25 Old-Fashioned Desserts That Deserve a Comeback
In uncertain times, there's comfort in the familiar—it's no surprise that comfort foods have been popular during the quarantine. But familiarity isn't all we love about these 25 beloved but all-but-forgotten desserts. They were great when we were growing up, and they're just as delicious now.
Read on as we make our case for giving these retro classics the comeback that we believe are their "just desserts." And for more, don't miss these 15 Old-Fashioned Cooking Tips You Should Never Use, Say Experts.
Can we take just a moment here to wax reverential about the single-crusted, whipped-cream-topped, custard-based wonder that is cream pie? The cream pie came into existence as a way of using up surplus eggs and milk products from the family farm (think: buttermilk pie, chess pie, and sugar cream pies) and blossomed into ubiquity as shelf-stable cocoa, coconut, and bananas became more and more widely available.
By the mid-20th century, mile-high cream pies had become one of the defining features of classic diner culture. If cream pies have lost ground in the intervening decades, it can only be because so many other desserts have cropped up to distract us. And that just seems wrong. So, let's bring them back, starting with our surprisingly healthy recipe for Coconut Cream Pie.
Get our recipe for Coconut Cream Pie.
French Fruit Tarts
Speaking of cream pies, who else remembers the classic French fruit tart, which was, essentially, a single-crusted custard pie topped with sugar-glazed fresh fruit? Back in the 1980s, this slender, colorful, mildly-flavored sweet was a staple of dessert carts and also managed to pass as a brunch selection at some of the fancier hotels.
Maybe it wasn't the healthiest brunch choice, but the French fruit tart certainly was—and remains—an attractive, delicious vehicle for fresh berries. Let's start putting this back on dessert plates today, starting with our recipe.
Get our recipe for Fruit and Cream Tarts.
Southern-Style Banana Pudding
In the South, banana pudding is neither banana nor pudding. It's vanilla custard layered with banana slices and vanilla wafers. The wafers become delightfully soggy, like the Ritz crackers in old fashioned "mock apple pie" or the chocolate wafers in "icebox cake."
It's hard to find this old-fashioned, Southern granny-approved treat outside the American South, but we have a wonderful recipe.
Get our recipe for Banana Pudding.
Don't miss these 50 Best Vintage Recipes from the South.
Warm, cinnamon-scented comfort food made of stewed apples and topped with a sweet, crumbly, granola-like crust… is there anything better? Apple crisp caught on during the 20th century as an alternative to apple pie and became hugely popular in the 1980s when Americans learned President Reagan was a fan of its Southern cousin, Apple Brown Betty. Its popularity as a vehicle for vanilla ice cream was later eclipsed by bread pudding and all its iterations. But apples are much more nutritious than bread, especially if you don't peel them, so this one gets our vote for a well-deserved comeback.
Get our recipe for an Apple Cranberry Crisp.
Like apple crisp, fruit cobblers have found themselves unfairly upstaged by the constant parade of newer and richer takes on dessert (hello, Cronut, we're talking about you). But just because fruit cobblers aren't so easy to find these days, that doesn't mean you can't make this tasty, biscuit-topped-fruit dessert at home, especially if you happen to have a wonderful recipe handy.
Get our recipe for Blueberry Peach Cobbler.
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Even if you'd never consider eating an apple turnover out of your hand, it's still, at heart, a "hand pie." Hand-sized and portable, hand pies have been around since ancient times, although it appears no one thought to use apples and puff pastry until sometime during the 19th century. What makes us wish it were more readily available these days is that it's inherently portion-controllable. Luckily, we've got a great Apple Turnover Recipe.
Get our recipe for Apple Turnovers.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky toffee pudding, a sweet, sticky, steamed dessert combining toffee and dates, first came into vogue during the 1970s in the U.K. Unfortunately, it seems to have lost quite a bit of "steam" since then. But why not bring it back, especially if it's in the form of a fiber-rich cake studded with sweet pears and dates? This treat is best enjoyed it with a nice cup of joe.
Get our recipe for Sticky Toffee Date Cake.
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Molten Chocolate Cake
Molten chocolate cake, sometimes known as "lava cake," is a chocolate cake with a thick, warm, lava-like chocolate center that "erupts" when the cake is cracked with a fork. It was first introduced to Americans in the 1980s at top-tier French restaurants in New York City. Most of those restaurants are long gone, and you don't see lava cake around much anymore either. But we miss it. That's why we learned to make it ourselves.
Get our recipe for Molten Chocolate Cake.
Bananas Foster, in which bananas are sautéed in a combination of sugar, butter, and rum and then set aflame—briefly, to burn off only the alcohol content—was invented in the 1950s at Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans. It quickly caught "fire" throughout the rest of the country, but over the intervening decades, enthusiasm for the theatrical dessert waned. Although you can still find Bananas Foster at Brennan's, it's rarely seen on menus elsewhere. But if you're missing the flavor of warm, sweet caramelized bananas, we have a recipe that delivers precisely that.
Get our recipe for Banana Walnut Bourbon French Toast.
Traditional Coca-Cola Cake
Coca-Cola Cake, which, as the name implies, is made using actual Coca-Cola, is a sweet, moist chocolate cake topped with sweet, gooey chocolate glaze. It first appeared as a printed recipe in the 1950s and enjoyed a comeback when Cracker Barrel added it to the menu in 1997. It's been keeping a fairly low profile these days, and we're not sure why, but we'd love to see that change.
Get our recipe for Traditional Coca-Cola Cake.
In 1896, the world was introduced to "brownies," except they weren't brown in color because they had no chocolate in them. Rather, they were golden and tasted of molasses. The name "brownie" referred to a mythical elfin creature; "brownies" were "Brownie's Food." Those first "brownies" were what we think of today as "blondies." Chocolate brownies, which are what we think of when we think of "brownies," were invented nearly a full decade later. Despite blondies having come first, they've grown less popular as the world has become increasingly enamored with chocolate. We understand the love for chocolate, but at the same time, we think it would be great if blondies could make a comeback.
Get our recipe for Chocolate Chip Blondies.
Snickerdoodles are sugar cookies coated in sugar and cinnamon. Invented in 1891, they were an immediate sensation. Like blondies, snickerdoodles now suffer from the popularity-undermining affliction known as "not being made of chocolate." And, like blondies, snickerdoodles deserve better.
Get our recipe for Snickerdoodle Cookies.
Oatmeal cookies have been around far longer than chocolate chip cookies. But while they've had their moments in the spotlight, oatmeal cookies have always been the "Jan" to chocolate chip cookies' "Marcia." And fans of television's early '70s hit The Brady Bunch know that it's always "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia." The thing is, we're also fans of Jan, which is to say, we believe oatmeal cookies have gotten a raw deal. Let's give them a little love, even if it means adding some chocolate chips to the batter.
Get our recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Gingerbread cookies have been around since the mid-17th century, which is to say they were making mouths happy long before all those "more popular" cookies were even born. Of course, we all know what happened. As those other cookies came into being, their popularity skyrocketed, while gingerbread cookies increasingly became "yesterday's news." But we believe gingerbread cookies deserve better, especially when they're homemade and iced.
Get our recipe for Gingerbread Cookies.
Lemon Chiffon Cake
Light, airy, and bursting with lemon flavor, lemon chiffon cake was invented in the mid-1920s, but its recipe was kept a secret until 1947 when Betty Crocker shared it with the world. Sadly, that was lemon chiffon cake's big moment, and it has not seen anything even close to that level of popularity since. We think that might change, however, once word gets around you can make it in an Instant Pot.
Get our recipe for Instant Pot Lemon Cake.
Putting ice cream into a banana boat and topping it with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and cherry wasn't just a good idea when the banana split was invented in 1907. It was a genius idea then, and it continues to be now, even if the good ole banana split has been, over time, overshadowed by bigger, more elaborate ice cream desserts.
Get our recipe for a Grilled Banana Split.
Malt-Shop Style Milkshakes
Speaking of ice cream concoctions, let's not forget the old-fashioned milkshakes they used to make to order in malt shops from days gone by. You'd sit at the counter, order your shake, and watch as the "soda jerk" (as he was called without derision) grabbed a metal shaker, plopped in some vanilla ice cream, squirted in some flavored syrup, and then whipped up your milkshake using an old-fashioned milkshake machine. These days, milkshakes tend to be churned out like soft-serve from pre-made mixes at fast food joints. But who's to say you can't make them the good old-fashioned way yourself?
Get our recipe for Old-Fashioned Milkshakes.
One of America's most iconic desserts, Baked Alaska is ice cream surrounded by cake surrounded by meringue that's either browned quickly in the oven or given the flambé treatment tableside. Baked Alaska attained its peak popularity in the mid-20th century, but because it's essentially ice cream cake enveloped in meringue (which consists of sweetened whipped egg whites) and offers an occasion to create quite a spectacle (if you decide to go the flambé route), we can't figure out why it's not more widely available these days.
Get Sally's Baking Addiction's recipe for a brownie-based Baked Alaska.
Crêpes Suzette is another fun, fancy, flambé dessert from days gone by. Perfect in its simplicity, it's a crepe doused in butter and orange-flavored liqueur and then set dramatically aflame (to burn off most of the alcohol in the liqueur while imparting a deep orange flavor into the dessert itself).
It's difficult to find a classic recipe for this beloved blast from the past, but this one from Half-Baked Harvest is pretty close, although it's served drizzled with yogurt rather than set aflame, and instead of orange, it uses Meyer lemon. If it's the deep orange flavor you seek, you might want to give our Cinnamon Orange Lava Cakes recipe a whirl.
Get our recipe for Cinnamon Orange Lava Cakes.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Although Hawaii didn't become a state until 1959, by 1906, James Dole had built his first pineapple cannery, and by the 1920s, canned pineapple bad become so ubiquitous in the U.S. that pineapple upside-down cake (so named because when it's baking, the pineapple is at the bottom of the cake) became a trend.
Get Averie Cooks' recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
Fondue dates back to 17th century Switzerland, but traditionally, it was made with cheese. But chocolate fondue was invented in the early 1960s right here in the U.S., immediately becoming a huge trend among the hip, giving rise to "fondue parties" and restaurants devoted entirely to fondue. Today, chocolate fondue is rarely seen, which is unfortunate because it's fun to play with your food, and it's a delicious delivery system for fresh fruit. If you'd like to throw a fondue party, you can find an easy recipe for chocolate fondue at Chelsea's Messy Apron, or if you prefer to serve your fruit pre-dipped, then we highly recommend our recipe for Dark Chocolate Dipped Bananas.
Get our recipe for Dark Chocolate Dipped Bananas.
Black Forest Cake
Black Forest Cake, which dates back to 16th century Germany, is chocolate cake brushed with cherry Schnapps and layered with cherries (or, more often, cherry pie filling) and whipped cream. By the middle of the 20th century, it was Germany's best-known cake and had also become well-known in the U.S., particularly in cities popular among German emigrés. These days, black forest cake has all but disappeared from the mainstream, although we did find this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction, and fans of the arguably perfect combination of chocolate and cherry can get their fix with our recipe for Molten Lava Chocolate Cherry Cake.
Get Sally's Baking Addiction's recipe for Black Forrest Cake.
German Chocolate Cake
Chocolate aficionados might take issue with the name "German Chocolate Cake" because this very sweet and mild layer cake gets at least as much, if not more, flavor from pecans and coconut. Still others might take issue with the fact that "German" doesn't refer to the country but to the last name of the guy who invented the particular baking chocolate with which this cake was first made. Nevertheless, German Chocolate Cake was an American favorite during the mid-20th century. It's rarely seen these days, haven taken a backseat to far more chocolatey chocolate desserts.
Get Sally's Baking Addiction's recipe for German Chocolate Cake.
Got questions about chocolate? We've got answers, lots and lots of answers.
Fresh Berries with Zabaione
Fresh Berries with Zabaione (also spelled "Zabaglione") is a traditional Italian dessert consisting of fresh berries, drizzled generously with a custard-y sauce composed of just three ingredients: egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine (although some variations use port wine or moscato d'asti). Although zabaione dates back to 15th century Italy, it was causing quite a stir back in the late 1970s through the early 1980s, when it was as much a default dessert order for some as tiramisu seems to have become. Some even say that tiramisu derived from zabaione.
Although it's hard to find today, you can make it yourself. Or, if you prefer a healthier version of an Italian-inspired strawberry delivery system, then you'll want to try our recipe for Strawberries with Mascarpone Cream.
Get Tania's Kitchen's recipe for Moscato d'Asti Zabaglione with Strawberries.
We can't say fruitcake has ever been "forgotten," exactly. Fruitcake has always been around, and folks are very conscious of that around Christmastime. The problem is that many regard the prospect of eating fruitcake with a least some measure of trepidation. And that's putting it mildly. But it doesn't have to be that way. Fruitcake, when it's homemade with fresh ingredients, can be quite the revelation. Don't believe us? You could try making it yourself…
Get A Beautiful Plate's recipe for Fruitcake.
Whip up one of these desserts for your next gathering and see why they are considered old-fashioned classics.
A previous version of this article was originally published on September 15, 2020.