The Most Popular Cakes in Southern History

Chocolate Bundt Cake
Photo: Alison Miksch

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.

01 of 23

1903: The Lady Baltimore Cake

Lady Baltimore Cake
Micah A. Leal

Despite the name, this legendary cake originated south of Baltimore in Charleston. In 1903, the author Owen Wister wrote a romantic novel called Lady Baltimore, set in the postbellum South. The story features a cake that impresses the narrator so much it becomes the focal point of the story. The fictional treat was likely based on a cake from The Women's Exchange Tearoom in Charleston. That cake was made with only egg whites and the filling included dried figs, raisins, toasted walnuts, and sherry. While the novel received mixed reviews, the cake was a hit and recipes for the Lady Baltimore Cake began popping up in newspapers and ladies' journals across the country.

02 of 23

1925: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Honey-Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Photo: Hector Sanchez; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

The iconic upside-dessert began with a contest. In 1925, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, better known today as Dole, sponsored a pineapple recipe competition with judges from the Fannie Farmer's School, Good Housekeeping, and McCall's Magazine. Of the 60,000 submissions, 2,500 were recipes for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. The company ran an ad about the flood of pineapple upside-down cake recipes it had received, and the cake's popularity surged.

03 of 23

1929: 'Zebra' Icebox Chocolate Cake

Magnolia Bakery Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake
The Every Kitchen

Technically, this 'cake' is less of a cake and more of a stacked dessert, but that's in part why it became so popular. The no-bake cake consisting of layers of wafers cookies and cream became popular after appearing on the back of a Nabisco cookie tin. Nabisco started selling wafer cookies in 1924, packaging chocolate with ginger and sugar. The other flavors were discontinued, but the Famous Chocolate Wafers endured. In a 1929 ad, Nabisco introduced the idea of layering the wafers with whipped cream alongside the rise of the icebox as a home appliance. The two ingredient dessert was easy and after setting in the fridge, the moisture of the cream made the wafers soft and cake-like. A year later, the recipe was printed on every of their cookie tins and the cake become known as the Famous Icebox Cake.

04 of 23

1948: Orange Chiffon Cake

Orange Chiffon Cakes
Jennifer Davick

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.

05 of 23

1953: 7-Up Bundt

7-UP Bundt Cake
Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

Baking with soda became extremely popular in the 1950s, with the beverages' carbonation lauded as a cleaver replacement for a leavening agent. The famous 7-Up Bundt Cake recipe first became popular after it was published in a promotional recipe booklet by the 7-Up company in 1953, along with a recipe for "7-Up Salad," the famous green gelatin-based dessert. The bundt would later see a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s as a novelty served at gatherings.

06 of 23

1957: German Chocolate Cake

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

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 apostrophe-S was dropped off of the name, leading to the famous title as it's known today.

07 of 23

1960: Lane Cake

Lane Cake
Hector Sanchez

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.

08 of 23

1960: Black Forrest Cake

Black Forest Cherry Cake
Photo: John Kernick

According to PBS, the Black Forest cake although already popular in Germany for decades, didn't garner attention in the United States until the early 1960s. Unlike most other European cakes, Black Forest cake was widely adopted by Americans, quickly becoming a staple of American cookbooks. It eventually became so popular, March 28th became Black Forest Cake Day. Although German chocolate cake was actually an American invention, the Black Forest cake did originate in Germany. Many credit German pastry chef Josef Keller for its creation, but its origins are widely debated.

09 of 23

1962: Pink Champagne Cake

pink champagne cake
Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Ali Ramee; Prop Styling: Christine Kelly

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.

10 of 23

1966: Tunnel of Fudge Cake

Chocolate Bundt Cake
Alison Miksch

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.

11 of 23

1970: Angel Food Cake

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

This iconic egg-white cake first became popular in the late 19th century. Some historians think that the first angel food cakes were baked by enslaved people in the South because it required a lot of time and effort to hand-beat the egg whites until fluffy. Once the hand cranked egg-beater was invented in 1870, the cake became less laborious to make and early versions of it started to appear in cookbooks like What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, a cookbook written in 1881 by former enslaved cook Abby Fisher, who had moved from Mobile, Alabama, to San Francisco. By 1883 the cake had become the favorite dessert of Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Angel Food Cake regained popularity in the 1970s alongside the rise in low-fat cooking and diet culture, as it was made with only egg whites, which are naturally low-fat.

12 of 23

1972: Sock It to Me Cake

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

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.

13 of 23

1975: Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake
Alison Miksch

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.

14 of 23

1977: Rum Cake

Coffee Baba au Rhum
Photo: Hector Sanchez

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 in 1977, 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.

15 of 23

1978: Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake
Photographer: Fred Hardy II, Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall, Props Stylist: Christina Brockman

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.

16 of 23

1980: Ice Cream Cake

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake
Caitlin Bensel

Thanks to a plethora of TV ads from all the big ice cream chains, ice cream cakes became the iconic birthday treat of the decade. Baskin Robbins, DQ, Carvel, and Friendly's all had their own versions, some filled with fudge or others topped with crushed Oreos. Meanwhile, Baked Alaskas populated fine-dining restaurant menus and grocery stores sold Good Humor Viennetta Cakes in the frozen grocery store aisle. Ice cream cakes were simply everywhere in the 1980s.

17 of 23

1986: Mississippi Mud Cake

Mississippi Mud Cake
Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas

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.

18 of 23

1989: Red Velvet Cake

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.

19 of 23

1991: Molten Chocolate Cake

Molten Chocolate Cake
Jennifer R. Davick

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.)

20 of 23

1994: Barbie Birthday Cake

Barbie Birthday Cake
Tnzr/Getty Images

If your mid-90s birthday party didn't feature a 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.

21 of 23

1997: Coca-Cola Cake

Coca-Cola Cake
Micah A. Leal

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.

22 of 23

2000: Cupcakes

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes
Victor Protasio, Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall, Prop Stylist: Kathleen Varner

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.

23 of 23

2011: Cake Pops

Halloween Cake Pops
Micah A. Leal

Cake pops began as a way to use up cake trimmings and scraps, but quickly turned into a popular treat to eat on its own. When food blogger Bakerella demonstrated her cake pop recipe on Martha Stewart's TV show in 2008, it immediately went viral. She mixed cake with icing to form little balls, skewered them like lollipops, and dipped them in heated candy melts for a portable dessert. But cake pops didn't really become a ubiquitous sweet treat until Starbucks began selling them in 2011, where they became particularly popular with kids.

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