30 Southern Desserts as Iconic as They Are Delicious

Hummingbird Cake 40th Anniversary
Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Imagine being handed the dessert menu from the greatest Southern restaurant in history—one that transcended state lines and generations (and menu item limits). That's this list. We're going through the most storied and most beloved Southern desserts ever made.

These treats are the definition of "Don't mess with a good thing." Especially a good thing that comes covered in sky-high meringue, still left bubbling in a casserole dish, or layered into a spice-filled, pecan-speckled masterpiece. As much as Southerners love their fried chicken and cornbread, we define some of these classic recipes as the ultimate comfort food. You'll recognize them as the desserts your grandmother would make for big occasions and for no particular reason at all, using things like peaches, pecans, buttermilk, and sometimes even mayonnaise. Read on for the South's most famous desserts, and get ready to make a grocery run afterwards for all the ingredients.

01 of 30

German Chocolate Cake

German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting
Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Recipe: German Chocolate Cake

Despite what you may think when reading the name, this cake got its start in Dallas, Texas, in the 1950s. It remains just as popular today and is in the running for the title of the most Southern cake of all time.

02 of 30

Peach Cobbler

Easy Peach Cobbler
Iain Bagwell; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Recipe: Easy Peach Cobbler

For Southerners, making peach cobbler in the summer is like breathing. First, it comes naturally. Second, it's absolutely necessary. The ooey, gooey dish full of sweet, stewed fruit happens to also be mighty easy.

03 of 30

Chocolate Delight

Ouida’s Chocolate Delight
Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Christine Keely

Recipe: Chocolate Delight

We've heard that this chocolate dessert is often referred to as many different names but no matter what you call it we guarantee it will be delightful.

04 of 30

Luscious Lemon Bars

Luscious Lemon Bars
Jennifer Davick; Styling: Kacy Carroll

Recipe: Luscious Lemon Bars

When you attend a shower, tea, or any kind of luncheon in the South, we bet there will be a platter of lemon bars on the table. Plus, they can be made ahead and frozen for up to one month so you can keep them prepared for any last-minute guests.

05 of 30

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
Alison Miksch; Prop styling: Mary Clayton Carl; Food styling: Mary-Claire Britton

Recipe: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

All Southern cooks agree on one thing: Duke's was sent from above. Not only does it bind together our favorite spreads (like pimiento cheese and chicken salad) but it is the secret to the most moist chocolate cake in our region. And you can quote us on that.

06 of 30

Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie

Southern Buttermilk Pie on a table with fruit and whipped cream
Photographer: Fred Hardy II, Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall, Props Stylist: Christina Brockman

Recipe: Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie

Light and silky smooth, this creamy custard-based pie hails from an era of "desperation pies." (Also known as "make-do pies.") Buttermilk pie gets its signature tangy flavor from buttermilk, a splash of lemon juice, and a hint of vanilla.

07 of 30

Texas Sheet Cake

Texas Sheet Cake with Fudge Icing
Iain Bagwell

Recipe: Texas Sheet Cake with Fudge Icing

This dessert fits the Texas bill: Decadent and over-the-top. It might just look like a simple sheet cake, but boy is it so much more. Texas claims this fudgy recipe as its own, dating back to the mid-20th century—perhaps partially because of the pecans, an ingredient that grows in abundance in the Lone Star State.

08 of 30

Classic Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Banana Pudding

Many Southerners have a memory attached to banana pudding: Maybe it was served at every Easter lunch or Memorial Day cookout, or perhaps it was always made by your grandmother and exclusively served in a layered trifle dish. Regardless, we like to think of it as the most humble of classics.

09 of 30

Sock It To Me Cake

Sock It To Me Cake
Photographer: Jennifer Causey, Food stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey

Recipe: Sock It To Me Cake

The name of this bundt cake comes from the phrase made popular in the 1960s. While you may not hear those words as much anymore, the classic cake remains just as delicious.

10 of 30

Mamie Eisenhower's Chocolate Fudge

Mamie Eisenhower’s Chocolate Fudge
Southern Living

Recipe: Mamie Eisenhower's Chocolate Fudge

This fudge recipe is far from complicated and uses convenient items like marshmallow cream, evaporated milk, and chocolate chips to come together easily. As the go-to fudge recipe in the 1950s and 60s, we're told it was a family favorite of President and Mrs. Eisenhower

11 of 30

Pecan Pie

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

Don't get caught talking to a Georgia farmer about why pecan pie is obviously the perfect dessert. You won't win. Pecans are a Southern trademark, and pecan pie hits the table on many days apart from Thanksgiving.

12 of 30

Mississippi Mud Cake

Mississippi Mud Cake
Photographer: Jennifer Causey Food Stylist: Ana Kelly Prop Stylist: Kay Clarke

Recipe: Mississippi Mud Cake

In the 1980s, simple was for suckers, and decadence ruled supreme. There was a surge in dessert recipes with the name "mud" in them, and Mississippi's take might be the richest, darkest, most decadent chocolate dessert you'll ever taste.

13 of 30

The Lane Cake

The Lane Cake
Hector Sanchez

Recipe: The Lane Cake

This cake, like many things in the South, starts with an old story: Over 100 years ago, it won the county fair competition in Columbus, Georgia. Later, it was featured in the literary classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. The appeal? It's a fruit-filled, bourbon-spiked, meringue-topped cake. Enough said.

14 of 30

Key Lime Pie

Heavenly Key Lime Pie
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Heavenly Key Lime Pie

Key lime pie has been enjoyed by locals in Key West for over 100 years, which means bootleggers and Ernest Hemingway both (most likely) indulged in the sweet-tart treat. That's an endorsement we'll take.

15 of 30

Sweet Potato Pie

Sliced Sweet Potato Pie with Molasses Whipped Cream
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Recipe: Sliced Sweet Potato Pie with Molasses Whipped Cream

This take on classic custard-style sweet potato pie has a fun secret—and it's actually even more vintage than the recipe you know and love. This double-crust, old-fashioned pie may look ordinary on the outside, but when it's sliced, the inside reveals vibrant orange layers of sweet potatoes flecked with spices and sweetened with sugar and sorghum syrup.

16 of 30

Classic Coconut Cake

Classic Coconut Cake
Southern Living

Recipe: Classic Coconut Cake

Southerners knew just what they were doing when creating this ultra-sweet, snow-white dream. (We'd follow a slice of coconut cake into any witch's den.) In fact, Charleston's Peninsula Grill makes a coconut cake so ultimate that it deserves a spot on your bucket list—with its 12 layers of moist, buttery cake held together with fluffy coconut filling.

17 of 30

Classic Southern Pound Cake

Classic Southern Pound Cake
Skyler Burt; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Karen Rankin

Recipe: Classic Southern Pound Cake

This recipe is the ultimate classic. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Here's the only recipe you need.

18 of 30

Transparent Pie

Transparent Pie with Whipped Creme Fraiche and Sugared Cranberries
Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Recipe: Transparent Pie with Whipped Crème Fraîche and Sugared Cranberries

Another Kentucky classic. (Those folks love to pair their bourbon with something sweet, we imagine.) Transparent pie is another of the league of butter-sugar-egg pies like chess pie, buttermilk pie, and custard pie. In taste, the recipe is most akin to a custard pie. Magee's Bakery in Maysville, Kentucky, has served up the Bluegrass State's signature confection for decades.

19 of 30

Little Layer Chocolate Cake

Ivy Odom 18-Layer Chocolate Cake Still

Recipe: Little Layer Chocolate Cake

Known best below the Gnat Line, this chocolate cake's height is something magnificent to behold. It can be based on which birthday you're celebrating or on how many layers you successfully bake and stack without disaster. Either-or. The sweet chocolate icing-to-cake ratio is more than worth the nervous sweat.

20 of 30

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Photographer: Jennifer Causey Food Stylist: Ana Kelly Prop Stylist: Kay Clarke

Recipe: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Back when many meals were cooked in a cast-iron skillet over an open fire, the upside-down cake was born. Then someone thought to combine butter, brown sugar, and pineapple at the bottom to culminate in a deliciously gooey topping for the cake once flipped over. Genius.

21 of 30

Strawberry-Pretzel Pie

Strawberry-Pretzel Icebox Pie
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Strawberry-Pretzel Icebox Pie

To be fair, strawberry pretzel salad is the real classic here; but we're not totally settled on where it lands on the spread. Side dish? Dessert? (We say it deserves its own category.) This pie recipe clears up the confusion and fits the bill. Here are the must-have ingredients: strawberries, pretzels, strawberry gelatin, and cream cheese.

22 of 30

Blackberry Jam Cake

Blackberry Jam Cake
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Cindy Barr; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Recipe: Blackberry Jam Cake

Kentuckians like to say that the jam cake belongs to their state, but the spice-filled cake was actually brought over to the region by German immigrants originally. Southern folks put their own spin on it with homemade berry jam and whichever nuts can be collected locally (like pecans or black walnuts).

23 of 30

Coca-Cola Chocolate Cake

Coca Cola Chocolate Cake
Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

Recipe: Coca-Cola Cake

In the 1990s, Southerners were all about using Coca-Cola in everything from barbecue braises to sheet cakes. Way before then, we picked this famous cola cake recipe to be included in Southern Living's first cookbook, 1970's Our Best Recipes.

24 of 30

Japanese Fruitcake

Japanese Fruitcake Recipe
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Recipe: Japanese Fruitcake with Lemon-Coconut Frosting

This cake might be one of our favorite classics in the bunch—because it's got a touch of mystery. No one is totally certain why it was dubbed "Japanese," but the same recipe kept popping up with the namesake and Southerners latched on tight. This fruitcake is mighty different from the hard loaf you knew as a child (and would occasionally use as a door stopper). Its spice-filled layers are topped with a sweet lemon-coconut frosting.

25 of 30

Apple-Bourbon Pie

Apple-Bourbon Pie Recipe
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Recipe: Apple-Bourbon Pie

Don't put it past Kentuckians to infuse everything with bourbon, including apple pie. Inside this regional delicacy, you'll find a spiced twist from bourbon-infused raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, apricot preserves, and toasted pecans or walnuts.

26 of 30

King Cake

Praline-Cream Cheese King Cakes
Greg DuPree; Prop styling: Claire Spollen; Food styling: Chelsea Zimmer

Recipe: Praline-Cream Cheese King Cakes

That's right, Louisiana folks have been fighting over the babies for over a century. Traditionally, king cake is an oval-shaped confection that lands somewhere between a coffee cake and French pastry. While fillings and flavors vary, the tri-colored topping and tiny plastic baby remain steadfast.

27 of 30

Chess Pie

slices of Classic Chess Pie on multi-color plates
Photographer: Jen Causey, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly

Recipe: Classic Chess Pie

Southerners have been making chess pie for as long as we've been able to get our paws on a few scoops of sugar and a couple pats of butter. Coming from the era of make-do pies, chess pie is simple and (unlike buttermilk pie or custard pie) typically includes vinegar or cornmeal in the batter, often both.

28 of 30

Caramel Cake

Caramel Cake
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Classic Caramel Cake

Caramel cake is about as classic as it gets in the South.

29 of 30

Shaker Lemon Pie

Shaker Lemon Pie from Mountain Measures
Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Ana Kelly

Recipe: Shaker Lemon Pie

Shaker cooks considered lemons an important part of a healthy diet and perfect for dessert (even though they were expensive and hard to come by). To justify the splurge, they devised this pie to make use of every bit of the fruit, peels and all. We found this recipe in a 1974 cookbook published by the Charleston, West Virginia, Junior League.

30 of 30

Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake 40th Anniversary
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Recipe: Hummingbird Cake

This Southern gem boasts three incredibly moist layers flavored with canned pineapple and bananas.

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