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America's best regional desserts: 15 sweet treats to try

By Marnie Hunter, CNN

Updated: Thu, 06 Oct 2022 19:57:30 GMT

Source: CNN

Buckeyes, biscochitos, marionberry pie. All over the United States, sweet concoctions have sprung up that mean a lot to locals and are must-try specialties for visitors.

Some are so delicious they're worth fighting over.

Here are 15 of the best regional desserts to tuck into across America:

Whoopie pie, New England and Pennsylvania

The origin stories of delicious creations are often contested, and the whoopie pie is no exception.

Pennsylvania and Maine are just two of the locations that lay claim to the chocolate cake-like cookie sandwiches filled with cream. Amish cooks came up with them, Pennsylvania says, while Maine says they were first sold at Labadie's Bakery in Lewiston in the 1920s.

Maine took things one step further by making the whoopie pie the official state "treat" in 2011. (Not to be confused with the state dessert, which is blueberry pie).

Lane cake, Alabama

Alabama's got a state dessert, too: Lane cake. The star of this layer cake is the filling -- a buttery, bourbon- or brandy-spiked raisin mixture that sometimes includes pecans and coconut.

Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, is credited as the cake's creator and namesake, and the recipe appeared in her 1898 "Some Good Things to Eat" cookbook. The Southern sweet also makes it into the pages of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Marionberry pie, Oregon

Named for Marion County, Oregon, the marionberry is a cross between Chehalem and Olallie blackberries. The berry was introduced in 1956, according to the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. The marionberry has "a tart, earthy sweetness," the commission says, "perfect for eating fresh."

They're also very good in pies, and come July, bakeries are brimming with berries baked into rich, buttery crusts. Lauretta Jean's Pie Bakery in Portland makes the most of the short but sweet marionberry season.

Key lime pie, Florida

The iconic key lime pie's origins have been called into question in recent years, and Floridians aren't happy about it. But the pie certainly has strong ties to Florida, and it's the official state pie. (Still, strawberry shortcake's recent designation as state dessert was met with consternation from some key lime pie lovers).

Small, tart, yellowish key limes were once grown commercially in the Florida Keys, and the pie is Key West's signature dish. Britannica's online entry about the pie suggests that these days imported limes or bottled juice are used in many pies. Typically, a graham cracker crust is filled with a tart custard made with plenty of juice and sweetened condensed milk.

Gooey butter cake, Missouri

St. Louis gooey butter cake is thought to be the result of a happy accident of proportions in the 1930s.

Although not Missouri's state dessert (that would be the ice cream cone, which has ties to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair), the dense, flat cake with a gooey center is for sale all over St. Louis -- in classic form or with a twist such as lemon or butter pecan flavor. It's often dusted with powdered sugar.

Shave ice, Hawaii

Shave ice came to Hawaii via sugar plantation workers from Japan, where kakigori had been a popular sweet dessert for centuries. Soft flakes of ice shaved from a solid block soak up the sweet syrup of your choice.

Matsumoto Shave Ice, established in 1951 on Oahu's North Shore, has been serving the refreshing treat to generations of locals and visitors. Lilikoi (passion fruit) and pickled mango are on the tropical end of a flavor spectrum that includes raspberry and bubblegum. Condensed milk, vanilla ice cream and azuki beans are among the available add-ons.

A chocolate nut pie that shall not be named, Kentucky

Legal battles have been fought over a delicious chocolate walnut pie from Kentucky. Kern's Kitchen in Louisville says there's only one such pie, first created in 1954, and it has a registered trademark on "Derby-Pie®."

The business is very serious about it.

"Protecting our trademark means protecting our reputation and the integrity of our product. So although we prefer to settle differences amicably, we will resort to litigation if necessary," Kern's Kitchen's website says. But the Louisville Courier-Journal prevailed in 2021 in a trademark dispute over the use of the words "derby pie" in a recipe and article in the newspaper. A pie worth fighting for? Taste it and see.

Moravian sugar cake, North Carolina and Pennsylvania

This coffee cake makes a delicious holiday brunch treat or a sweet coffee accompaniment any time of day. The cake has roots in Moravian Church settlements in North Carolina and Pennsylvania dating back hundreds of years.

In North Carolina, Dewey's Bakery in Winston-Salem has been baking the buttery cakes since 1930. Winston-Salem is also touted as the production epicenter of the incredibly thin Moravian cookie, which features molasses, cloves and ginger in its most traditional form.

Buckeyes, Ohio

Peanut butter and chocolate with no baking necessary. What's not to love? This candy hails from the Buckeye State, a nickname that originates from a tree with nuts that resemble the eye of a deer.

The story goes that the bite-sized sweets, where all but the top of the peanut butter ball is covered in a layer of dark chocolate, were created in the 1960s by Ohio resident Gail Tabor.

They were shared at Ohio State-Michigan football games, and their simple goodness eventually spread well beyond the state.

Boston cream pie, Massachusetts

"A pie in cake's clothing." That's how Yankee Magazine described the Boston cream pie, which involves sweet pastry cream sandwiched between two rounds of golden cake, finished with a smooth chocolate glaze.

This pie impostor seems to have originated at Boston's Parker House Hotel, now Omni Parker House, which opened in 1855. Boston cream pie is the state dessert of Massachusetts. (The state doughnut? Yup, Boston cream.) Why it's called a pie is still very much a mystery.

Bananas Foster, Louisiana

This banana dish involving butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, rum and banana liqueur -- and set on fire tableside and served over vanilla ice cream -- was dreamed up at Brennan's Restaurant in New Orleans. It was for a 1951 dinner honoring Richard Foster, chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission, according to The Times-Picayune newspaper.

At Brennan's, it's offered at breakfast, lunch and dinner and is the most-ordered item on the menu. Here's the recipe. Proceed with caution, flambé novices.

Smith Island cake, Maryland

With up to 10 thin layers of yellow cake separated by fudge frosting, this cake originating on Maryland's Smith Island is thought to date back generations. Its designation as Maryland's official state dessert in 2008 brought national attention to the cake and its birthplace, a three-by-five mile island in the Chesapeake Bay where pretty much everything arrives by boat.

Today, two baking outfits, Smith Island Bakery and Smith Island Baking Company, ship different flavors of the cake all over the country.

Coconut cake, Southern states

The precise origins of the coconut cake are hard to pin down, but decadent layer cakes covered in shaved coconut have been associated with the South since the 1800s. Baker and author Anne Byrn told NPR that enslaved African cooks had knowledge of new ingredients such as coconut and produced some of the South's best cakes.

Here's a treasured family recipe from Cheryl Day of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia.

Biscochitos, New Mexico

This anise-flavored cookie topped with cinnamon sugar was brought to New Mexico by early Spanish colonists. The biscochito has been the official state cookie since 1989, and by New Mexico's claim, the first in the nation to receive the designation. Frequently made with lard, the dough is rolled out thin and often cut into shapes. The cookies are a Christmas tradition and often appear at weddings and other celebrations.

Texas sheet cake

Texas Monthly said it got a "sheet-load of letters" a few years ago about the best way to make this thin chocolate cake that's often associated with funerals and church events.

How it came to be associated with the state is still a mystery, although its size has been put forward as one possible reason. Often baked in a jelly-roll pan, the cake is expansive. Cocoa is the standout ingredient in both cake and frosting, with nuts mixed into the latter.


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