Smith Island Cake

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Super moist Smith Island Cake with 9 delicious yellow cake layers and chocolate fudge icing that seeps down into every layer. Surprisingly simple, especially if you have 3 cake pans! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Unless you were born in Maryland, you likely have no clue what Smith Island cake is. Even if you live here, you still might not know. Heck, I had no idea what Smith Island cake was until a reader emailed me encouraging me to try it. After a little digging, recipe testing, and LOTS of taste testing, let me present you with a homemade version of the official dessert of Maryland: the Smith Island cake. Only a handful of states have an official state dessert, so you know this one is extra special!!!

Super moist Smith Island Cake with 9 delicious yellow cake layers and chocolate fudge icing that seeps down into every layer. Surprisingly simple, especially if you have 3 cake pans! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Smith Island, an island situated on the Chesapeake Bay between Maryland and Virginia and only reachable by boat, is home to this epic beauty. The cake, as I learn, dates back to the early 1800s (or even 1600s depending what you read!) when Smith Islanders would send the cake with watermen on the autumn oyster harvest. It’s frosted with fudge instead of buttercream because the fudge lasts much longer. Today the cake towers with anywhere from 8-14 ultra thin layers and comes in a variety of flavors like lemon, carrot cake, coconut, and strawberry. We’re sticking with the original Smith Island cake, a moist yellow cake with chocolate fudge icing. Sprinkles totally optional, but I always encourage a little rainbow happiness.

If there’s one thing to know, it’s this: Smith Island cake is decadently moist; no other cake on the planet can even compete. The chocolate icing seeps down into the pencil thin cake layers and if you start out with a moist yellow cake, there’s no denying this will be the most tender and moist cake you’ll ever experience!!!

Super moist Smith Island Cake with 9 delicious yellow cake layers and chocolate fudge icing that seeps down into every layer. Surprisingly simple, especially if you have 3 cake pans! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

At its core, this is literally a 9 layer yellow birthday cake. Between cakes and cupcakes, I have a couple yellow/vanilla cake batters that I love but my checkerboard cake came to mind first. It produces a lot of batter which I know would spread nicely over multiple layers. I used this batter again for my vanilla naked cake. Both cakes were baking challenges and both cakes have been loved by many including yours truly. It’s a simple batter combining sifted all-purpose flour, butter, sugar, eggs, and buttermilk.

Smith Island cake batter on sallysbakingaddiction.com

I wasn’t sure how many layers I could get from this batter, but I ended up baking 9. You’ll have about 8 cups of batter to work with, so I used a little less than 1 cup of batter per cake. You could, of course, bake 8 cakes using 1 cup of batter each.

1 cup of yellow cake batter on sallysbakingaddiction.com

The 9 cake layers are baked individually instead of baking 3 or 4 thick cakes and precisely slicing them horizontally to create layers. Baking each cake layer individually doesn’t take any longer since the thinner cakes take less time in the oven, about 12 minutes each. Baking 3 at a time, they’ll be done in less than 40 minutes. This method also ensures that each layer is baked evenly. Baking a couple thicker cakes risks over or under-baking and the cakes are more likely to sink in the centers because they’re so thick. If you have more than 3 9-inch cake pans, bake more cakes at once. I baked 4 cakes 2x then 1 cake by itself. If you have fewer than 3 9-inch cake pans, simply bake in batches until all 9 cakes are baked.

Spread the batter across the cake pans as best you can. It’s a very thin layer of batter! To guarantee the cakes will release from the pan without breaking, line the pans with greased parchment paper.

Smith Island cake batter on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Smith Island cake layers on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Thinner cakes not only take less time to bake, but take less time to cool as well. Just let the cakes cool on the counter. I stacked them in this picture so you could see just how thin they are without the icing applied. The cakes are fragile, so handle with care when cooling and assembling the cake.

While the yellow cake layers are delicious, the cake’s hallmark is actually the chocolate fudge icing. The icing is cooked on the stovetop and must cool down before spreading between the layers. In the recipe below, I encourage you to make the icing first. Let it cool and thicken as the cake layers bake. Best way to save time!

Chocolate for chocolate fudge icing on sallysbakingaddiction.com

The chocolate fudge icing reminds me of hot fudge. It’ll cool down before applying to the cake, but in terms of taste and thickness, hot fudge all the way. Unlike hot fudge, though, this icing “sets” on top of the cake. Think of a thick-ish chocolate glaze. The best part? Literally every bite of Smith Island cake has cake and icing. No frosting-less forkfuls.

Simply combine butter, heavy cream, chopped chocolate, and sugar on the stovetop. Depending on your sweetness threshold, you can use semi-sweet, bittersweet, or unsweetened chocolate. I reach for one 4 ounce bar of bittersweet chocolate. A little corn syrup provides shine, though it’s completely optional. Finish the icing off with a little vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.

This is definitely a cake for chocolate lovers.

Chocolate fudge icing for Smith Island cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Chocolate fudge icing on Smith Island Cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

The thickened icing is very easy to work with– much easier than carefully decorating a cake with buttercream!!! Spoon and spread it over the cake layers. It’ll drip down the sides but that’s what helps create appeal, much like Boston Cream Pie.

Embrace the elegant mess.

Super moist Smith Island Cake with 9 delicious yellow cake layers and chocolate fudge icing that seeps down into every layer. Surprisingly simple, especially if you have 3 cake pans! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Super moist Smith Island Cake with 9 delicious yellow cake layers and chocolate fudge icing that seeps down into every layer. Surprisingly simple, especially if you have 3 cake pans! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

You can literally see how moist this cake is.

Super moist Smith Island Cake with 9 delicious yellow cake layers and chocolate fudge icing that seeps down into every layer. Surprisingly simple, especially if you have 3 cake pans! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Super moist Smith Island Cake with 9 delicious yellow cake layers and chocolate fudge icing that seeps down into every layer. Surprisingly simple, especially if you have 3 cake pans! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

An unforgettable cake if there ever was one. So impressive and taking less time to cook, cool, and decorate than most cakes. Ladies and gents, this is Smith Island cake!

Smith Island Cake

Ingredients:

Chocolate Icing

  • 6 Tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • one 4 ounce bar (113g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped*
  • 1 and 2/3 cups (335g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons corn syrup (optional, for shine)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Cake

  • 3 and 3/4 cups (431g) sifted all-purpose flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (420ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
  • optional: rainbow sprinkles for garnish

Directions:

  1. Make the icing first: The icing needs to completely cool and thicken, so prepare it first. Combine the butter, chocolate, granulated sugar, heavy cream, and corn syrup together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until butter has melted. Once melted, stir occasionally as the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Taste (it's warm, so be careful!) Add a sprinkle of salt, if desired. I always add a pinch. Leave uncovered and set aside to thicken and cool for at least 1-2 hours or until it has a spreadable consistency. This is enough time to bake and cool the cake layers. See make ahead tip if you want to prepare ahead of time. Yields about 2 and 1/4 cups icing.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the thin cakes seamlessly release from the pans; they may crack and crumble otherwise. (You can reuse the parchment for each of the 9 cakes or cut 9 individual circles.)
  3. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. On medium-high speed, add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix this batter. The batter will be smooth, velvety, and slightly thick.
  5. (There are 8 cups of batter total, so each of the 9 cakes will have slightly less than 1 cup of batter. Leave unused batter loosely covered at room temperature as cakes bake.) Pour slightly less than 1 cup of batter into prepared cake pans. Bake for 12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. The cakes are VERY thin, so they shouldn't take much longer than that. Allow to cool for a couple minutes, then carefully invert the cake onto the counter. Peel off the parchment to reuse (or use a new parchment round). Grease the warm cake pans, line with parchment, and grease the parchment. Repeat with slightly less than 1 cup of batter per cake pan. Repeat baking, cooling, and releasing the cakes from the warm pans. Grease the warm cake pans, line with parchment, and grease the parchment. Repeat one final time. Allow all 9 layers to cool completely, about 45 minutes.
  6. Assemble cake: Carefully place one layer on a serving platter or cake stand. Spoon and spread 1/4 cup of icing on top, then repeat with the rest of the cake layers and icing. Some icing will spill over the sides and that's ok! Makes a beautiful cake! Decorate the top with sprinkles, if desired.
  7. Set cake aside for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. This gives the icing a chance to adhere to the cake and makes slicing a little easier.
  8. Cover and store leftover cake at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Make ahead tip: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the icing can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Set the icing out at room temperature for an hour to soften up before using. The assembled cake can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. Tastes better fresh though!

Recipe Notes:

*The 9 cake layers are baked individually instead of baking 3 or 4 thick cakes and slicing them horizontally to create layers. Baking each cake layer individually doesn't take any longer since the thinner cakes take less time in the oven, about 12 minutes each. Baking 3 at a time, they'll be done in less than 40 minutes. This method also ensures that each layer is baked evenly. Baking 3 thicker cakes risks over or under-baking and the cakes are more likely to sink in the centers because they're so thick. If you have more than 3 9-inch cake pans, bake more cakes at once. I baked 4 cakes 2x then 1 cake by itself. If you have fewer than 3 9-inch cake pans, simply bake in batches until all 9 cakes are baked.

*For a sweeter icing, use semi-sweet chocolate. For dark chocolate icing, use bittersweet chocolate. For very dark chocolate icing, use unsweetened chocolate. I prefer bittersweet chocolate.

*Sift flour before measuring.

*If needed, you can use whole milk mixed with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk.

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KitchenAid Stand Mixer | KitchenAid Hand Mixer | Round Cake Pan | Colorful Nonpareils | Eat Dessert First Fork

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95 Comments

All Comments

  1. YESSssSs!!!! I’m so excited to try this…I have a birthday to celebrate in a couple months and this is what I plan to make. I am a fellow #bakeyourownbirthdaycake ‍♀️

      1. I’m team #bakeyourownbirthdaycake! My husband knows not to buy one…every year I do my research and find what I want. This might be this years cake, looks amazing! I mean, give me all the icing…❤️

      2. EXACTLY! One year I decided I wanted a cheesecake for my birthday. I didn’t have time to bake one so I put someone else in charge and it was store-bought! #neveragain

  2. Wow, definitely looks like one of the moistest cakes you could have! It’s really neat learning about new desserts that aren’t as popular.

  3. Reminds me of seven layer cake or dobos torte but those are made with sponge cake. It’s a family favorite so I’ll have to try this version now! Looks absolutely delicious!!

  4. Is there any chance you will be baking any variations of this cake in the near future..?
    It’s such a cool concept and looks glorious however my brother isn’t a huge fan of chocolate (crazy, I know) and I would love to try another flavour combination.
    Thanks! 🙂

  5. Hi Sally, This cake sounds awesome… I need to make this soon… but I do have a question that really has nothing to do with this cake…. Do you ever use a cake mover and if so, which one do you recommend? I am making a cheesecake… normally I just take the cheesecake on the base and put it on a cake plate… but since I am bringing it to a large party, not sure I will get the base back so just want to move it onto a plate . I have looked on line and saw ways to flip it etc.. but since my cake has a sour cream topping on it ( baked the last 5 min) I can’t flip it.. so I thought I could probably use a cake mover… thus my question…. have seen several movers on line, but thought you may have one that you have used successfully… Thanks

    1. Hi Bernice! I don’t typically use cake movers – if I have someone in the kitchen with me, we’ll take a couple spatulas and carefully move the cake that way. But, I’ve heard good things about this one! Happy baking 🙂

      1. Thank you for taking the time to send this to me…. this is one of the ones I was looking at … I am going to try it.. It is also the same one that another one of your followers (Autumn) said she uses in her pastry kitchen where she works…

  6. This cake looks amazing. The layers are so thin but each so decadent. And that ganache! I’m dairy-free (lactose intolerant) and I’ve had a lot of success baking your recipes with vegan butter. I’m going to give the ganache a try with full-fat, canned coconut milk & let you know how it works out!

    1. I too am diary free and I have been very successful at making ganache with Coconut Cream. I have tried Coconut Milk before and it was a little too thin. The Coconut Cream works much better!

  7. Yum! I have a friend who’s MIL makes something similar to this. I’ve never been able to get the recipe so I’m thrilled to see this post! Happy Monday!

  8. I live in Salisbury, MD where there is a Smith Island Cake Shop. I have eaten several variations of their cakes which are delicious . Thanks for sharing this recipe. Now I can make my own.

  9. I’ve been missing smith island cakes ever since I moved to St Louis and haven’t wanted to pay to ship them all the way here. Thank you for this!

  10. My first two layers are in the oven (I have 4, 8″ pans but of course only 2, 9″ pans). I did th cake by weight and went with 8 ounces in each (for 8 layers). I hope this is the right weight. I will report back!

  11. We have something similar down here in the south. They are usually just called a 10 layer chocolate cake, or however many layers happen to be in it for that day. They are also made with a caramel icing that is the texture of the fudge icing. Last year I made a hybrid that was ten layers, alternating chocolate and caramel. It was one of the richest, most decadent cakes I’ve ever made, but a labor of love indeed! As always, you make it look so easy! Will definitely give yours a shot!

  12. Love this cake! I can’t wait to make it! Thanks, Sally. If you are up for a challenge, would you try to make Baltimore’s famous chocolate Berger cookies?

    1. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to try them. I’m afraid they would never live up to the real things. They’re SO SO good!!!

  13. Definitely have to try this recipe out!! And my birthday also seems like the best time as well, seeing as it’s in the beginning of August!! The only thing I would do any different is I’d have to top it off with a bit of whip cream and some ice cream on the side…cause I’m just that kind of girl 😛

      1. It turned out really well! I posted some pictures on the group page. Super moist and a straightforward bake. The 8 ounces in 8 pans worked perfectly. At first I was not sure that I loved the taste of the cake – it tasted raw to me and a bit like flour but my husband did not agree and this morning a tried a snippet and it tastes great.

  14. This looks wonderful. My birthday is in August as well. We are having a big party and of course my husband says, So i assume you are making your own cake? Well duh! Now i just need to make up my mind what that will be. We are having a big crowd coming for pot luck, outside games, camp fire, smores, homemade ice cream, cake.

  15. I’ve always wanted to make/eat a Smith island cake! Native Marylander here, so I’ve known about it since studying Smith Island in 2nd grade 🙂 Your recipe is inspiring!

  16. I have been looking for a recipe for Smith Island cake for years!!! My aunt in Maryland took me and my mom aaaall the way to Smith Island from Stevens island just for this cake. I have
    wanted this cake for 8 years and have been landlocked ever since!! I’m so excited to try ths.

  17. Yummy. Sally you have done it again. The cake looks so delicious. Everything is better with chocolate. Btw. How did you prevent the layers from breaking? They look so moist and fragile?

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Reviews

Questions

  1. Is there any chance you will be baking any variations of this cake in the near future..?
    It’s such a cool concept and looks glorious however my brother isn’t a huge fan of chocolate (crazy, I know) and I would love to try another flavour combination.
    Thanks! 🙂

  2. Hi Sally, This cake sounds awesome… I need to make this soon… but I do have a question that really has nothing to do with this cake…. Do you ever use a cake mover and if so, which one do you recommend? I am making a cheesecake… normally I just take the cheesecake on the base and put it on a cake plate… but since I am bringing it to a large party, not sure I will get the base back so just want to move it onto a plate . I have looked on line and saw ways to flip it etc.. but since my cake has a sour cream topping on it ( baked the last 5 min) I can’t flip it.. so I thought I could probably use a cake mover… thus my question…. have seen several movers on line, but thought you may have one that you have used successfully… Thanks

    1. Hi Bernice! I don’t typically use cake movers – if I have someone in the kitchen with me, we’ll take a couple spatulas and carefully move the cake that way. But, I’ve heard good things about this one! Happy baking 🙂

      1. Thank you for taking the time to send this to me…. this is one of the ones I was looking at … I am going to try it.. It is also the same one that another one of your followers (Autumn) said she uses in her pastry kitchen where she works…

  3. Yummy. Sally you have done it again. The cake looks so delicious. Everything is better with chocolate. Btw. How did you prevent the layers from breaking? They look so moist and fragile?

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