On November 4, 2017, this was the first article ever posted on Southern Maryland Food & Drink. It contained what I then knew to be the status of the book, Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook, which is thought to be the original source for most recipes for the Smith Island Cake: It was not available on the website of the publisher, Schiffer Publishing. The only copies available on Amazon.com, were used copies available from third-party sellers. From those two facts, I thought the book was out of print. I bought my copy from author Susan Stiles Dowell, and published a review of the book (see Cookery & tales from the Chesapeake: Correction/Update).
After I published the review, I sent a link to it to Dowell, and a dialogue between us ensued, as she was pretty sure the book was still in print, but was mystified as to why it was not to be found on the Schiffer Publishing website. As I understand it, she contacted them several times. Out of that, I can report that I discovered that Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook is now available via the Schiffer Publishing website. Click here and you can go to that page, where you’ll see that they are selling it for $13.95. Note: that price doesn’t include shipping; the least expensive option being for $12.44 — the cost was even more a month or two ago. Hopefully, Amazon will also carry new copies at some point in the future.
What follows below is the original article.
Yes, Maryland has an official state dessert — The Smith Island Cake — as designated by the Maryland state legislature, effective October 1, 2008 (Chapters 164 & 165, Acts of 2008; Code General Provisions Article, sec. 7 – 313). [If you’re curious as to what other symbols the state legislature has endorsed, click here.] Smith Island is in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, split between Maryland to the North and Virginia to the South.
A version of the recipe is included below. But if you don’t feel like making one, they are sold in some grocery stores here in Southern Maryland. My local Giant grocery store carries them from time to time. You can also order one from the Smith Island Baking Co. of Crisfield, MD, and they ship frozen cakes throughout the United States.
Cake Recipe Sources
Most of the recipes I found online are, of course, similar to one another. One difference seems to be one calls for melting unsweetened chocolate for the frosting, and the other uses cocoa powder. Another difference is that while many recipes call for making the cake portion from scratch, others will use a boxed cake mix.
The primary source for many of these recipes seems to be the book Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook by Frances Kitching and Susan Stiles Dowell. Copyright ©1981 by Tidewater Publishers. Kitching, who died in 2003 (click here to see her obituary), was the cook, and Dowell the writer.
The book appears to be out of print, but you can still find used copies on Amazon.com. If you’re looking to buy an old copy, be aware that the cake recipe didn’t appear in the book until something like the 5th printing in 1994, so be careful which version you get. Author Susan Stiles Dowell of Monkton, MD, will also sell you a copy with the cake recipe.
Below is one version of the recipe. If you’d like to see a video of a Smith Island Cake being made, click here.♦
Smith Island cake recipe
The Maryland state dessert is a many-layered yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Typically you might make 8 layers if using 8″ X 2″ pans, or 10 layers if using 9″ X 1.5″ pans.
- 2 boxes of your favorite yellow cake mix
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 1⁄4 cups whole milk, plus more if needed
- 2 sticks butter
- 8 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 sticks butter
- 2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
- 8 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
- 2 pounds confectioners’ sugar
Make the cake layers
- Preheat oven to 350°. Mix the whole milk and evaporated milk to make 2 3⁄4 cups. Place cake mixes, butter, eggs, vanilla and half the milk mixture in large mixing bowl. Stir very slowly to blend. Mix on low speed for approximately 5 minutes.
- Add the remaining milk mixture and blend on medium-high speed for 10 minutes or until the batter has a smooth consistency. (In ~10 minutes, batter should form ribbons). Coat interior of ten 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray (or fewer and clean between making another set of cakes until you have the desired number of layers. Spread 1 cup of cake batter into each of the pans evenly. Bake 10 minutes, until slightly brown and pulls away from sides of pan. Repeat this until you have 10 layers.
Make the icing
- Melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in evaporated milk. Stir in cocoa until smooth, return to heat and cook ~10 minutes. Do not boil or scorch.
- Remove from heat and slowly stir in confectioners’ sugar. Return icing to low heat and cook slowly, stirring often, until icing has thickened and sticks to back of spoon or whisk (should form a ribbon when a spoonful is drizzled onto mixture while cooking). This will take at least 45 minutes to an hour.
Assemble the cake
- Spread 1 slightly cooled layer with cooled frosting. Add next layer and repeat the process until the 10th layer. Finish by frosting cake top and sides.
- A variation of the recipe melts 2 oz. of semisweet chocolate and 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate instead of the cocoa powder.
- Some cooks crumble candy bars (preferably frozen so as to last during preparation) on to of the frosted internal layers. Some also will use the crumbled candy on the outside.