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Danielle Atkins

Devil's food cake

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8 classic Southern cakes that should be on your picnic tables all Summer long

Summer is in full swing which means lots of food prepared on a hot grillice cold beverages and time spent in or around a pool. So when I suggest a round-up of my absolute favorite cakes recipes you might be thinking to yourself, "cake? But it's bikini season!"

Growing up, my mom taught me that a good Summer body is nothing more than the body you already have. That being said, what's the point of spending all this time enjoying the warm weather if you don't have a helping (or two) of delicious desserts as well? To me, nothing says "Happy Feelings" quite like a good slice of homemade cake. Whether you prefer yours topped with fresh fruit or full of shredded coconut, the most important thing is that you enjoy eating it. 

These 8 cakes are not only Southern staples, but they're also easy to make and designed to be shared. This Summer, breakaway from the idea that there are certain foods you should avoid for the sake of fitting into your bathing suit, and have a slice of cake. 

Anne Byrn’s Devil’s Food Cake
Devil's food cake is likely named so because is sinfully decadent. This recipe by Southern cookbook author Anne Byrn is made with unsweetened cocoa powder, brown sugar, butter and vanilla extract. The deceptively light frosting is literally icing on this chocolatey treat. Feel free to decorate this cake with all of the best berries Summer has to offer. 
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Leah Chase’s Butter Cake

A good butter cake recipe is essential. This cake can be dressed up with freshly whipped cream and berries or served simply as is (or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream). This recipe by the late Leah Chase uses ingredients that are all easily found in your pantry. 
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Magic Lemon Cups

I have three words for you: single serve cake. Yes, you read that right. If you're not in the mood to bake a big dessert, don't worry. These individual magic lemon cakes are perfect for you. Baked in small ramekins, these sharp treats “magically” separate into an ethereally light sponge and creamy lemon curd as they bake.
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Coca-Cola Cake

For a Coca-Cola cake that truly tastes like the soda, we’ve cut back (just a bit) on the sugar by eliminating the traditional marshmallows. We also toast the pecans for the top, and instead of stirring them into the frosting, as is traditional, we sprinkle them on top. Leaving a good quarter cup of the nuts barely chopped also gives the cake a bit of texture, counteracts some of the sweetness, and helps to bring out the inherent bitterness of the soda. Finally, pour in just a touch more Coke into the frosting than is typical, giving it a drizzleable consistency and bold cola flavor. Poking holes in the top of the cake, a reader suggestion, helps the frosting soak into the cake, further upping flavor and moisture.
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Coconut Pudding Cake

For the coconut cake connoisseur, this recipe will become a favorite labor of love. It starts with a moist, dense yellow cake, featuring homemade vanilla pudding, which is then frosted with gobs of cream cheese frosting and topped with freshly shaved coconut. You can make the pudding a day ahead of the cake; just bring it to room temperature before adding it to the batter. The pudding recipe makes 2 cups, twice as much as you’ll need for the cake. It’ll serve about four as a stand-alone dessert.
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Mawmaw’s Strawberry Cake

This pantry-friendly recipe is sure to be a hit where ever you bring it. Between the strawberries, Jell-O and cake mix, the final layer cake is ultra moist and flavorful. And, since the cake uses only frozen and pantry ingredients, you can serve up a slice of summer strawberries all year round.
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Mississippi Mud Cake

A take on the gooier and much messier Mississippi mud pie, this mud cake is an easy chocolate sheet cake topped with marshmallows and a loose chocolate icing. We decided to leave out the optional pecans so we don’t veer too far into rocky road territory. Any chocolate cake recipe will work as a base, but we like a Coca-Cola cake for its ease and crossover ingredients. And Coca-Cola is delicious, after all!
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Classic Southern Caramel Cake
This ultra-classic Southern layer cake is, honestly, a bit complicated. But with patience and practice, you can pull off a stunner of a dessert. Read the recipe carefully and follow all of the directions regarding time and temperatures. Your life will be made much easier with a reliable candy or instant-read thermometer, as well as a stand mixer. (Yes, you can make this successfully with a hand-mixer, but we wouldn’t recommend tackling the frosting without a thermometer.) And be sure to give your cakes plenty of time to cool before beginning the frosting.
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Photo (Magic Lemon Cups, Coca-Cola Cake, Classic Southern Caramel Cake): Kate Williams
Photo (Mawmaw’s Strawberry Cake): Ramona King


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Ryan Shepard is the editor-in-chief at Southern Kitchen. Though originally from Los Angeles, she has lived in Atlanta since early 2017 and cannot imagine calling any other city home (except maybe New Orleans). Before joining Southern Kitchen's staff, Ryan worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on public policy issues. When she's not at work, she enjoys hunting down the best Mexican food in the city and drinking whiskey, obviously. 

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