How Layer Cakes Became A Southern Party Essential

No Southern gathering is complete without a spectacular layer cake, whether it’s for weddings or baby showers, birthday parties, holidays, church picnics, or funerals.

Although the region celebrates this famous dessert throughout the year it is not the origin of layer cakes in the South or the United States. The origins of layer cakes are European traditions. The first layer cakes appeared in America in 1800s. Some of the earliest layer cake recipes were published in “Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book,”This publication was created for cooks using iron stoves according to The New York Times.

In the late 1800s, layer cakes with rich fruits and delicate curds became more popular. Food historians cite the 1900s to 1930s as the glory days of layer cakes, which only got grander in scale and design as they spread through bakeries and home kitchens up and down the East Coast and eventually the South—where they’d would become a fundamental part of any celebration, for reasons you’ll probably guess.

“[The layer cake] was adopted for the Southern culture as a form of hospitality,”Lydia Menzies, an Athens-based entertainment expert and founder of The Entertainment Company, says: Supper ClubEntertainment for the community. “[A layer cake] coveys all the things we wish we could do and say for someone, but we just bake a cake instead.”

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Here are six more reasons that layer cakes are essential to any Southern gathering.

Layer Cakes are a labor of love

Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines were there to help us create a delicious layer cake in an hour. A homemade layer cake was the definition for a labor-of-love. From baking each layer in its own pan or slicing cakes into multiple thin layers, then making your own frosting and carefully spreading it between each layer and slathering it over the entire cake, the process could easily take an entire day—a gesture that demonstrated love for another person without saying a word.

“If you were going to bake each layer and make your own icing, [the process] was very labor intensive, so that’s why it was made for special occasions,” says Menzies.

Southern Hospitality: Layer Cakes

“[Hosting] is about taking care of people and making it look effortless, but we all know behind the scenes it takes a lot of work,”Richard Reutter is president of Caroline’s Cakes, a Spartanburg company, S.C., that is known for its seven-layer caramel cake. It was started in 1980 by Caroline Ragsdale Reutter, a Spartanburg native. Reutter says that when everything is put together, the dinner table looks stunning and a layer cake appears. It’s a magical experience for guests and a demonstration how much you care.

There are endless ideas for layer cake decorations

Southerners believe versatility is a virtue. Think of a layer cake like your favorite little black dress—with the right accessories, it’s easy to dress it up or down. Menzies recommends tying your cake flavors and décor into the theme of whatever it is you’re celebrating.

Fresh flowers are a great way to decorate layer cakes. They can be casual or formal, she says. Fresh berries are timeless, and buttercream roses with intricate piping will give your cake a nostalgic look. A beautiful cake stand can make your cake look even more elegant.

Layer Cakes steal the show

A layer cake is more than a decadent dessert. It can be used as a centerpiece on its own, or in conjunction with a dessert spread on sideboards or buffets.

“They’re bigger and taller [than other desserts] and easy to display in the middle of everything,” says Menzies. If you choose to present your layer cake directly to your guests, there’s a heightened sense of wonder. “There’s almost a ceremony to the layer cake when you cut into it [and] it’s just stack after stack of hard work,”She continues.

Layer cakes are a family tradition

Every family in the South has a special version of a layer cake that is served at special holidays. Red velvet anyone? Menzies’ grandmother made a peppermint-vanilla Christmas cake every year for her family.

“Everybody couldn’t wait to get a piece of it,”She recalls. There’s a reason why we feature a holiday cake every year! During the pandemic many people couldn’t be there with their family and turned to nostalgia and fond memories in the form sugary layers. Reutter said that Caroline’s Cakes’ ovens made more cakes than ever to fulfill orders from loved ones. They also shipped their layered confections throughout the country as a form if comfort.

Layer cakes are meant for sharing

You can’t go wrong with a sheet cake if you need to impress your guests. But a layer cake is a great choice. Most cakes can be served in a dozen (unless you are cutting off extra-large slices which we don’t blame you for) and they have a wow factor that is hard to find with a single-layer cake.

A piece of cake can even be something romantic to share with your partner, as long as one of you prefers cake and one of you loves the icing, that is — so you’re not diving in fork-first for the same bites.

Layer cakes are a great part of events. However, it would be a shame if they were reserved for large gatherings. We recommend baking layer cakes to celebrate small victories.

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