Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations

Nancie McDermott’s Southern Cakes gathers some of the South’s most well-known delights: pristine fluffy coconut cakes, deliciously oozy jelly cakes, red velvet cake, pineapple upside-down cake, Mississippi mud, all the way to that towering confection, Lady Baltimore cake, rich with raisins, figs, pecans and brandy. Along the way, she shares plenty of stories of the origins of the various recipes, many from family and friends or from various regional cookbooks.

There are numerous variations on pound cakes (classic, chocolate, marble molasses, brown sugar, cream cheese, blue ribbon, bourbon, sweet potato) that are easy to whip together; these are perfect for impromptu afternoon teas or to give as gifts. There are light and fluffy coffee cakes, oatmeal cake, and date-nut cake. I also loved the addition of “ethnic” baking recipes such as a Russian Jewish babka (yeast bread), a tres leches cake (a traditional Hispanic favorite that blends milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk), a Rosh Hashanah honey cake and a Passover torte that are perhaps not as quickly associated with Southern desserts.

Also included are heirloom and antique recipes such as a tomato soup cake, Ozark pudding, and a cake recipe dating from 1898. I loved some of the more offbeat creations such as chocolate mayonnaise cake, pumpkin-raisin cake, a “Japanese” fruitcake, and the divine fig cake and pear bread.

Finally, a chapter on icings rounds out the cakes, with recipes for seven-minute frosting, cream cheese, browned butter, chocolate fudge, classic boiled, and never-fail chocolate icings, a caramel glaze, and an easy lemon curd (which is super-expensive if you buy it at a specialty store).

The ingredients are ones that you probably already have in your pantry (except for the Southern staple of self-rising flour, perhaps), and the instructions are very easy to follow (they’re broken down by paragraph, with the first line of each printed in an easy-to-read red and a less-easy to read light blue). The text runs on the small side, which might be harder to read for older readers. In the back are a bibliography, a selection of sources online, and a conversion chart.

This is a nice addition to your baking library if you love to whip up frosted layer cakes or you’re looking for some lighter ideas perfect for brunch or tea (the pound cakes and coffee cakes). It’s easy to use, and Nancie lists many intriguing Southern cookbooks if you’re interested in learning more about the cuisine of a particular region.

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