A well-kept cake from a Maryland island

Chicago TribuneDecember 31, 2013 

FOOD SMITHISLAND-CAKE TB

Thin layers of yellow butter cake interspliced with fudge make up Smith Island cake.

BILL HOGAN — MCT

Jennifer was baking dobos torte, so I stopped by. My job wasn’t to help or to coach. It was to egg on.

“Why not bake two?” I urged, pulling out surplus pans. “Why not bake three?” We did. It took all day, and our cakes came out beautiful – layers of egg-light cake and chocolate-heavy buttercream crowned with crackling caramel. An homage to Hungarian pastry genius Jozsef C. Dobos, who reputedly engineered the well-insulated cake for long shelf life.

We were admiring its many black-and-white layers when Marya dropped by with a slice of Smith Island cake. I gasped: Thin layers of yellow butter cake interspliced with fudge. An American dobos, reputedly invented to keep well on the water.

I combined the easygoing layers of Maryland’s state cake with the luscious buttercream of Hungary’s national cake. This butter-happy hybrid ought to boast excellent keeping quality. But I’ve never had enough left to find out.

Maryland Smith Island Torte

Cake layers adapted from Saveur magazine.

3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pans, divided

3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for pans

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt

2 1/4 cups sugar

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided

6 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up

5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1 tablespoon brewed coffee

BUTTER and flour four 9-inch cake pans.

WHISK together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together 3 sticks butter, sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla and eggs. Pour wet ingredients over dry, whisking briefly. Let rest, 15 minutes. Whisk smooth.

SPREAD 1 cup batter into each prepared pan (saving the rest for the second round). Bake at 350 degrees until cakes pull away from the sides of the pans, about 15 minutes. Cool a few minutes. Turn out and cool completely.

WASH, dry, butter and flour pans again. Bake four more layers.

MAKE frosting: Whisk over medium heat until smooth and shiny: heavy cream, 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, semisweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon brewed coffee. Pull off heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir over an ice bath to cool. Chill until thick, about 30 minutes. Beat in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

SPREAD one cooled cake layer with 1/3 cup frosting. Continue stacking and frosting all layers (leave top bare). Chill until set, about 30 minutes. Frost top and sides. Chill. Enjoy.

Yield: one tall 9-inch cake

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