As some of you may know, the official dessert of Maryland is the Smith Island cake. The original is a yellow cake with chocolate icing and has somewhere from six to 12 thin layers. But I took a peek at the Original Smith Island Cake Co. and it appears they make all types of cake — as long as they have a zillion thin layers.
I went to Mississippi to visit Isabel and since we met in Maryland and I am starting a Maryland-tastic job soon, we decided to try to make a Smith Island cake of our own. And we wanted to do a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so we made the golden cake with chocolate sour cream frosting from “The Gourmet Cookbook” that I had made for my husband’s graduation party.
The key to making all those layers is not splitting already-baked large layers, but baking them separately in the first place. The easiest way to make them all the same size is to measure the batter with a food scale. But Isabel’s food scale is broken, so we used a measuring cup. And we only had two pans, so we baked the layers two at a time.
The recipe made eight cups of batter, so we made eight layers — one cup per layer. Isabel’s cake pans are 8 1/2-inch rounds, so you may want to do yours differently if you have a different size. Up to you.
I also normally would have bought baking chocolate in bar form, but they didn’t seem to have any in Cleveland, Miss. So we used chocolate chips, which are actually much easier.
Unfortunately, we had some frosting issues. I think this may have been because I didn’t melt the chocolate quite enough before adding the sour cream, and the sour cream was still pretty cold (we forgot to set it out until 20ish minutes ahead of time). So when we started adding the sour cream, the chocolate hardened.
We put the whole thing back on the heat and let it melt back a bit, then added the rest of the sour cream and whisked like crazy and we ended up with really yummy frosting with some chocolate globules. And, as Isabel noted: Sometimes in life, there are globules.
Isabel had the idea of putting pieces of wax paper on the cake plate before starting to assemble the cake. That turned out to be very helpful, especially since we didn’t let the frosting cool/thicken much before starting, so it went everywhere.
It should be noted that you can make this cake recipe as a sheet cake, as a two-layer or four-layer round cake (as the original recipe is written) or as about 30 cupcakes. But however you do it, I suggest storing it in some type of closed container (such as a cake carrier) in the fridge so it doesn’t dry out. Just make sure you have some milk handy when you eat it. It is really rich.
Smith Island-style golden cake with chocolate-sour cream frosting (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)
3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, knocking out the excess.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a bowl. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy (about three minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
Reduce speed to low, add half of flour mixture and mix until just blended. Add sour cream, mixing until just combined, then add remaining flour mixture and mix until smooth.
Weigh (or measure) the batter and divide it evenly between pans. Bake until cake bounces back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (this was 12 minutes for one cup of batter in 8.5-inch cake pans. See below for instructions for other estimated times). Cool cake in pans on racks for 10 minutes, then invert into racks, remove paper and cool completely.
Chocolate-sour cream frosting
1 1/4 pounds good milk chocolate, finely chopped
10 ounces good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 cups sour cream (at room temperature)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Turn off heat and whisk in sour cream and vanilla. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. The frosting will thicken as it cools. (If you let it cool too much, it won’t spread well. If this happens, reheat it over simmering water, stirring).
To assemble cake: Put pieces of wax paper on a cake plate (not just one, or you won’t be able to remove it). Place one cake layer on the wax paper and spread with a thin layer of frosting. Top with another layer and continue until all layers are stacked. Cover the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Then carefully remove wax paper and discard.
*Other options: You can bake this in a 13-by-9-inch pan for 50 to 55 minutes for a sheet cake, or in cupcake pans for about 25 minutes. You can also bake it in two 9-inch round cake pans for 30 to 40 minutes, then split each layer horizontally with a serrated knife for a four-layer round cake.