15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback
America loves its sweets, and this love affair with cakes, pies, and other desserts has been going on for quite some time. Here are 15 classic American desserts that have, for the most part, disappeared. And for more American food facts, don't miss these 40 Fast-Food Dishes That Defined America.
Tomato soup spice cake
You say tomato, we say tomato soup cake. Campbell's is behind this cake, which first surfaced in the '20s and '30s and then ripened in 1940 with a recipe called Steamed Fruit & Nut Pudding, featuring steamed pudding with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup. The cake went on to have many incarnations, including a Halloween Spice Cake in the '40s. And in the '60s, it was even featured on a Campbell's soup label, making it the first recipe ever to appear on a soup can.
Lady Baltimore cake
This classic American beauty was created with white cake layers and a fruity and toasted nut filling (figs, raisins, pecans, walnuts) and was crowned with boiled marshmallow icing. It was a Southern belle cake and often had a leading role as a wedding cake in the early 20th century. The Lady Baltimore cake apparently had nothing to do with the city of Baltimore, or a lady, for that matter. From most accounts, the origin of the cake's name remains an enigma.
And for more iconic Southern delicacies, don't miss these 35 Southern Dishes Your Grandparents Used to Make.
Lemon chiffon cake
Light and airy thanks to the many beaten egg whites that are folded into the batter, this chiffon cake was one of the first to use vegetable oil instead of more traditional solid fats like butter. The tale of the cake goes something like this—a Los Angeles insurance agent named Harry Baker (seriously) invented the cake in 1927 and kept the recipe a guarded secret, making it exclusively for Hollywood movie stars, as well as for the Brown Derby in Los Angeles, believed to be the first restaurant to serve the chiffon cake. Fast forward to 1947, when General Mills bought the recipe and Betty Crocker shared it. The rest is history!
This classic American dessert, sometimes called Apple Brown Betty, is a fruit-centric dessert in the same gene pool as the cobbler and apple crisp, and it first surfaced in the late 1800s. Typically, apples, pears, or berries are baked, and the fruit is then layered with sweet buttered crumbs and kissed with a dollop of whipped cream. President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, were fans of the Apple Brown Betty when living in the White House. And, no, Betty is not Betty Crocker; the origin of the dessert's name is up for grabs.
The hermit was wicked popular in New England in the early 20th century, thanks to Fannie Farmer, who had a recipe for the spicy cookie in her cookbooks, including the uber-popular Original Fannie Farmer Cookbook in 1896, which was my South Boston grandmother's Bible. The homely hermit disappeared for the most part, although the cookie comes out of reclusiveness occasionally.
It may be hard to believe now, but junket was a popular dessert in the 20th century, especially in the northeast. It was made with rennet (a digestive enzyme that curdles the milk) and sweetened milk, and it was prepared for kids who were sick because it helped with digestion.
A pie so popular that it inspired a song (Shoo fly, don't bother me…."), this treat dates to the 1800s in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The dessert got its name because it was so appealing, both in looks and scent, that it attracted flies. It's made with rich buttery crumbs and molasses. Shoofly Pie is to the Pennsylvania Dutch what Boston cream pie is to New Englanders and pecan pie is to Southerners.
And for more sweet ideas, don't miss these 15 Healthy Pie Recipes.
A dessert that would melt hearts and impress a mother-in-law or birthday celebrant, Baked Alaska used to show up on restaurant menus as a special shared dessert but not so much anymore—except for old-school restaurants like Delmonico's in NYC, which is said to have invented the dish to celebrate the US acquisition of Alaska in 1867. Baked Alaska is created with ice cream and cake and topped with meringue. Kirsch or liqueur is added, and the dessert is set ablaze.
Another flamboyant dessert, boozy Bananas Foster was invented in the early '50s at Brennan's restaurant in jazzy New Orleans. It was an applaud-worthy dessert made with bananas, vanilla ice cream, butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon and dazzled with dark rum and banana liqueur and then set aglow.
Mock apple pie
There were no apples in this pie. Instead, buttery crackers mocked the apples in the recipe. The pie was popular during the Great Depression (some reports date it even before that). Nabisco even printed the recipe on its Ritz Crackers box.
Sex in a pan
There's a story behind this multi-layered cake's name: Those layers amounted to six, and so the thinking is that the actual name is Six in a Pan that became the victim of an accidental game of telephone. The cake was loved for its crust made of nuts as well as for its rich layers of cream cheese, whipped cream, chocolate pudding mix, vanilla pudding mix, and chopped nuts. And, of course, it was loved for its suggestive name, too.
A boozy cake (hence "tipsy"), this decadent dessert is created with sponge cake (or sometimes stale pound cake) and soaked in sherry and brandy. It has English trifle roots and went on to become a popular Southern dessert.
Turn the clock back to colonial America, when elections were a national holiday and celebrated with cake while the votes were being counted, which went on for weeks. Aptly titled Election Day cakes, these were alcohol-infused cakes made with yeast, whiskey, and lots of spices like nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
Boston chocolate cream pie
The Parker House Hotel in downtown Boston gets bragging rights as the place where the Boston cream pie was invented in the mid-1800s, although there are rumblings that it debuted elsewhere. It's a yellow butter cake or sponge cake (and it's not a pie at all) with a rich custard and a thick chocolate glaze. It was extremely popular in New England, and while you can still find it if you look, especially at tourist spots, it is nowhere as popular as back in the day, when Boston Brahmins baked it religiously.
The name is an enigma—and this pie has nothing to do with the game of chess. And unlike the heady game of chess, the recipe for a classic chess pie is simple—butter, lots of sugar, flour, milk, cornmeal, eggs, and a dash of vinegar (there are also variations like lemon and chocolate). It is believed to have origins in the South, where it was worshipped as a beloved dessert that even a queen (or bishop or knight or rook) would love.