What are the most popular recipes in America? I wondered, and I set out to find and make a few for my “50 recipes by 50” quest. Tunnel of Fudge cake ranks high on the list. Ella Rita Helfrich of Houston, Texas, won $5,000 for the cake in the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off.

What are the most popular recipes in America? I wondered, and I set out to find and make a few for my “50 recipes by 50” quest.

Tunnel of Fudge cake ranks high on the list. Ella Rita Helfrich of Houston, Texas, won $5,000 for the cake in the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off.

The decadent fudge dessert took the country by storm, spawning the popularity of the Bundt cake pan that is still popular today. Four decades and thousands of dishes later, the dessert remains the recipe most closely identified with the now $1 Million Pillsbury Bake-Off.

If I had to choose my favorite cookbook, “Silver Palate Cookbook” is it. When Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso published the book in 1982, they introduced an “upscale” cooking mindset to millions of other home cooks –– myself included –– as well as revolutionized cookbook design with their hip and clean layout. Since then, they have published numerous cookbooks, both together and alone.

What, I wondered, might be their most famous dish? From what I can gather, it’s Chicken Marbella, a fit-for-company dish of baked chicken cooked with white wine, prunes and green olives. The original version calls for four whole chickens; I opted for the version Sheila Lukins presented on “The Early Show” on ABC several years back. One taste and you will never look at prunes the same way again.

Macaroni and cheese is quintessentially American, and some say no one does the dish better than Martha Stewart. The creamy, cheese-laden concoction is worth the effort, and chances are you will replace your family’s tried-and-true recipe with this one.

What is the most requested recipe in Southern Living magazine history? Apparently, it’s Hummingbird Cake, a pineapple- and banana-infused layer cake slathered with cream cheese frosting. Rumor has it that no Southern picnic or potluck is without one. It’s a delightful warm-weather dessert that looks as pretty as it tastes.

Lastly, I wondered about “most-clicked” recipes on the go-to foodie website www.allrecipes.com. Looks like the prize goes to Banana Crumb Muffins, rated five stars by more than 6,000 viewers. These moist and flavorful muffins can be customized to your liking with nuts or other ingredients.

Chicken Marbella

2 (3-pound) chickens, cut into pieces, excess fat removed 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped 2 tablespoons dried oregano 1/4 cup olive oil 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1/2 cup pitted prunes 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives 1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice 3 bay leaves Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup white wine 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves

In a large bowl, combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, salt, olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers with juice and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large shallow baking pans, and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear juice.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley. Serve with the remaining juices.

-- “Silver Palate Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

Banana Crumb Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons, divided 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 bananas, mashed 3/4 cup white sugar 1 egg, lightly beaten 1/3 cup butter, melted 1/3 cup packed brown sugar 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease 10 muffin cups or line with muffin papers. In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and cinnamon. Cut in 1 tablespoon butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Martha Stewart’s Mac & Cheese

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole 6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces 5 1/2 cups milk 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese 1 pound elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups white cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.

Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Southern Living’s Hummingbird Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 large eggs, beaten 1 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained 1 cup chopped pecans 2 cups chopped bananas

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened 1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 cup chopped pecans

For cake: Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans and bananas. Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

For frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla. Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

-- Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, Southern Living

Tunnel of Fudge

Cake:

1 3/4 cups sugar 1 3/4 cups margarine or butter, softened 6 eggs 2 cups powdered sugar 2 1/4 cups all purpose or unbleached flour 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa 2 cups chopped walnuts*

Glaze:

3/4 cup powdered sugar 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa 4 to 6 teaspoons milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and margarine; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. By hand, stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan; spread evenly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from sides of pan. Since this cake has a soft filling, an ordinary doneness test cannot be used. Accurate oven temperature and baking times are essential.

Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.

For glaze: In small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients, adding enough milk for desired drizzling consistency. Spoon over top of cake, allowing some to run down sides. Store tightly covered.

*Note: Nuts are essential for the success of this recipe and cannot be omitted.