Smith Island Cake Recipe with Ingredients

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Smith Island Cake Recipe. A beloved Maryland tradition, the official Maryland State Dessert is a standout on any table. With its thin layers of delicate yellow cake, each slathered in a decadent schmear of icing, Smith Island cake would be too beautiful to eat…. if it weren’t so darned delicious! Try it with traditional chocolate icing, or a festive cooked coconut topping for a brighter treat.

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smith island cake recipe from scratch

About – Smith Island Cake History

Smith Island Cakes have been hand-baked since the 1800s when ladies on the island would send them with their husbands during the fall oyster harvest season. The cakes were supposed to remind the watermen of the community they had left behind by symbolizing camaraderie and togetherness.

Smith Island Cakes were the ideal way for the watermen’s families to show them how much they were loved and missed, as well as to assure them that they were in their thoughts and prayers for a successful harvest and a safe reunion.

What you’ll need to prepare Smith Island Cake recipes


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

Chocolate Icing

☐ 2 cups sugar

☐ 1 cup evaporated milk

☐ 5 ounces of unsweetened chocolate

☐ 1 stick of unsalted butter

☐ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

INGREDIENTS Cooked Coconut Icing

☐ 2½ cups sugar

☐ 2 sticks of unsalted butter

☐ 2 cans (12 oz.) evaporated milk

☐ 1 pound flaked coconut

☐ 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS – Layer Cakes

Step 1 – Preheat the oven

Preheat oven to 350° with rack in the middle setting. 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 – Blend together the ingredients

Cream together sugar and butter, add eggs, and beat until smooth with a mixer. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder, then add to the egg mixture one cup at a time mixing as you go.

Step 3 – Add milk, vanilla, and water to the mixture

While beating with a mixer, slowly add the evaporated milk, vanilla, and water. Mix until the batter has a smooth, even texture.

Step 4 – Cooking process

Put about 2/3 of a cup of the batter into each of the three greased pans spreading evenly across the entire pan. Bake each in the preheated oven for 8 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 layers and set aside while you prepare the next batch. Running a spatula or butter knife around the inside edge can help free the cake. Stack the layers with a generous layer of icing between each cake.

DIRECTIONS – Chocolate Icing

Step 1 – Chocolate icing preparation

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 – Blend, stir, and spread on layers

Add butter and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 12-15 minutes stirring as needed and adding vanilla at the end. Icing will be thin, but thicken as it cools.

Step 3 – Taste test

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.

DIRECTIONS – Coconut Icing

Step 1 – Coconut icing preparation

This unexpected treat is surprisingly simple. 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 thicken, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Step 2 – Blend, stir, and spread on layers

Remove from heat, add coconut and vanilla, and stir until the icing stiffens.

Where to buy Smith Island cake

There are several great options where to buy a Smith Island cake on the Eastern Shore, and many of them are quite good.

My favorite place to buy Smith Island cake is Classic Cakes, located in Salisbury, Maryland. They have a wide variety of flavors to choose from and supply cakes for many restaurants throughout the area.

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