'Southern Sugar': Belinda Smith-Sullivan's new cookbook explores all things sweet

Southern Kitchen
Belinda Smith-Sullivan's latest book is "Southern Sugar." (Courtesy of Gibbs Smith)

In “Southern Sugar," Belinda Smith-Sullivan has recipes for the cakes, pies, cookies and candies that grace tables across the South.

She has recipes for hummingbird cake, red velvet cake and pineapple upside-down cake. She includes desserts tied tightly to specific states, like Mississippi mud cake, Kentucky jam cake and Alabama’s Lane cake. And the book has those treats like divinity, pralines and fudge, that are the sugary highlights of so many holiday potlucks.

Smith-Sullivan spoke to The American South about our region’s sweet tooth and her own favorite desserts.

The American South: Why do we love sweets so much in the South?

Belinda Smith-Sullivan: I still ask myself that question. I think we just have a love affair with food. And of course, who doesn't like things that are sweet. For some reason, we seem to gravitate towards all those things that are sweetened. Maybe they’re not so good for you, but we love them anyway.

BS: At the holidays, I mean Thanksgiving to New Year's, you're going to see things like fruit cakes, German chocolate cake or just chocolate cake. Things that have lots of fruit, coconuts and nuts in them. When do you see divinity other than around Christmas time? Those are the things that you would see for those sweet holidays. Now you look at a holiday like the Fourth of July or the summer holidays, you'll have things like the Mississippi mud cake or the Texas sheet cake. Cakes that are big and can feed a lot of people. Because your mom, your aunt and your grandma always made those really special treats.

TAS: Were there desserts you discovered while writing this book?

BS: I had an education in pulling together everything for "Southern Sugar." The Kentucky jam cake. The Lane cake. Pecan tassies, I had never heard of those. And Japanese fruit cake. Everyone in South Carolina knows about the Japanese fruit cake. Of course, my next question was, I've lived in South Carolina now for 20 years, so why didn't I know about this thing? It is the most beautiful thing to look at once it's made, because of the layers and all that gooey coconut icing that doesn't really cover the entire cake. Once the layers are stacked, it starts to ooze over the sides.

"Southern Sugar" by Belinda Smith-Sullivan

TAS: Are the desserts that people are making in the South changing?

BS: If you're talking about your mom, your grandma, your aunts, your uncles making things, you're going to see the old classics. I don't think so much amongst younger people, because they're just not cooking. And if they are, they're not really concerned with desserts. It's not that they've gone out of style, because people still love to eat them. But they just don't want to be bothered with making them.

TAS: What cake do you want on your birthday?

BS: It's the pineapple coconut cake. That was my mother's favorite cake. And she made it once a year on her birthday. We probably looked forward more to her birthday than our own, because we got a piece of that cake.

Cook the book

Recipe 1: Texas sheet cake

Recipe 2:Pecan tassies

Recipe 3: Japanese fruit cake