December 14, 2011 12:00 PM

Walk into Nashville’s Loveless Cafe on any given morning, afternoon or evening and you’ll probably have to wait for a table. Just ask Alan Jackson or Tim McGraw or Kenny Chesney. Apparently even having your picture in a frame up on the wall doesn’t get you past the hostess stand. But the stars who come to this Nashville landmark, currently celebrating its 60th anniversary, wait in line for the same reason locals, tourists, struggling musicians and foodies do: “Good country cooking,” says Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman, a regular at the restaurant since she moved to town from Georgia 14 years ago. “When I first came here, it was like a taste of home,” she says. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Besides the Loveless’s legendary biscuits, fried chicken, pulled pork and creamed corn, what has everyone hooked can be found in the refrigerated case up front. That’s where pastry chef and cookbook author Alisa Huntsman displays her cakes and pies of the day. The cafe sells between 800 to 1,000 desserts a week.

Though Huntsman gets in every morning at 4 a.m. to start on her desserts, she promises you don’t have to work that hard to make “magic” at home. For one thing, she says, pies made with store-bought crust can be just as good as those made with homemade dough. “I tell people all the time there’s no reason to feel guilty for that; find a store-bought crust you like and use it,” says Huntsman. “Dough really shouldn’t be that scary. It’s more important that you’re making something at home yourself with your family or friends.”

Huntsman, a native of New Jersey, is actually credited with bringing desserts to the Loveless. She was hired in 2004 after the restaurant expanded and reopened (the menu previously didn’t offer dessert), and her offerings were an immediate hit. “It’s like they take the spirit of grandmothers and the love of grandmothers and put it right here in their kitchen,” says Schlapman. But Huntsman admits that baking for southern taste buds took some getting used to. “When I first moved to the South, I was making desserts and people kept telling me that this isn’t sweet enough. All I could think was that it’s sweet enough to me!” says Huntsman. “I’ve learned Yankees like a bit of sugar with their dessert, but in the South, they like a little bit of dessert with their sugar.”

MUDDY FUDGE PIE

Makes: 1 (9-in.) cake

½ (15-oz.) package refrigerated pie crusts

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

½ cup plus 2 tbsp. half-and-half, divided

½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

3 large eggs

1 cup light corn syrup

1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup semisweet chocolate morsels

Sweetened Whipped Cream (opposite page)

1. Fit pie crust into 9-in. pie plate; flute according to package directions. Chill 15 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 325. Line pie crust with parchment paper and partially bake according to package directions, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove paper; cool on a wire rack. Increase oven to 350.

3. Microwave 3 oz. chocolate and ½ cup half-and-half in a large microwave-safe bowl at medium-low just until chocolate melts; whisk until smooth. Set aside.

4. Place brown sugar in large bowl; whisk in eggs one at a time until mixture is smooth. Whisk in corn syrup and vanilla. Gradually whisk one-quarter of egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Whisk in remaining egg mixture until all is combined. Pour mixture into prepared crust.

5. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until filling is set around the edges and center is almost set. Cool on wire rack; cover and chill 3 to 4 hours.

6. Microwave chocolate morsels and remaining 2 tbsp. half-and-half for 30 seconds or just until chocolate melts; stir until smooth.

7. Spread whipped cream over pie. Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 1 day.

The Loveless’s Famous Sweetened Whipped Cream

Beat 2½ cups heavy cream until foamy in chilled bowl of electric mixer with chilled beaters; gradually add 2 tbsp. sugar and ¼ tsp. vanilla extract, beating until stiff peaks form.

CARAMEL APPLE CAKE

Makes: 1 (8-in.) cake

½ cup chopped pecans

2 large eggs

1½ cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed

1 cup canola or vegetable oil

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1½ tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. ground cardamom

¾ tsp. baking soda

1 cup Caramel Sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan.

2. Place pecans in a single layer in a small baking pan. Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring occasionally.

3. Whisk together eggs, brown sugar and oil in a large bowl; stir in pecans and apples.

4. Sift flour and next four ingredients over egg mixture; stir until blended and spoon into prepared pan.

5. Bake 70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 20 minutes, then remove from pan.

6. Pierce cake multiple times on top and sides with a long wooden skewer. Pour Caramel Sauce evenly over cake. Cool completely before slicing.

CARAMEL SAUCE

2½ cups heavy cream

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

½ tsp. vanilla extract

1. Cook cream and cinnamon stick in saucepan over medium heat until boiling; set aside.

2. Cook sugar and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until boiling, stirring to melt sugar. Increase heat to medium-high; boil without stirring 8 to 10 minutes or until syrup begins to color, swirling pan to incorporate mixture. Remove from heat when mixture is pale amber.

3. Whisk one-quarter of warm cream mixture into caramel mixture. (Mixture will boil furiously.) Whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in remaining cream until mixture is smooth. Reduce heat; simmer 15-20 minutes or until mixture reduces by one-third. Cool slightly. Remove cinnamon stick; stir in vanilla.

PEEKABOO BLUEBERRY PIE

Makes: 1 (9-in.) pie

24 oz. fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed

¾ cup sugar

3 tbsp. cornstarch

2 tsp. lemon zest

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tbsp. rose water

1 (15-oz.) package refrigerated pie crust

Sweetened Whipped Cream

1. Preheat oven to 350. If using fresh berries, rinse and pat dry.

2. Combine sugar and next 3 ingredients. Add blueberries and rose water; stir well. Fit one pie crust into a 9-in. pie plate; flute and crimp according to package directions. Spoon berry mixture into pie crust.

3. Cut remaining pie crust into 10 (1-in.) strips. Arrange strips over berries to form lattice top. Trim ends; gently press to bottom crust to seal. Place pie on a baking sheet.

4. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until juices bubble in center and lattice is golden brown. Shield pie with foil after 20 minutes, if needed. Cool 4 hours. Serve with Sweetened Whipped Cream (page 73).

SOUTHERN STYLE COCONUT CAKE

Makes: 1 (9-in.) cake

4 egg whites

1/3 cup milk

1½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 1/3 cups self-rising flour

1¾ cups sugar

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

Seven-Minute Meringue Frosting

2½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease two (9-in.) round cake pans; line with greased parchment paper.

2. Whisk egg whites, milk and vanilla together in a small bowl; set aside.

3. Beat flour and sugar with an electric mixer at low speed until combined. Add butter and coconut milk; beat on low speed to combine. Increase speed to medium; beat 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add egg mixture in 2 to 3 additions, beating well after each addition, scraping bowl as needed. Pour into pans.

4. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks; cool completely.

5. Spread 1 cup frosting on bottom layer; sprinkle with ½ cup coconut. Top with second layer. Spread remaining frosting on top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut.

SEVEN-MINUTE MERINGUE FROSTING

1¼ cups sugar

3 tbsp. light corn syrup

4 egg whites

¼ tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Cook sugar, corn syrup and 2 tbsp. water in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat; stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Use a wet pastry brush to wash down sides of pan if sugar clings. Cover; continue cooking without stirring until mixture boils 1 minute. Remove lid and insert candy thermometer; cook 1 to 2 minutes or until syrup reaches 240.

2. Blend egg whites and cream of tartar at low speed with electric mixer; continue beating until foamy. Gradually pour hot sugar mixture into egg whites, beating constantly.

3. Increase speed to medium-high; beat 7 minutes or until mixture forms stiff peaks. Add vanilla; beat until blended.

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