Mary Ada's Smith Island Cake


Layer upon layer of love and sweetness.

Smith Island Cake
Photo: Photographer: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Smith Island Cake has a bit of a romantic history: Wives made the cake for their husbands, fishermen who'd be gone from home for days, even weeks at a time. The cake's rich fudge frosting was a sweet taste of home and a practical sweet to have on board.

Today, bakeries across Maryland—and one on the island itself' sell hundreds of cakes each year. In 2008, it was named the official state dessert of Maryland.

Mary Ada Marshall, a resident of Smith Island, shared her recipe for Smith Island Cake with Southern Living.



  • 4 eggs

  • ½ cup evaporated milk

  • 1 cup tap or bottled water

  • cup vegetable oil

  • 4 Tbsp. butter

  • 1 (15.25-ounce) box yellow cake mix (such as Duncan Hines)


  • 1 lb. powdered sugar

  • 3 heaping Tbsp. cocoa powder

  • ½ cup evaporated milk

  • 1 stick cold butter


For the Cake:

  1. Place all ingredients in a bowl, and mix for 10 minutes. Put roughly 3/4 cup batter in greased cake pans, lightly coated with cooking spray. Use the back of a spoon to gently and evenly spread the batter to cover the bottom of each pan. Place in a 350°F oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edge starts to brown. Batter should yield 8 layers.

For the Frosting:

  1. Put powdered sugar, cocoa, and evaporated milk in a medium sauce pan, and mix together. Add cold butter. Place over high heat, stirring constantly until ingredients are combined and butter is melted. Remove from heat and whip icing a few times before icing the cake. Icing should have a glossy appearance.

Putting It All Together

  1. Add a dollop of icing in the middle of the cake plate or cardboard round and put the first layer in place. Add a large spoonful of icing to the top of the layer and, working quickly, spread the icing to the edges of the cake layer. Place the second layer, and repeat the process through the seventh layer. Once you add the top layer of cake, spread your icing on the sides of the cake first, and then finish by frosting the top of the cake.

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