Photo from the Bayside Inn Restaurant, Smith Island, MD.
Unless you are from Smith Island (Maryland’s only inhabited off-shore island), in Chesapeake Bay, you probably have not heard of Smith Island Cake. Smith Island, Maryland, is a 400-year-old fishing village of only 250 residents. Located 10 miles offshore in the Chesapeake Bay. Smith Island has been home to watermen and their families for centuries. These watermen harvest blue crabs, oysters and fish, shipping them to markets throughout the world.
This cake has been the area’s dessert of choice for residents and visitors of this island for generations. It is definitely a distinctive regional tradition spanning many decades.
This decadent cake can contain anywhere from 8 to 15 pencil-thin buttery yellow cake layers that are layered with chocolate fudge icing that sets like fidge. Smith Island Cake has also been know to be called “Frosting with the Cake”. The number of layers is determined by the baker. As you can probably guess, you do not need a big slice to get your cake and chocolate fix!
The origins of this cake are unknown. Residents just say, “It’s always been here.” Some say this Smith Island Cake can be traced to Welsh and English settlers who came to the island in the late 1600s.
The recipe for the Smith Island Cake was first published in the 4th edition (1994) of the cookbook called Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook (pg 110). Earlier editions do not have the recipe. The cake was originally four layers, but the women started to stack the cake even higher as a form of competition.
In 2008, Senate House Bill 315 in Maryland’s legislature approved Smith Island Cake as Maryland’s official dessert.
Categories:Food History Historical Cakes
7 Responses to “Smith Island Cake History”
Thatnks for the info!
I have the Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook, copyright 1981, in my hand and I do not see this recipe in it. It is also not listed in the index. Am I missing something?
Whats Cooking America
I found that starting with the fourth edition (from 1994), it is well-known for the inclusion of the prototypical recipe for the Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake (p. 110). I will be correcting our reference.
I just returned from Smith Island, drawn there by the lure of the cake. There is friendly competition among island residents as well as restaurants baking this cake. There was a bakery that made the Smith Island Cake on Smith Island, but it moved to Crisfield some years ago, which is the town on the other side of the bay over which the ferry runs. It claims to be the “authentic Smith Island Cake” and ships hundreds of cakes all over. So, of course I got a cake there to compare! The ones I ate on Smith Island had 9 denser, thinner, moister cake layers stacked in about 3 inches (layer density .3), while the Crisfield Smith Island Cake has 8 layers, which are a bit drier, packed into 4 inches (layer density .5). I heard the Islanders say the Crisfield cake was not a true Smith Island Cake, but the Crisfield people say it is just sour grapes for moving. I liked both of the styles for different reasons, but they are definitely different. Just thought I’d share.
It would be fun to be there for the “Friendly competition” and try all the cakes! Thank you for sharing your story.
My grandmother on Smith Island made this for me every summer I visited for years. I am familiar with the bakery in Crisfield and have had their cake, while many people love them ; they are not the real deal. The cake is not the same and neither is the chocolate icing. True Smith island cakes are works of art that take a good part of a day and cannot be mass produced in one day. The icing alone is a feat in itself as it is very temperamental to cook just right. So as long as you’ve never had the real thing, you’ll not know any better.
Mark G Hall
Not open for tourist on weekends