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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Smith Island Cake

Maryland's Eastern Shore has long been known for its extraordinary tasty crabs - steamed crabs, soft shell crabs, crab cakes - yum!  Heaven!

But - There's a newer tradition.  One I'm every bit as wild about.  

Smith Island Cake.  

This sinfully delicious dessert was declared "The Official State Dessert of Maryland" by the Maryland State Legislation in October, 2008. 

"Smith Island Cake History

Smith Island, Maryland’s only inhabited island in the Chesapeake Bay, is located 12 miles west of Crisfield, Maryland. The 8 x 4 mile island has a total population of just 400 people. Smith Island is made up of 3 unique communities- Tylerton, Ewell and Rhodes Point- all located on small areas of high ground which exist among the large estuarine marshes characteristic of the Chesapeake Bay.

Originally settled in the 1600’s, Smith Island has been home to watermen and their families for centuries, whose primary livelihood comes from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. These watermen harvest blue crabs, oysters and fish, shipping them to markets throughout the world. Accessible only by boat, passenger only ferries connect Smith Island to Point Lookout, Maryland to the west and Crisfield Maryland to the East. Make a trip to Smith Island to experience a step back to simpler times.

Many people enjoy the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay, however the majority do not realize that the bay’s beauty is deceiving…below the surface there has been great damage to the precious watershed as a result of abuse and poor use of our natural resources. The Original Smith Island Cake Company is dedicated to the restoration of the bay’s ecosystem. As such, a percentage of our proceeds are earmarked toward environmental restoration initiatives, such as the Coastal Bay Foundation, that are helping to ensure that the splendor of our bay will be preserved for our children and future generations. Visit the Coastal Bay Foundation website at
This decadent cake from Smith Island has been known as “Frosting with the Cake”, containing between 6 -12 pencil-thin yellow cake layers with rich chocolate fudge icing in between!! Imagine nine of the most delicate layers of spongy yellow cake separated by the thinnest layers of an old fashioned cooked chocolate icing that sets like fudge.

No one is quite sure who developed the concept of the “Smith Island Cake”. Some people believe it can be traced to an English torte, brought by Welsh settlers who came to the Smith Island in the late 1600’s. Many residents of Smith Island say, “It has always been here”. The recipe for the Smith Island Cake was first published in 1981 in a cookbook called Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook. Women of Smith Island started to stack layers as a form of competition, and it eventually grew to as many as a dozen layers. 

Effective October 1, 2008, the Smith Island Cake and its unique island received the recognition that it deserved. The Maryland State Legislation established the Smith Island Cake as the Official State Dessert of Maryland."

While the original recipe (shown below) was for chocolate layer cake, the Smith Island Cake has evolved into cakes of all flavors.  If you can imagine it, someone out there is baking it.

If you've suddenly developed an urge to try one of these oh so delicious cakes, here are a few websites that might be able to help you out by delivering one to your front door.

Or - here's Mrs. Kitchings's recipe if you'd like to bake your own (from the Somerset County, Maryland website:):

Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake-Mrs. Kitching's Original Recipe

2 cups sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks (1 cup)
5 eggs
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup water

Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix into egg mixture one cup at a time. With mixer running, slowly pour in the evaporated milk, then the vanilla and water. Mix just until uniform.

Put three serving spoonfuls of batter in each of ten 9-inch lightly greased pans, using the back of the spoon to spread evenly. Bake three layers at a time on the middle rack of the oven at 350° for 8 minutes. A layer is done when you hold it near your ear and you don't hear it sizzle.

Start making the icing when the first layers go in the oven. Put the cake together as the layers are finished. Let layers cool a couple of minutes in the pans. Run a spatula around the edge of the pan and ease the layer out of the pan. Don't worry if it tears; no one will notice when the cake is finished. Use two and three serving spoonfuls of icing between each layer.

Cover the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the icing. Push icing that runs onto the plate back onto the cake.

Chocolate Icing for Ten-Layer Cake

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

Put sugar and evaporated milk in a medium pan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until warm. Add chocolate and cook to melt. Add butter and melt. Cook over medium heat at a slow boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add vanilla. Icing will be thin but thickens as it cools.

Aside from this scrumptious bit of heaven, Smith Island itself, the only inhabited off-shore island in the Chesapeake Bay, and accessible only by boat, is quite fascinating.  You may enjoy reading a little about it.  I'd recommend the following websites:  Wikepedia,,, along with "An Island Out of Time - A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake" by Tom Horton, 1996 - Random House, New York - Non Fiction.

1 comment:

Connie said...

I'm a big fan of Smith Island Cakes! The best is when you can actually travel to the island to get a fresh slice (or two!). The Somerset County Office of Tourism is a great source of info on how to get there.