'The Help' cake

The Terrace Theatre on James Island is hosting Caroline Ragsdale Reutter and her seven-layer caramel cakes before showings of "The Help" at 7, 7:45 and 9:40 p.m. Thursday in the lobby. Reutter will meet and greet moviegoers and sell caramel cakes by the slice or whole.

A bit of beauty pageant mother came out in Caroline Ragsdale Reutter when she learned the new movie "The Help" was in the works.

Reutter set out to ensure her seven-layer caramel cake would get noticed and become the "star cake" in the film. And with an abundance of Southern charm, she prevailed.

The South Carolina native, who was born in Charleston and grew up in Lake City, is the founder of the acclaimed bakery Caroline's Cakes in Annapolis, Md., where she and her husband have lived since the mid-1970s.

Much of the bakery's reputation is staked on the caramel cake, an old-fashioned version with burnt sugar icing that takes the better part of a day to make.

Reutter says the recipe itself took two years to perfect. "So I think I'm a little crazy. I could not let go until I conquered it, but I did. But Lord, don't make it on a rainy day."

Reutter first served the cake 29 years ago at her son's christening and realized she was on to something. She says an authentic caramel cake evokes a time when "that special recipe" was a badge of honor for women.

The secret lies in the burning

of the sugar, an involved process that she says has been shortchanged in modern-day recipes.

The true flavor "would be like patina is to wood," Reutter says.

"It's a taste that people gravitate toward. It brings back memories; I get this all the time. People say this more than they do in church: 'Omigod.' "

Word of her cake spread and reached a milestone in 1991 when a financial institution ordered 2,000 for the holiday season. Caroline's Cakes now has nearly 120,000 names on its mailing list, including 7,000 in South Carolina.

Reutter, an Ashley Hall graduate, found out that "caramel cake" was mentioned in six times in the novel "The Help" after it was published in 2009. She read the book, listened to the audio and then joined its Facebook fan page.

That's when she discovered a movie was to be made. Reutter sprang into action.

She shipped caramel cakes overnight to the 16 people she determined to be most closely connected to the movie. Then she was friended on Facebook by actress Octavia Spencer, who plays Minnie in the movie.

Reutter next shipped caramel cakes to a book signing of more than 570 people in Greenwood, Miss. The author, movie producers, writers and cast all were in attendance. Her cake got rave reviews.

Finally, she got the call she had been wanting: a prop person asked for eight cakes to be part of the movie.

While the cake isn't specifically credited to Caroline's Cakes, Reutter says she is thrilled just for it being included.

Meanwhile, she is working on a major business expansion in Spartanburg. Manufacturing and shipping will relocate into a 25,000-square-foot building next year. The move not only increases her space tenfold, but the more central location will shorten shipping times.

"And I got to come home," she says.

Reutter, who already is living in the Upstate, plans a retail location there and eventually one in Charleston. Her family also will join her there.