If you live in the San Antonio area long enough, you’ll come to know that Big Red has seeped into the culinary fabric of the city in a big way. It’s easy to see why. In addition to its pleasant vanilla flavor, it’s bright red color and over-the-top level of caffeine make it a genuine eye-opener on several levels.
Needless to say, Big Red has been adapted for uses beyond merely drinking with barbacoa on weekend mornings.
One way is this Big Red Cake, the recipe for which I found in the 1991 “Market Trail Heritage Cookbook,” a collection from a number of cities in and around San Antonio, including Hondo, Castroville, D’Hanis, Pearsall, Devine, Somerset and more. I knew the book was a treasure when I saw this recipe from someone named Thelma Ramirez, who has combined a number of favorites, including the ever-popular poke cake, into one outrageous treat.
It’s not just a poke cake. There’s a layer of pudding on top, then it’s capped off with Cool Whip and finally fresh fruit. (That makes it healthy, right?)
I made a few variations to the original when I tried it. I made the box cake with melted butter instead of oil, milk instead of water, an added egg and a splash of vanilla, all of which helped create a more homemade richness to the cake mix. I also used blueberries instead of strawberries on top, because it’s the Fourth of July weekend and I wanted a red, white and blue cake to help celebrate.
Big Red Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 (6-ounce) box strawberry-flavored gelatin
12 ounces Big Red, cold
1 (3.4-ounce) box instant vanilla pudding
1 (8-ounce) tub Cool Whip
Fresh strawberries or blueberries
Prepare cake mix as directed and bake in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Let cool.
Mix the strawberry gelatin with 1 cup of hot water and the cold Big Red. Poke holes in the cake and pour the gelatin mixture evenly over the cake. Pour the entire mixture over the top. The cake will eventually absorb all of the liquid. Let it set for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the vanilla pudding according to the directions on the box and spread evenly over the cake. (If you are making this ahead, cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
When you’re ready to serve, spread the Cool Whip over the top and garnish with fresh strawberries. If you want a red, white and blue look, use blueberries on top.
Makes 1 cake.
Adapted from Thelma Ramirez/”Market Trail Heritage Cookbook”