Maryland - Smith Island Cake

Oh. My. Goodness.
What else can you say when you see a cake like that?! Well, maybe you say - cut me a slab!  Anyway, that picture of loveliness is the famous Smith Island Cake from Smith Island, MD. 

I have so been looking forward to making (and eating) this cake!  A good friend who is from Maryland told me about the Smith Island Cake last year when I started Sweet State of Mine and I was excited to learn more about it.  

How did such a tiny island come up with such a big cake?
Smith Island was settled in the late 1600's and today has a population of only 400 people.  No one knows the exact origins of this cake, but many assume that it is an adaptation of an English torte brought by the first settlers.  

What makes a Smith Island Cake?
Lots of layers!  A Smith Island Cake has between 6 and 12 pencil thin layers of spongy yellow cake separated by thin layers of an old fashioned cooked chocolate icing that sets like fudge.  The exact number of layers made seems to be a source of competition between the ladies of Smith Island and local bakeries.  

And yes, the Smith Island Cake is the official state dessert of Maryland.  
A little prep work...

  • position oven racks in the center and bottom third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees
  • lightly butter 4 (8.5 inch or 9 inch) cake pans or 10 disposable cake pans
  • line the bottoms with parchment rounds, butter parchment and coat pans with flour tapping out excess

For the layers...

4 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 large eggs at room temperature
3 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


  • sift dry ingredients together, sift again and set aside
  • cream together butter and sugar with paddle in mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes
  • beat in eggs one at a time
  • scrape down bowl often
  • on low speed, add flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with milk in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour
  • mix until smooth
  • mix in the vanilla extract 
  • using a scant cup for each layer, spread the batter evenly in pans.  very thin layers! 
* I used a kitchen scale to divide my batter between the 10 pans to ensure they would all be the same size. 

  • stagger the pans on the racks so that they are at least 2 inches from each other and the sides of the oven and not directly over each other
  • bake until they spring back when touched and are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans, about 12 minutes 
  • cool in pans 5 minutes, invert onto wire racks, remove parchment and cool completely
  • repeat until all 10 layers are baked

for the icing...
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces
12 ounces evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

  • bring sugar, cocoa powder, butter and evaporated milk to a boil in a large saucepan
  • reduce heat to medium low and cook until the icing has thickened slightly (it will resemble chocolate syrup) 
  • remove from heat and stir in the vanilla
  • cool until thick enough to spread, but still pourable

  • place one layer of cake on a wire rack set over a jelly roll pan (I used a cake board to give me a sturdy base and the ability to move the cake after it was assembled)
  • spread a few tablespoons of the icing on the layer, letting the excess run down the sides
  • stack the remaining cakes, icing each layer
  • use toothpicks to hold layers in place as they will slide as you build the cake
  • pour remaining icing over the last (top) layer of the cake
  • if you wish, smooth the icing on the edges to cover the sides
  • let stand until the icing sets
  • this cake is best served the day it is made
  • to store, cover loosely with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for up to 1 day

I just have to say, this cake is "slap your granny" good!  And talk about impressive - it looks modest from the outside, but once you cut into this cake, WOW!  



  1. I'm from MD but had no idea this was the official state dessert. Glad you posted it. I was convinced I'd only take a couple of bites but it was so yummy, I couldn't put my fork down! I've never tasted a cake like this before, a tall heaven of spongy deliciousness. Thanks Meredith!

    1. Thank you Gloria! Your state has good taste - so glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Mer, you did the Eastern Shore proud! Growing up in Salisbury, and having close family friends in Crisfield, Smith Island style cakes were a treat growing up. It was delicious and went perfectly with a tall glass of milk. Fully embracing my rural roots here, simply put, it was "Delmarvalous!"

    1. Thank you Sandeep! So happy to have the approval of a discerning Smith Island Cake connoisseur! And I love the term "Delmarvalous!"

  3. I have a question.. Does the icing resemble a ganache in texture? This looks so yummy, I have to make it. My concern is that I don't do well with ganache type icings. They tend to be extremely drippy and have no body to the consistency. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Cindy -
      The icing is a cooked fudge frosting and has a "grainier" texture than a ganache. While this frosting has more texture to it than a ganache, it isn't fluffy and full bodied like a buttercream. This type of frosting works perfectly with all of the layers of this cake where a buttercream would overwhelm the thin cake layers. This frosting is a bit trickier to work with because it is thinner, but the resulting cake is well worth it! Hope this helps! Let me know if you give the recipe a try!