Fort Birthday

Smith Island cake slice on a plate.

Smith Island Cake – Boycott Naked Cakes

Naked cakes are all the rage. But I say, NO. How DARE they make a cake with LESS icing? It’s just setting you up for dessert disappointment. Instead, I propose instead an easy and impressive looking alternative: the Smith Island Cake. Or as some have called it, icing with a side of cake. Here is my quick take on Smith Island Cake – in less than 2 hours you can WOW everyone.

Slice of smith island cake next to cake
It’s my birthday, I’ll have some cake please….. And yes, admire my fine china.

What is it anyway?

Eight to 15 (or more) layers of cake sandwiched between layer after layer of frosting.

As it happens, if you are a food snob you only want Smith Island Cake that is made on Smith Island – and lord, help me, they are the best. But, in reality, there is no reason not to make your own. It is quick and dramatic and sure to make a statement.

Smith Island cake slice on a plate.
12 layers isn’t shabby, anything from 8-15 layers is traditional.
Yield: one cake that serves 16-24

Smith Island Cake, the opposite of naked cake

Smith Island cake slice on a plate.

First recorded in the 1800s. A waterman's dessert. A Smith Island baker, on Smith Island told me that, once it became available, most Smith Island cakes started with Betty Crocker mix and doctored it to their liking. Rather than start from scratch, I'm shooting for an easy and predictable cake batter that will perform well in the challenging conditions of baking 1/4 inch thick layers.

Also, sometimes you want to WOW with a cake but don't have the time, energy, or resources to go over the top. The thin layers cool fast so the entire thing can be completed and ready to go in under 2 hours.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes



  1. Mix cake ingredients, combine thoroughly.
  2. Line bottom of 9-inch cake round with parchment paper lightly sprayed with oil. 2 at a time fit in my oven without having to rotate racks.
  3. Pour a heaping 1/3 cup into the center of the cake pan. Spin to distribute evenly out to the edges.
  4. Bake 6 - 8 minutes until springy and firm in the center.
  5. Flip layer onto a cooling rack, allow to cool slightly before removing the parchment paper round.
  6. Spread a thin layer of icing starting in the center and working out to the edges to avoid tearing cake. Carefully, center each layer as you add them, since you have lots of layers getting off-center shows.
  7. Crumb coat the outside as you add layers. Once the entire thing is crumb coated it can be refrigerated wrapped until you are ready to ice the whole thing.


The traditional Smith Island cake calls for a boiled fudgy icing. These cakes were sent out with watermen who might be out crabbing, oystering, or fishing for days at a time. Legend has it that the fudge icing kept longer on the boat than a buttercream frosting. It is less forgiving to work with and results in a squatter cake.

The beauty of Smith Island Cake is that anything is possible. White cake with thinly sliced strawberries between the layers and a whipped cream icing is lovely and my second favorite. Pineapple. Pumpkin spice. Candy between the layers. You name it, go for it.

Naked Cakes can’t compare to Smith Island Cake

Naked cakes are barely frosted. They want the cake to speak for itself.

Donuts and Drama First Birthday superhero naked cake
The talented Donuts and Drama’s Whitney also made the adorable peg doll superheroes.

Naked cake is amazing. I’m not big on most frosting types and naked cake allows the flavors of the cake itself and the filling to really shine. They’re SO MUCH EASIER to DIY than a cake with super fancy frosting. You get more “wow” factor for less work.

Don’t get me wrong; I want to learn to make gorgeous cakes with buttercream flowers and succulents, but I love few things more than a colorful naked cake with a delicious fruit curd filling. Aside from, y’know, donuts.

Whitney Jones, Donuts and Drama
Gorgeous  Dinosaur rainbow cake
Part of me gets the dramatic appeal of a naked cake. I mean, look how pinterest-worthy the cake Whitney made for her daughter is.

I think they look pretty and enticing, like lace or a sheer curtain. But I’m personally not interested in eating a cake that is missing the best part. Can’t you feel the cake’s embarrassment? It’s like showing up to a birthday party without your clothes on.

Google map showing chesapeake Bay with Smith Island marked on map.
Accessible only by ferry, Smith Island is a tiny community that straddles the Maryland/Virginia border out in the Chesapeake Bay.
 Cake leaning slightly with Betty Crocker icing
A quick crumb coat as you work your way up the layers helps make the final icing less likely to tear the cake.

A shrinking Island with a huge cake

Smith Island is an exquisitely small community (current population under 300) and most Smith Island Cakes are made now off-island (often by former islanders). If you are ever looking for a lovely weekend getaway, Smith Island is a welcoming and charming spot. When you book a stay make sure to ask ahead of time so you can take home a cake made on the island.

 Betty Crocker frosting.
You can see the height here. Sure to please.

So, I’m going to say something controversial. I don’t like pie. I like cake. I like cake with lots of frosting. My favorite is yellow cake with chocolate frosting and the State Dessert of Maryland always makes me happy.

Smith Island Cake chocolate and yellow cake
I’ve made Smith Island Cake several times. I’ve made it with fudgy frosting, but they are flatter.

My favorite thing about Smith Island cake is that because of the height and scale you really only need a tiny slice. So you can get 20-24 slices out of one cake. My usual habit is to slice 1/2 of the cake and freeze the individual slices separated with parchment paper. They keep for months and thaw beautifully.

Part of life on the Chesapeake Bay is food. Crabs. Muskrat. Smith Island Cake. A long time ago, I had my first taste of Smith Island cake when I was visiting Smith Island as a child. In fact, Maryland loves them so much that in 2008 it was declared the official State Dessert.

Cake next to bottle of wine.
What could make a better birthday cake?

While you are dreaming of sweet treats, don’t forget to check out some of my blogging pals work. Sign up for Fort Birthday’s mailing list to get updates on other Chesapeake Bay Delights.

And lastly, for those of you who are thinking about pumping breast milk, currently a full-time dairy, or know someone who is, make sure to check out my eBook available on Amazon This Sucks – Pump Like a Pro.

Pinterest pin with text Smith Island Cake a taste of the chesapeake

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1 Comment

  • That looks stunning but... I'm the person that takes off the frosting before eating birthday cake. That's if I eat the birthday cake, I'm pretty partial to fudgy brownies or just straight up chocolate bars.

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