Than Cake?
The recipe that is going to follow is going to be for the variation with the condensed milk and caramel topping as that is the one that seems to be the most popular. I think the recipe is perfectly described in the 2007 book Cafe Indiana: A Guide to Indiana’s Down-Home Cafes when it is called a “sinful, ooey-gooey German chocolate cake soaked with sweetened condensed milk and topped with caramel ice cream topping, Cool Whip, and chopped Butterfinger candy bars.”
This is another recipe that works well using a box cake mix, canned sweetened condensed milk as well as a jar of caramel and whipped topping. Just like the eclair cake could be brought to a whole other level if one or more of the ingredients were handmade.
Word of Warning: If you do not like VERY sweet desserts then this is not the cake for you.
How do you make Better Than Cake?
Better Than Sex Cake
The popular 1980s Better Than Cake!
- 1 box chocolate cake mix, baked according to box in 13 x 9 pan (or homemade)
- 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 14 oz jar of caramel ice cream topping
- 1 10 oz tub of whipped topping, thawed or 1 cup of heavy cream, whipped
- 3 full size Butterfinger candy bars or Heath bars, chopped into bitesize pieces
- With a back of a spoon or chopstick, poke holes all over the chocolate cake while still warm.
- First pour over the sweetened condensed milk and then the caramel topping. Use a knife to smooth out the top.
- Place in the fridge until cool.
- Frost the top with whipped topping or whipped cream and top with the chopped Butterfingers or Heath Bars.
“America’s Food Fads In Summer of ’82”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 16, 1982.
Anderson, Carol. “Readers Response With ‘Better Than Sex Cake’ Recipes”. The Free Lance-Star. May 29, 1991.
“‘Better Than Sex’ Recipe Takes the Cake in Contest”. Lawerence Journal-World. October 28, 1996.
Byrn, Anne. The Cake Mix Doctor. United States: Rodale, 2003.
Byrn, Anne. A New Take on Cake: 175 Beautiful, Doable Cake Mix Recipes for Bundts, Layers, Slabs, Loaves, Cookies, and More! A Baking Book. United States: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed, 2021.
Cicero, Linda. “Some Folks Claims This Treat is ‘Better Than Sex'”. Star-News. September 6, 1995.
“Enjoy Cake of Lorraine Koenig”. Herald-Journal. July 20, 1988.
Harte, Tom “Hunger For Love”. The Southeast Missourian. February 6, 2002.
“Just Desserts? These Have a Little Extra Zing.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette. July 22, 1981.
Merriman, Woodene. “Herman and Other Fantastic Food Fads of Yesteryear.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 3, 1991.
Montgomery, Mary Liz. “Incidentally”. The Daily Union. July 26, 1983.
Moore, Jessie Oleson. The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America’s Favorite Desserts. United States: Sasquatch Books, 2013.
Onorato, Page H. “Let’s All Eat Our Yummy Cake”. The Dispatch. August 22, 2007.
Powell, Mary Alice. “Cakes Worth the Wait”. Toledo Blade. May 25, 1983.
Sherman, Jamie. The Poke Cake Cookbook: 75 Delicious Cake and Filling Combinations. United States: Page Street Publishing, 2017.
Stuttgen, Joanne Raetz. Cafe Indiana: A Guide to Indiana’s Down-Home Cafes. United States: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007.