Read this cookbook: “Daisy Cakes Bakes: Keepsake Recipes for Southern Layer Cakes, Pies, Cookies, and more” by Kim Nelson (Clarkson Potter, $25)
By Wendell Brock
In 2011, South Carolina baker Kim Nelson went on “Shark Tank” to ask for a $50,000 investment so she could build up her small, family-owned business, which bakes and ships show-stopping Southern layer cakes from heirloom recipes.
Every male entrepreneur on the panel swooned over Nelson’s cakes, then blew her off as small time and risky.
But New Yorker Barbara Corcoran, who made a fortune in real estate, saw something in Nelson she liked. “This girl’s a hustler,” she told her tsk tsk-ing counterparts.
She was right.
Daisy Cakes — named for Nelson’s great-aunt, an accomplished baker who learned to cook on a wood-burning stove and lived to be 93 — went from selling 2,000 cakes in 2010 to more than 20,000 in 2016.
And now the small-business owner, who speaks in an accent as sweet as her Mississippi Mud Cake, has a new cookbook out from the prestigious Clarkson Potter/Publishers in New York.
Even before I could do a little research into Nelson’s Cinderella tale, I was smitten by the 100 recipes in this heartfelt collection.
Though her baking leans heavily on the classics (red velvet, Italian cream), she’s got plenty of nifty original ideas up her sleeves (Pear Upside-Down Cake made as gingerbread; Pork-Rind-Crusted Cheesecake; Rice Fritters that riff on her grandmother’s pudding). She shares recipes for pies, bars, barks, cookies, candy, ice cream, frostings and sauces, too.
The icing on the cake: Many of these creations appear to be beginner-friendly.
I can’t wait to see how her layer cakes stack up against my own well-tested versions, and to try the likes of Cherry Cake (dyed pink with maraschino juice) and Pineapple Bars (made with canned fruit).
You can get all snark tank about Nelson’s use of grocery-store ingredients if you want to. To me, it’s a bonus that she concocts sweets with home cooks in mind, using everyday pantry ingredients and many flavors I’ve adored since I was a kid. (She even devises a clever recipe for chocolate-covered cherries.)
Baking spray? Forget the expensive stuff in the can. This thrifty lady tells you how to concoct your own Pan Grease from vegetable shortening, canola oil, and flour. No wonder Corcoran decided to invest in this no-frills Southern belle.
A tribute to Nelson’s grandmother Nellie; her grandmother Nervielee; and her Aunt Daisy, “Daisy Cakes Bakes” feels like a Southern baking book for all time.
P.S.: Today happens to be International Womens Day. So I’m raising a measuring cup to Nelson and Corcoran: two strong women who dared to swim circles around those crusty old sharks in the tank.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).