Dolly Varden Cake

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

Dolly Varden cake, a layer cake in the shape of a doll, inspires recollections of childhood whimsy. It has a long history within popular culture. Dolly Varden first appeared as a character in Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty (1842). Described as a pretty, charming coquette, Dolly inspired fanciful portraits of her dressed in a cherry mantle and straw hat with red ribbons. All types of dedications to her followed, including flowered fabrics, parasols, paper dolls, dances, an amusing song, and even an iridescent trout. In the 1870s a fashion craze swept through London and New York, with Harper’s Bazaar featuring “Dolly Varden Costumes”—flowered dresses with wide, bustled skirts.