32 Vintage Church Desserts Worth Praising

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

If we had to pick a favorite cookbook from the kitchen shelf, it wouldn't be the shiny new one that looks as good on the counter as its new-age recipes taste. It wouldn't even be the special one that holds the holiday essentials, things like glazed ham and fruitcake. No, those wouldn't be saved in this fictional house fire. It'd be the tattered, faded, stain-covered spiral notebook hidden away at the end of the stack. It'd be the church cookbook. Through the generations, Southerners have published their most trusted recipes in these collections, whether it dubbed a church cookbook or community cookbook, and we've gathered lots of our favorites here on Southern Living.

These are the vintage Southern Living dessert recipes we swear by. From classic cold salads to warm, creamy casseroles, these recipes simply don't go out of style. We'll never pass up a bowl of banana pudding, a square of Texas sheet cake, or a slice of buttermilk pie. There's really nothing like the old-fashioned desserts you can find in your mama's old church cookbook. We rounded up the most classic desserts that have been coming out of Southern kitchens for generations. We're warning you, these'll have you singing some praises.

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Classic Southern Pound Cake

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

Recipe: Classic Southern Pound Cake

She's the ultimate classic, and there's no world in which this recipe doesn't belong on the list.

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Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie

Classic Buttermilk Pie
Iain Bagwell

Recipe: Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie

This pie was created to be budget-friendly by Southern women who were "making-do" with what they had on hand, going way back to the depression era and World War II.

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Easy Peach Cobbler

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

Recipe: Easy Peach Cobbler

Though any Southern cook knows this recipe by heart, we still include it in just about any cookbook, just in case.

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Texas Sheet Cake with Fudge Icing

Texas Sheet Cake with Fudge Icing
Photo: Iain Bagwell

Recipe: Texas Sheet Cake with Fudge Icing

Texas claims this chocolate sheet cake as its own, dating back to the mid-20th century. And judging by its ooey, gooey, nutty, fudgy self, we understand why. "Everything is bigger in Texas!"

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Classic Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Banana Pudding

We'd recognize this classic banana pudding any day, any cookbook. It takes a page straight from grandmother's recipe box. (But sometimes you might use that vanilla pudding packet in the pantry, and that's okay.)

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Luscious Lemon Bars

Luscious Lemon Bars
Southern Living

Recipe: Luscious Lemon Bars

A plate of lemon squares disappears mighty quick at any Southern gathering. You'll see this classic recipe in many a church or community cookbook.

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Vintage Fresh Apple Cake

Fresh Apple Cake
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Amy Burke

Recipe: Fresh Apple Cake

How else would we use our fall harvest? This apple sheet cake, filled with fresh Granny Smith apples and topped with to-die-for cream cheese frosting, was destined to feed a crowd.

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Strawberry-Pretzel Jello Salad

How To Make Strawberry Pretzel Salad Still
Southern Living

Recipe: Strawberry-Pretzel Jello Salad

Nostalgic churchgoers know this dish from a mile away. It's a salad...in a casserole dish...with strawberry gelatin.

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Peanut Butter-Banana Icebox Pie

Peanut Butter-Banana Icebox Pie
Photo: Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Peanut Butter-Banana Icebox Pie

In the South, icebox pie is a staple during the hot summer—when all we want to do is just cool down. This pie recipe is an ode to Mr. Elvis Presley, making it a Tennessee church cookbook favorite.

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Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling; Tina Bell Stamos

Recipe: Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

They had us at "meringue." You really can't beat these fluffy white peaks of sugary goodness.

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Marbled Pecan Pound Cake

Marbled Pecan Pound Cake Recipe
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Recipe: Marbled Pecan Pound Cake

You won't find a more crowd-pleasing pound cake. This marbled pound cake recipe can be served as-is or sweetened a bit with homemade whipped cream.

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Over the Moon Chocolate Pie

Over the Moon Chocolate Pie
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Recipe: Over the Moon Chocolate Pie

Inspired by a sweet confection born in 1917 in Chattanooga, the MoonPie, this pie recipe is church potluck-approved. The dessert is made with a graham cracker crust, has a rich chocolate filling with a touch of Tennessee whiskey (another nod to its birthplace), and is finished off with light clouds of marshmallowy meringue.

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Lemon-Orange Chiffon Cake

Orange Chiffon Cakes
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Lemon-Orange Chiffon Cake

The chiffon cake was introduced in the mid-20th century and dubbed the first "new" type of cake in over 100 years. The creator held onto its secret ingredient—using oil instead of butter—until he sold the recipe in the late 1940s, but we're thinking the church ladies had already figured it out.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Pretzel Pie

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pretzel Pie
Iain Bagwell; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Hadas Smirnoff

Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pretzel Pie

Strawberry-pretzel salad is one of the most nostalgic Southern dishes, and rhubarbs are a real delicacy down here. So we combined them into a salty-and-sweet pie.

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Mamie Eisenhower's Chocolate Fudge

Mamie Eisenhower’s Chocolate Fudge
Southern Living

Recipe: Mamie Eisenhower's Chocolate Fudge

This creamy fudge recipe was supposedly the go-to of President and Mrs. Eisenhower. The ingredient list is incredibly simple, which is enough to convince us of its merit.

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Hummingbird Cake

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

Recipe: Hummingbird Cake

It's the most popular recipe in Southern Living history. Simple spiced cakes with canned pineapple and bananas popped up in community cookbooks throughout the early 20th century, and this three-layer dream is the ultimate example.

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Strawberry Kuchen

Strawberry Kuchen
Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Mary Clayton Carl Jones

Recipe: Strawberry Kuchen

Kuchen, the German word for cake, is often more bread-like and made with a yeasted dough. Our variation has a tender, fluffy crumb topping and is then topped with fresh strawberries and sliced almonds.

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Hello Dolly Bars

Hello Dolly Bars
Jennifer Davick; Styling: Lydia DeGaris Pursell

Recipe: Hello Dolly Bars

This beloved bar recipe packs the perfect mixture of salty and sweet, making it a crowd-pleaser for any hostess.

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Classic Chess Pie

Classic Chess Pie
Jessica Colyer

Recipe: Classic Chess Pie

For a couple hundred years, the chess pie has been a staple on Southern dessert tables. It's hard to pass up a legend.

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Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

Utterly deadly, indeed.Although there are plenty of pecan pie recipes out there, we can vouch for this one as your best one yet.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter-Fudge Bars

Peanut Butter-Fudge Bars
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer

Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter-Fudge Bars

While the church potluck might be weary of nut allergies, there's nothing that says the cookbook needs to be.

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Cherry-Nectarine Pandowdy

Cherry-Nectarine Pandowdy
Photo: Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Mary Clayton Carl Jones

Recipe: Cherry-Nectarine Pandowdy

Popular in the 1800s and early 1900s, a pandowdy is essentially cooked fruit under a pastry crust. But unlike a cobbler, the cook uses a fork to break, or "dowdy" the crust. What's it all for: The broken crust absorbs the sweet juices from the cooked fruit!

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Coconut Cream Pie

Coconut Cream Pie
Photo: Lee Harrelson

Recipe: Coconut Cream Pie

Don't even get the church ladies started on cream pie. Coconut cream pie? Forget about it.

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Little Layer Chocolate Cake

Ivy Odom 18-Layer Chocolate Cake Still

Recipe: Little Layer Chocolate Cake

Known best below the Gnat Line, this towering chocolate cake's height can be based on which birthday you're celebrating—or how much you're trying to show off at the church homecoming. The 10 to 18 layers are a feat.

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Ultimate Apple Pie

Ultimate Apple Pie from Buxton Hall
Photo: Greg Dupree; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Recipe: Ultimate Apple Pie from Buxton Hall

Fall means apples, which obviously means apple pie. Every Southern cook needs a classic, but insanely tasty apple pie recipe.

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Cherry Pie Bars

Cherry Pie Bars
Greg Dupree

Recipe: Cherry Pie Bars

We're tapping into good 'ole Americana—in bar form. This grabbable, cherry-speckled bar is super portable and makes a huge batch.

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Cassandra's "Light" Fruitcake

Cassandra’s “Light” Fruitcake
Caitlin Bensel; Prop Styling: Mary Clayton Carl; Food Styling: Anna Hampton

Recipe: Cassandra's "Light" Fruitcake

Cassandra, we'd like to formally thank you. This recipe has turned even the most fruitcake-hating people in the region.

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Ambrosia Pudding Pie

Ambrosia Pudding Pie
Alison Miksch

Recipe: Ambrosia Pudding Pie

Following British tradition, the earliest custard pies were recorded as puddings in antebellum cookbooks. And—as any Southerner knows—ambrosia is a church cookbook staple. This is the best of both worlds.

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Hummingbird Bundt Cake

Hummingbird Bundt Cake
Jennifer Davick

Recipe: Hummingbird Bundt Cake

This spin on classic hummingbird cake is a no-brainer for any gathering because of its relative ease and fuss-free hands-on time compared to the layered version. You still get all of amazing flavor of the crushed pineapple, bananas, cinnamon, and pecans.

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Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

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

Recipe: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

This chocolate cake is next-level moist because of its secret ingredient: Duke's mayo. And we don't even care. We're too far gone.

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Chocolate Delight

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

Recipe: Chocolate Delight

This old-school dessert goes by many names, but whatever you call it, it's a delicious combination of chocolate pudding and cream.

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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

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

Recipe: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

You can't skip the iconic maraschino cherries in this classic upside-down cake.

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