Maryland – Smith Island Cake

We begin with the state where we live – Maryland!

The official state dessert is the Smith Island Cake and we have decided to make it for this project.

Smith Island is a small island in the Chesapeake Bay where the primary industry is fishing. Crabs, mussels, oysters and rockfish are all harvested from the bay by the fisherman of Smith Island. My daughter went to college on the Eastern Shore and it was during visits to her that her dad “discovered” this wonderful cake. Between his raving about the cake and tasting it myself, I knew we had to give it a try.

The cake is a multi-layer cake consisting of thin layers of sponge and ganache. Anywhere from 8 to 12 layers are commonly used to make the cake and flavors chocolate, vanilla and strawberry are common for the cake and ganache.

The origin is unknown, though some say it dates back to the late 1600s. Legend has it that the wives of the fisherman would send off their husbands with the cake to sustain them on their long fishing trips. As it is a dense cake, it would likely have traveled well and kept well for days.

Smith Island Cake

For the Cake:
1 1/2 c (3 sticks ) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pans
3 1/2 c flour, plus more for pans
4 t baking powder
1 1/2 t kosher salt
2 1/4 c sugar
2 c milk
1 T vanilla extract
6 eggs
For the Icing:
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 c sugar
1 c evaporated milk
6 T unsalted butter, melted
2 t vanilla extract

For the Cake: Pre-heat oven to 350°. The cake has a total of 8 layers. Making 4 layers at a time seems to work pretty well. Butter and flour 4 9″ cake pans. Place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and then butter the parchment. This prevents these dense cakes from sticking to the pans. Combine in a medium bowl the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine. In another bowl, combine the rest of the cake ingredients – melted butter, milk and eggs, sugar and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. Mix gently, just until combined. Let batter sit for 20 minutes so all the flour is absorbed. Stir batter again and then spread 1 c of batter on each of the first 4 pans. Tilt the pans so that the batter covers the bottom of the pan. Bake cakes for 12-15 minutes, rotating pans as needed for even baking. They should be barely browned around the edges and firm in the center. Let cakes cool in their pans for 15 minutes and then invert onto cooling racks. Remove the parchment paper while the cakes are still warm. Wash pans, dry completely and then grease, flour and add parchment as for the first batch of cakes. Bake the remaining 4 cakes in the same manner as the first 4. Let cakes cool completely before icing, at least 1 hour.
For the Icing: Combine chocolate, sugar, milk, and butter in a medium sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat until chocolate melts and sugar dissolves. This should take 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Icing needs to cool and thicken before applying to the cake – this should take about 30 minutes.
Assembly: Place one layer on the cake plate and spread with 1/4 cup icing. An offset spatula works best, but a spoon works well too. If you have acetate sheet, make a collar around the first layer. This really helps all the layers line up and keeps the edges straight. Assembly will work fine without the acetate, but I have never been able to get all 8 layers to be even without the collar. Continue building the cake, one layer at at time, with 1/4 c icing on each layer until the top layer is added. Don’t just yet ice the final layer. Refrigerate the cake for about an hour to let the icing set up between the layers and keep the cake together. After the hour is up, remove the collar (if using) and ice the final layer. If the icing is too stiff, warm it up a bit before applying to the final layer. Refrigerate cake until icing is set, about 1 hour.

Adapted from a recipe in Saveur Magazine, 2012