5 Decadent Southern Desserts

banana pudding parfaits
Photo: Melissa Sperka

The perfect way to end any evening is, of course, by satisfying your sweet tooth with a little dessert (okay, or A LOT of dessert). And if there's any kind of cuisine that's famous for comforting, decadent dishes, it's Southern cooking. In her new book, Melissa's Southern Cookbook, blogger Melissa Sperka shares some recipes she learned from her mother and grandmothers while growing up in the South, where family gatherings centered on amazing food and where traditions were a constant. We've pulled a few mouthwatering dessert recipes that you'll want to indulge in as often as you can.

Granma's Famous Blueberry Icebox Pie

All the best, tried-and-true recipes are the ones that have been passed down from generation to generation. This one comes from Melissa's grandmother, Minnie, who she describes as an old-school cook who raised 13 children without a single written recipe. It's one of Melissa's favorites in the book, passed down from her grandmother by word of mouth, so you know it's really good. Beautiful to look at with its colorful blueberry filling, it's just as beautiful to dig into at the end of a hot day.

What You'll Need:

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie

Crust

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ¹⁄³ cup salted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (2.6-ounce) box Dream Whip (see Cook's Note)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 (18-ounce) can premium blueberry pie filling
  • 1 cup sweetened fresh whipped cream (optional)


Directions:

Step 1: To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9-inch pie dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Step 2: In a medium-size mixing bowl, toss together the graham cracker crumbs, butter, almonds, and granulated sugar. Press firmly onto the bottom and sides of the prepared pie dish.

Step 3: Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until set and beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Step 4: To make the filling: In a medium-size mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the cream cheese, Dream Whip, cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla and almond extracts. Beat for 2 minutes, or until fluffy and smooth.

Step 5: Spread evenly into the cooled crust. Spread the blueberry pie filling on top.

Step 6: Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, before serving.

Cook's note: Dream Whip is a brand of dried whipped topping mix. One 2.6 ounce box contains two envelopes. Use both envelopes for this icebox pie.


Mississippi Mud Brownies

Though no one can agree on where the whimsical term "Mississippi Mud" originally comes from, we can tell you that this is the most delicious "mud" you could ever ask for. Melty marshmallows, toasted pecans, and silky chocolate ganache drizzle? Time to get dirty.

What You'll Need:

Makes 24 brownies

  • 1 ½ cups chopped pecans
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks, or 6 ounces) salted butter
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ¹⁄3 cup heavy cream


Directions:

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 × 13-inch baking dish liberally with cooking spray. Set aside.

Step 2: Spread the chopped pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast for 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

Step 3: In a medium-size mixing bowl, sift together the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt.

Step 4: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter and chocolate and melt in 20-second increments, stopping to stir each time, until smooth.

Step 5: Add the espresso powder and vanilla to the melted chocolate mixture, stirring until the espresso has dissolved.

Step 6: Using an electric mixer, gradually beat the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the eggs and beat for 1 minute. Pour into the prepared pan.

Step 7: Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center shows moist crumbs. Do not overbake.

Step 8: Remove from the oven and immediately pour the marshmallows on top and spread. Sprinkle with half of the toasted pecans.

Step 9: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chocolate chips and cream and melt in 20-second increments, until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the brownies. Let cool to room temperature, then cut and serve.


White Chocolate Raspberry Cream Tart

Berries and cream is the ultimate warm weather dessert, sure to cool you off with its refreshing flavors. Fresh berries mixed with sweet, smooth cream and a touch of crunch from a puff pastry make for a simply irresistible combination.

What You'll Need:

Makes 8 servings

  • ½ (17.3 ounce) package puff pastry (1 sheet)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 ½ cups heavy cream, divided
  • ²⁄³ cup powdered sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 12 ounces fresh raspberries, rinsed and dried
  • 2 tablespoons grated white chocolate


Directions:

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Thaw the puff pastry per the package instructions.

Step 2: Lightly spray a 14 × 5-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray. Set aside

Step 3: On a floured nonstick surface, roll the puff pastry into roughly a 16 × 6-inch rectangle. Fit firmly into the tart pan and trim the edges.

Step 4: Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork, then brush with the egg wash. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Step 5: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the white chocolate chips and ½ cup of the cream and melt in the microwave in 20-second increments, stopping to stir each time, until completely smooth. Set aside to cool.

Step 6: In a medium-size mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, whip the remaining 2 cups of cream with the powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.

Step 7: In a separate bowl, whip together the cream cheese, white chocolate mixture, and vanilla and almond extracts. Beat for 2 minutes until completely smooth.

Step 8: Fold in the sweetened whipped cream by hand.

Step 9: Spread the white chocolate cream filling into the cooled puff pastry crust. Chill for at least 2 hours to allow the filling to set.

Step 10: Top with the fresh raspberries just before serving and sprinkle with the grated white chocolate.


Black-Bottomed Peanut Butter Pie

Any dessert involving chocolate and peanut butter is an automatic win - especially when it has both a peanut butter filling AND is topped with chocolate peanut butter cups. Variations of this kind of pie are found all throughout the South, and it's a particular fave for summertime since the filling requires no baking, keeping you and your kitchen nice and cool.


What You'll Need:

Makes 1 (10-inch) pie

Crust

  • 2 ¼ cups crushed chocolate graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick, or 4 ounces) tablespoons salted butter, melted

Filling

  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 (8-ounce) containers frozen whipped topping, thawed

Topping

  • 1 (11-ounce) bag mini peanut butter cups, unwrapped and cubed
  • ¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • ¼ cup chopped peanuts


Directions:

Step 1: To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 10-inch deep-dish pie dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Step 2: In a small mixing bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, granulated sugar, and butter. The mixture should hold together when pressed between two fingers. Press firmly onto the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pie dish.

Step 3: Bake for 15 minutes, or until set. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Step 4: To make the filling: In a medium-size mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Fold in half of the whipped topping by hand.

Step 5: Spread the filling into the cooled piecrust. Top with the remaining whipped cream.

Step 6: For the topping, arrange the cubed peanut butter cups on top of the whipped cream.

Step 7: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chocolate chips and cream and melt in 20-second increments, stopping to stir each time, until completely smooth.

Step 8: Drizzle the chocolate mixture over the peanut butter cups and sprinkle with the chopped peanuts. This may be done just before serving, if desired. Chill for at least 4 hours to set.


Banana Pudding Parfaits

Banana pudding is an incredibly popular Southern tradition, with all kinds of variations. Melissa's take on the layered dish stands apart because of its luscious homemade vanilla custard, which makes it truly decadent. The pretty parfait glass presentation also makes for a great dinner party dessert - your guests will love how cute this darling dessert looks when it all comes together, and you'll love how easy it is to arrange.

What You'll Need:

Makes 8 (8-ounce) parfaits (see Cook's Note)

  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¹⁄8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 ½ cups half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 (11-ounce) box vanilla wafers
  • 6 medium-size bananas, sliced
  • 1 (8-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed


Directions:

Step 1: In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the evaporated milk, sugar, flour, and salt until the sugar has dissolved and no lumps remain. Pour into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent sticking, just until warmed.

Step 2: In the same mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and half-and-half. While whisking, gradually add to the warmed mixture in the saucepan.

Step 3: Lower the heat to medium and gently cook, stirring, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until thickened.

Step 4: Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Mix well. If the custard appears lumpy, press through a fine-mesh sieve to smooth.

Step 5: Pour the custard into a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap on top. Allow the custard to cool slightly while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Step 6: To assemble, arrange three or four whole vanilla wafers in the bottom of each parfait glass, reserving eight whole vanilla wafers for garnishing. In a separate bowl, crush all the remaining vanilla wafers.

Step 7: Over the whole vanilla wafers, add a layer of sliced banana (about 4 slices per layer), then cover with about ¼ cup of warm custard. Repeat the layers, beginning with crushed vanilla wafers. Reserving ½ cup of crushed wafers for the top plus 8 whole wafers for garnish, continue layering until all the ingredients have been equally divided among the parfait glasses ending with vanilla custard.

Step 8: Top each parfait with a dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle each with the reserved crushed vanilla wafers and garnish with 1 whole wafer. Chill until serving.

Cook's note: Depending on the size of the parfait glasses, the yield may vary slightly.


To buy this cookbook, click here.

All recipes and images from Melissa's Southern Cookbook: Tried and True Family Recipes, by Melissa Sperka (The Countryman Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission.