The Most Popular Cakes in Southern History
When you think back to the biggest moments in your life—graduations, weddings, birthdays, and even funerals—it's very likely the occasion was marked by a gathering that included a cake. Well, if you're Southern they definitely were. You might remember the types of cakes you loved over the years, but the one you likely didn't partake in was the cake people had in celebration of your birth. The popularity of cake trends interestingly ebbs and flows along with American society and culture. Whether it's the influence of To Kill a Mockingbird or an industrious rum company, it's clear America loves to jump on a bandwagon and have a slice of whatever everyone else is having. Scroll through to see which cake was most of-the-moment the year you were born.
1948: Orange Chiffon Cake
When aptly named Harry Baker introduced his Chiffon Cake recipe, it was dubbed the first “new” type of cake in over 100 years, adding to the already familiar sponge and butter cakes. Baker held on to his secret ingredient (swapping butter for salad oil) until he sold it to General Mills in the late 1940s. In 1948, Betty Crocker’s Orange Chiffon Cake recipe officially debuted in Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, and McCall’s.
1957: German Chocolate Cake
Contrary to what you may have thought, German Chocolate Cake has nothing to do with the country of Germany. In 1957, the Dallas Morning Star published the first known recipe for German’s Chocolate Cake (named after Sam German, who created a baking chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company in the 1850s). The chocolate-coconut confection blew up, as the recipe and photos of the cake spread across the country. Over time, the apostrope-S was dropped off of the name, leading to the famous title as it’s known today.
1960: Lane Cake
The Lane Cake is one of many cakes with deep Southern roots. More than 100 years ago, Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama won the annual baking competition at the Columbus, Georgia county fair with her Prize Cake. Her recipe included a filling of rich custard heavily spiked with bourbon; today it’s often filled with coconut, pecans, and raisins. From its inception, the Lane Cake became an honored Southern baking tradition; however, the rest of the country was introduced to Lane Cake when it was mentioned in 1960’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
1962: Pink Champagne Cake
This airy, sweet cake traces its origins to the west coast, where Hollywood starlets and other hobnobbers spent their evenings drinking, you guessed it, pink champagne. A recipe for Pink Champagne Cake in the Los Angeles Times (including ¾ cup of champagne) remains one of the newspaper’s most requested recipes to this day. There are a few California institutions known for the pretty rose-colored dessert, and it’s understandably a favorite at showers, bachelorette parties, and weddings.
1966: Tunnel of Fudge Cake
Can you imagine a world without Bundt cakes? Until 1966, that was the reality for most. That year, the runner-up in Pillsbury’s annual bake-off was the delightfully named Tunnel of Fudge Cake. The recipe used the heretofore-unpopular Bundt pan to create a delicious cake that had a ring of gooey fudge at the center. Pillsbury received thousands of requests for the recipe—and the pan—almost immediately.
1972: Sock It to Me Cake
As a nod to the catchy refrain in Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (sock-it-to-me, sock-it-to-me, sock-it-to-me), the sketch comedy show Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In” made saying the phrase “Sock It to Me” common vernacular by 1972. And while it’s not quite clear how, this sour cream coffee cake garnered the moniker. The original recipe was based on a Duncan Hines cake mix—and was even printed on the box for years after becoming so popular.
1975: Carrot Cake
Carrot Cakes, in one form or another, have been around for centuries due to the ease of using carrots (and other naturally sweet vegetables) in lieu of sugar. Sometime after World War II—whether it was a result of sugar rationing or the rise of a more health-conscious public—Carrot Cakes made a resurgence and was a favorite both in restaurants and at home. Our best-ever recipe includes coconut, pineapple, and walnuts.
1977: Rum Cake
As was the case with infusing cakes with carrots, the concept of adding rum to cakes was nothing new in the 1970s, but the idea really caught on when Bacardi featured a recipe for Rum Cake in its Bacardi Party Book, which was filled with drink, snack, and dessert recipes that all featured rum as a key ingredient (also in this book: a now classic cocktail, rum and coke). Southern Living’s Baba au Rhum Cake was featured in our January 1975 issue.
1978: Hummingbird Cake
We’ll gladly take the credit for making this one of the most popular cakes of the late 70s (and frankly, for all the years since then). The tropical fruit and nut flavored cake was featured in a 1978 Southern Living, and has continued to be one of the most-requested recipes in our history. The original banana-pineapple-cream cheese combination has since been tweaked and altered in various ways, from a Bundt cake version to one that incorporates white chocolate. They’re all delicious and are sure to be crowd pleasers.
1986: Mississippi Mud Cake
After taking a slight turn for the healthier and simpler in the 70s, the nation got on the path to excess in the 80s. You remember the big hair, bright clothes, and chunky jewelry—but do you remember the over-the-top desserts? Decadence was in, as noted by the surge in dessert recipes with the name “mud” in them. How we tout our Mississippi Mud Cake recipe? Imagine the richest, darkest, most decadent chocolate dessert you’ve ever eaten. Now add some marshmallows, and you’ve got this ultra-rich dessert.
1989: Red Velvet Cake
Recipes for Red Velvet Cake first shot onto the national conscience between the 1940s and 60s, with the heavier marketing of food coloring, creating a more interesting version of a classic Velvet Cake. But the crimson cake truly became a national treasure when it made a can’t-be-missed appearance in 1989’s Steel Magnolias in the form of an armadillo-shaped groom’s cake that Julia Roberts’ and Shirley MacLaine’s characters were simply appalled by, saying it looked like people were cutting into a real animal.
1991: Molten Chocolate Cake
The ubiquitous chocolate cake with a runny, underdone center that’s found a permanent place on the menus of chain restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s actually originated among the most elite of restaurateurs. The famed Jean-Georges Vongerichten accidentally created the dessert in 1987 when he took a chocolate sponge cake out of the oven too early at his Michelin-starred JoJo restaurant in New York. Needless to say, he liked the “mistake,” and added it to the menu. By the early 90s, it had made its way into other several high-end restaurants across the country. In 1997, a recipe for Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes appeared in Joy of Cooking for the first time. (Here’s ours for a Mocha Java version.)
1994: Barbie Birthday Cake
If your mid-90s birthday party didn’t feature at Barbie Birthday Cake, were you even a 90s kid? It’s unclear who first decided to put a doll in a cake, but they were heavily featured on the birthday-party circuit. These cakes were obviously more recognized by their shape than the flavor (which, as far as we can tell, could be anything), featuring a Barbie Doll sticking out of a rounded cake (her “skirt”) that was completely iced over. The dessert became so popular that you could find them in almost any grocery store, but Martha Stewart even created a recipe for it so you could mimic the trend at home.
1997: Coca-Cola Cake
By the 1990s, Coca-Cola Cake was standard fare among Southerners—we’d been using the soda as a sugar alternative in a variety of dishes since it became a staple in our homes. In fact, our famous Cola Cake recipe was included in Southern Living’s first cookbook: 1970’s Our Best Recipes. But it wasn’t until Cracker Barrel added its Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake to its menu in 1997 that the recipe gained true national attention.
So, we might not be exactly living in a post-cake world, but cupcakes have become serious stakeholders in the world of cake-y desserts. Once just the easy answer to children’s birthday parties and classroom treats, cupcakes have become the focus of many a serious baker, and the star of a few TV shows for the ability to experiment with creative flavors and intricate icing jobs on a smaller scale. We might be able to trace their surge in trendiness to a 2000 episode of Sex and the City when Carrie and Miranda sit outside the famous Magnolia Bakery eating cupcakes. You might not have been able to afford Bradshaw’s wardrobe, but you could afford her favorite treat. And people did.