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If there’s one person who can teach you how to cook soul food, it’s Top Chef alum Carla Hall. The Chew co-host has just released her third cookbook, Carla Hall’s Soul Food ($19), for the home cook who wants the comforting flavors of Southern food every day. With a healthy mix of approachable, veggie-centric weeknight recipes — and plenty of special-occasion dishes like fried chicken and caramel cake — Hall says in her intro that her recipes “capture all the soulfulness of soul food but don’t make you feel like you’re gonna die afterward.” Read on to learn what you can expect from the book and get a sneak peek of the gingerbread cake recipe that’s here just in time for holiday suppers.

Plenty of cookbooks claim to be uncomplicated, but after years of demonstrating easy recipes for home cooks on The Chew, Hall actually delivers on that promise. You can find all of her ingredients at your everyday grocery store, and you won’t need fancy equipment like a mandoline slicer or the hottest new blending device. That makes it realistic to whip up three different veggie dishes in one night (as Hall often does), like chopped salad with buttermilk dressing, blackened beans with lemon and chile, and smashed potatoes with mustard mayonnaise drizzle.

Vegetables do compose a hefty chunk of the book, but it’s still full of indulgent celebration foods, like meaty tomato mac and cheese and fried shrimp with creamy comeback sauce. There’s also an entire section on beans and several pages devoted to cornmeal for classics like johnnycakes, cornbread, and grits. And if you can get through the savory section before running to the kitchen, you’ll drool all over the desserts pages, which includes banana pudding, sweet potato pie, a homemade version of Little Debbie oatmeal cookies, and a strawberry cake that smells like summer.

And maybe best of all: Carla Hall’s Soul Food is more than just a cookbook: It’s a history of the cuisine. While it would be easy to believe that her fluffy angel biscuits magically appeared from the heavens, Hall makes it clear in the introduction that her recipes date back much further than her lifetime. She explains that soul food, “the true food of African Americans,” originates from slaves, who relied on seasonal vegetables, beans, and grains as their foundational diet. “For this book, I tried to imagine what my ancestors would be cooking from the farm if they were alive today,” Hall writes. “By looking to our roots, I’m showing you how delicious and healthy true soul food is.” These personal stories, dispersed throughout the book, make each bite just as meaningful as it is tasty.

If you’re itching to test out Carla Hall’sSoul Food right away, here’s a holiday-ready recipe you’ll want the whole family to try. Canola oil replaces much of the butter for a lighter cake, and lemony curd boosts the brightness of the cream cheese frosting.

gingerbread layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

(Serves 12)

Go all out for Christmas. This cake combines the warmth of wintry gingerbread with a lemony frosting that tastes like sunshine. When I made this for my family, my nieces and nephews went crazy over it. It was the best gift I could’ve given them.

Make ahead: The cake layers keep at room temperature tightly wrapped for up to 2 days. The lemon curd can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. The assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.

Ingredients:

Gingerbread Cake:

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup canola oil

Lemon Frosting:

  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
  • confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Directions:

1. Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.

2. Sift the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, molasses, and vanilla. In a small bowl, stir together the hot water and buttermilk.

3. Mix the dry ingredients on low speed until well blended. Add the 4 tablespoons butter and the oil and continue mixing on low until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. With the machine running, add the egg mixture and beat just until incorporated, then add the buttermilk mixture in a steady stream. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix again just until evenly combined. Divide the batter evenly among the three prepared pans.

4. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. When you lightly touch the top of the cake, it should feel a little bouncy but still show the indentation of your finger. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and place top side up on the racks. Let cool completely.

5. Make the lemon frosting. Whisk the lemon zest and juice, granulated sugar, egg yolks, and 6 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir continuously with a spatula until thick enough to coat the spatula, about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl.

6. Stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, letting each addition melt before adding the next. Press plastic wrap directly against the surface and refrigerate until cold and stiff.

7. Beat the cream cheese by hand in a large bowl just until smooth. Whisk the lemon curd to loosen it, then add to the cream cheese. Fold until well combined.

8. Assemble the cake. Place one cake layer, bottom side up, on a cake plate. Spread one third of the lemon cream evenly on top, leaving a 1-inch rim, and gently press another cake layer, bottom side up, on top. Spread half of the remaining lemon cream on its top, leaving a 1-inch rim; then top with the final cake layer, top side up. You can either dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve with the remaining lemon cream or spread the remaining cream on top. Refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours.

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(From the book Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration by Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko. Copyright © 2018 by Carla Hall. Published on October 23, 2018, by HarperWave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.)