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Old-school Southern desserts that deserve a comeback
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Old-school Southern desserts that deserve a comeback

Nothing can bring back memories of childhood in the South like a classic dessert. While we love any sweet treat that conjures a connection to the good old days, old-school Southern desserts provide a rich opportunity to innovate. Sure, they’re fantastic the way Grandma used to make them, but these five treats are even better with a few small tweaks to make them feel thoroughly modern.

Here’s why these desserts deserve to make a comeback, along with updated recipes that stay true to their oh-so-delicious roots.

Hummingbird Cake
This pineapple and banana cake with cream cheese frosting is traditionally served at Southern weddings and bridal showers, and its texture and flavor combinations are surprisingly complex. Sweet pineapple and banana mingle with tangy frosting while pecans lend a satisfying crunch. The hummingbird cake might have enjoyed an ‘80s heyday, but it’s a timeless dessert.

How to update it: Replacing the traditional cream cheese frosting with a decadent mascarpone makes for a creamier cake with a more grown-up flavor.
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Hello Dolly Bars
Made with chocolate chips, pecans, coconut and graham crackers, old-school Hello Dolly bars are ridiculously sweet and have long been a go-to indulgence for PTA meetings, birthday parties and Christmas cookie platters. Thanks to a flourishing food enthusiast culture that favors complex flavors over excess sugar, it’s time to align this decadent treat with present-day tastes: bolder flavor, a little less sweetness.

How to update them: To tone down the sugar while keeping the flavors intact, swap out milk chocolate chips for chopped dark chocolate (60 percent or higher) and make sure to use unsweetened coconut.
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Pecan Sandies 
A staple of childhood Christmas cookie tins, the original sandie is a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookie dotted with pecan pieces. As many desserts become absurdly complex just to garner more clicks on Pinterest, the sandie’s simplicity is refreshing.

How to update them: With so few ingredients, focusing on the highest quality of each item makes a huge difference. Use the best butter you can find, like Kerrygold, and take a few minutes to candy the pecans before folding them into the dough. The crunch and extra sweetness make a huge difference.
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Coca-Cola Cake
The cola cake has been the cover star of many a 1960s issue of Good Housekeeping. Soaked in the syrupy sweetness of Coca-Cola, it is an iconic Southern indulgence and perfect for large groups. Bring a cola cake to a party, and you’ll instantly be the most popular person there.

How to update it: Skip the traditional Coca-Cola and upgrade to something with a more defined flavor. Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola is a great option that’s widely available, but a bottle of your favorite locally-brewed cola would be great as well.
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Spiked Banana Pudding
A cool, creamy marriage of bright yellow pudding with banana chunks and Nilla Wafers, banana pudding is the perfect ending to a diner counter lunch or a Sunday dinner with family. Nothing is more comforting than banana pudding.

How to update it: Give the dish a grown-up twist by adding a splash of rum to the pudding.
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Rachel Taylor is a staff writer at Southern Kitchen. She moved to Atlanta earlier this year after graduating college in Maryland, and has been a digital audience specialist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Politically Georgia, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times on Maryland's Eastern Shore. She has lived in France and Italy, and loves to travel.

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