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AAA World | Foodie Finds
Celebrate with Smith Island Cake

THIS MOIST, MANY-LAYERED CAKE FROM MARYLAND’S SMITH ISLAND IS A FESTIVE, TASTY DESSERT

For as long as anyone on Smith Island can remember, the dessert that must make an appearance at every celebration—from town get-togethers to holiday gatherings—has been the locally created masterpiece now officially known as Smith Island Cake. (It was, by the way, declared the “official state dessert” by Maryland legislators in 2008.)

Smith Island Cake is made of 7 to 10 thin layers of cake with an abundance of frosting between the layers and covering the outside. Smith Island baker Mary Ada Marshall attributes the creation way-back-when of this cake-lover’s fantasy to one-upmanship among the local women, who would try to outdo each other at events by bringing cakes made of ever-increasing layers.

Yellow cake with chocolate icing is the traditional version, but these days you’ll find a wide range of cake and frosting flavors, from coconut to carrot to peanut butter. With the season of celebrations upon us, AAA World presents the recipe for this yummy cake for bakers who want to impress their family and friends.

We have two versions. The first is the made-from-scratch recipe of Smith Islander Frances Kitching published in Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook.* The second recipe was provided to AAA World by Marshall. Marshall’s version starts with a cake mix to save a bit of time.

The truly time-pressed can order a Smith Island Cake from these local companies:

Smith Island Bakery
Ewell, Maryland
410/425-2018
smithislandbakeryllc.com

Smith Island Store
Ewell, Maryland
410/425-2771
smithislandstore.com/shop

Smith Island Baking Company
Crisfield, Maryland
410/425-CAKE (2253)
smithislandcake.com

Classic Cakes
Salisbury, Maryland
410/860-5300
classicsmithislandcakes.com


Earlier this year, AAA World editor Theresa Gawlas Medoff went to Smith Island to meet up with baker Mary Ada Marshall and get a demo of how she assembles a Smith Island Cake.

 

RECIPES:

FRANCES KITCHING'S SMITH ISLAND LAYER CAKE*
Choose from traditional chocolate icing or a festive, cooked coconut topping for a brighter treat.
Serves: 12
Total time: Varies, but it’s worth it.

INGREDIENTS FOR LAYER CAKE:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, chunked
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup water

DIRECTIONS FOR CAKE:
Preheat oven to 350° with rack in middle setting.

  • Step 1: A traditional Smith Island Cake has 8 to 12 layers. Most ovens can fit three 9-inch cake pans, so for a nine-layer cake, bake three layers at a time. Lightly butter three pans, and re-butter after each set.
  • Step 2: Cream together sugar and butter, add eggs, and beat until smooth with mixer. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder, then add to egg mixture one cup at a time, mixing as you go.
  • Step 3:< While beating with mixer, slowly add the evaporated milk, vanilla and water. Mix until the batter has a smooth, even texture.
  • Step 4: Put about 2/3 cup of the batter into each of the three greased pans, spreading evenly across the entire pan. Bake each in the preheated oven for eight minutes.

If you are reusing the pans (we’re guessing you don’t have nine cake pans), let the layers cool in the pans. Then gently remove the layersand set aside while you prepare the next batch.

Running a spatula or butter knife around the inside edge can help free the cake from the pan. Stack the layers with a generous layer of icing between each cake.

INGREDIENTS FOR CHOCOLATE ICING:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS FOR CHOCOLATE ICING:

  • Step 1: While the first cake layers are baking, begin making the icing. In a medium saucepan, stir evaporated milk and sugar together over low heat until warm. Add chocolate and simmer until melted.
  • Step 2: Add butter and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 12–15 minutes stirring as needed, adding vanilla at the end. Icing will be thin, but thicken as it cools.
  • Step 3: Try not to eat it all before it gets on the cake. Be prepared for a kitchen kerfuffle over who gets to lick the bowl clean.

INGREDIENTS FOR COOKED COCONUT ICING:

  • 2½ cups sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 cans (12 oz.) evaporated milk
  • 1 pound flaked coconut
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS FOR COOKED COCONUT ICING:
This unexpected treat is surprisingly simple.

  • Step 1: Combine evaporated milk, butter and sugar in a medium saucepan, and being careful not to bring to a boil, cook over medium heat until it begins to thickens, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Step 2:  Remove from heat, add coconut and vanilla, and stir until the icing stiffens.

*Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook, by Frances Kitching and Susan Stiles Dowell. Published 1981 by Tidewater Publishing. Republished in 2011 by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Published here with permission of Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Mary Ada Marshall and her finished Smith Island Cake
Mary Ada Marshall's holds up her finished Smith Island Cake; photo by Theresa Medoff

 

MARY ADA MARSHALL'S SMITH ISLAND CAKE (with a shortcut)

INGREDIENTS FOR CAKE:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 box classic yellow cake mix (preferably Duncan Hines Classic Yellow, but any cake mix will work)

DIRECTIONS FOR CAKE:

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Place all ingredients in large mixing bowl, and mix for 10 minutes. Put roughly 3/4 cup batter in each greased cake pan (I use a light coating of Pam cooking spray).
  • Use the back of a spoon to gently and evenly spread the batter to cover the bottom of each pan.
  • Bake at 350° for 8–10 minutes or until the edge starts to brown.
  • Batter should yield eight layers.

INGREDIENTS FOR ICING:

  • 1 lb. powdered sugar
  • 3 heaping Tablespoons Hershey’s Dry Cocoa
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 stick cold butter

DIRECTIONS FOR ICING:

  • Put powdered sugar, cocoa and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan and mix together.
  • Add cold butter.
  • Place saucepan on stove over high heat, stirring constantly until ingredients are combined and butter is melted.
  • Remove from heat and whip icing a few times. Icing should have a glossy appearance.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

  • Add a dollop of icing in the middle of the cake plate or cardboard round, and put the first layer of cake in place.
  • Add a large spoonful of icing to the top of the layer and working quickly, spread the icing to the edges of the cake.
  • Place the second layer, and repeat process through the seventh layer.
  • Once you add the top layer of cake, spread your icing on the sides of the cake first, and then finish by frosting the top of the cake.