Cover Cakes of Christmas Past
A tradition is born when we put this high-rising family recipe from Sissy Nash and her daughter Cathy Nash Cary of Louisville on the cover. The magazine literally flies off the newsstand, and editor John Floyd—ever able to spot a successful trend—decides to repeat the experiment the following year. It is such a success that The Big White Cake becomes a Southern Living hallmark.
A heavenly host of haloed shortbread cookies (a production in their own right) seem to be holding a prayer service over this truly delicious cake. Sadly, the recipe doesn’t come with instructions on how to disassemble and slice the cake.
The marbled layers seemed like a good idea at the time, but to get picture-perfect peppermint swirls, we bake and frost 27 layers.
- Recipe: Red Velvet Peppermint Cake
Then-test kitchen staffer Jan Moon concocts a star-shaped beauty—coconut layers filled with lush coconut-macadamia filling—that takes an engineering degree to construct. We pat ourselves on the back until the angry letters start arriving insisting that the 5-pointed star is Satanic. Oops!
John Floyd has his momma’s divinity on his mind, and thinks it will make a great cake frosting. While the food staff loves divinity as much as any Southerner, we’re aware that it’s tricky to make. That doesn’t stop us from swathing a 4-layer sour cream cake in a sugary frosting that mimics the old-fashioned candy.
Never fearing too much of a good thing, we merge two holiday favorites, Ambrosia and Italian Cream Cake to create this show-stopping confection. Despite the fact you have to juice four pounds of oranges for the filling (whew!), it remains a reader favorite.
After fielding a suggestion from John Floyd for a 12-layer Twelve Days of Christmas cake (complete with 10 cookie lords a-leaping, 8 maids a-milking, etc. that would have taken readers months to make), we opt for the Twelve Cakes of Christmas, each starting with rich, delicate chocolate cake batter.
In a bid to give readers great value for the money, Mary Allen Perry (encouraged by John Floyd) develops a sour cream cake batter with five different flavor variations that can be baked in six different pan sizes! A Chocolate-Red Velvet layer cake and a fluted cake make the cover with miniature gift-wrapped Praline-Pecan Cakes.
In a bid to capture the magic of the first Big White Cake, we return to the classic combination of coconut cake with lemon filling. While not as flashy as many of our cover cakes, readers love its classic simplicity and “just like grandma used to make” nostalgic appearance.
Besides having the longest name ever, this bundt cake has a creative, colorful garnish to make it cover-worthy. While we thought the shards of sugared candy were pretty, readers mistook them for glass shards, and the calls poured in.
Readers have told us over and over that they like the convenience of cake mixes, but when we doctored a mix for the revered cover cake, we received a barrage of phone calls and emails. How dare we take a shortcut? What was the world coming to when the Southern Living Christmas cake was made from a mix? Lesson learned.
How much chocolate ganache is too much? After some discussion (“You think it’s too much filling?” “No, it’s perfect!”), we decided that in our book, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate anything. The fruit garnish is beautiful, but the real star is the rich filling sandwiched between moist chocolate layers.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how Japanese fruitcake became such a huge holiday hit in the fifties, or why it was called that in the first place. We decide to cash in on its retro charm with a fresh, delicious version of the traditional by Test Kitchen pro Pam Lolley.
For the 16th anniversary of the Big White Cake, we hold a contest for readers to submit cake recipes. We figure it’s time to give y’all a shot at the glory (and take ourselves out of the hot seat). Senior Food Editor Mary Allen Perry gallantly wades through 800+ entries narrowing them to a few dozen. We sample up to 12 cakes a day for weeks, putting ourselves into sugar comas. But our tired tastebuds perk right up when we taste Lynn Brown’s holiday-perfect confection.