We Were Told There Would be Cake: Smith Island Cake – Maryland

When we think of Maryland, we think of water. From the stunning Eastern Shore beaches, to Baltimore Harbor, to capital of Annapolis (hello, Navy), the ocean plays a major role in the culture and pleasure of residents. With good reason too; the Chesapeake Bay nearly bisects the state and most of the waterways in the state are part of the bay watershed.


Smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay sits Smith Island, accessible only by ferry. This small community of only a few villages boasts big about its most famous export, Smith Island Cake. This scrumptious confection consists of eight to 10 ultra-thin layers of yellow cake with chocolate fudge frosting between each and was declared the state dessert of Maryland in 2008.

 We’re not going to lie to you, making this cake is major undertaking. Think birthdays or other special occasions. The StateEats Kitchen was overrun by cake layers on a recent morning.



But the effort was well worth it and every last morsel of this cake was inhaled.

Lots of variations of this cake exist, with fruit flavorings between the layers and vanilla frosting instead of chocolate. Some even like to gussy it up with candy pieces between the layers. You can gild the lily if you’d like.

If a visit to Maryland is in your future, check out the 4th Annual Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival in Baltimore, June 14, 2014.


Smith Island Cake

  • Difficulty: difficult
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Recipe courtesy of the Smith Island Cultural Center, used with permission.


For the cake:

  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks; plus more for greasing the pans
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup water

For the icing:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use butter or non-stick spray to lightly grease 9-inch cake pans. Can use 2 or 3 pans at a time and re-grease them as necessary.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Combine evaporated milk, vanilla and water. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time; beat until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add one cup at a time of the dry ingredients, then one cup at a time of the liquid mixture, alternating. Beat until incorporated.

Place approximately 2/3 cup of batter in each of cake pan; use the back of the spoon to spread it evenly. Bake 2 or 3 layers at a time on the middle oven rack for 8 to 9 minutes. A layer is done when you hold it near your ear and do not hear it sizzle.

While the cakes are baking, make the icing. Combine the sugar and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the chocolate and butter; warm through, stirring, until both have melted. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until smooth. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract, stirring to combine. The icing will be thin but will thicken as it cools.

As the cake layers are done, run a spatula around the edge of the pan and ease out the layers. Let them cool. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate; spread 2 or 3 spoonfuls of icing on each layer. Don’t worry if a layer tears; no one will notice when the cake is finished. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing; push any icing that runs onto the plate back onto the cake.