Updating a Chesapeake Bay Classic

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

With all due respect to the Smith Island families who have made their iconic, multi-layered cakes for generations, the Food section asked Falls Church cake artist Kendall Barrett to create a modern, and perhaps more portable, version of the moist, sturdy slices that traveled so well in watermen's lunch pails. Just for fun, and just as the Smith Island cake appears headed to become Maryland's official state dessert.

The results, pictured at right, are delicious.

Barrett substituted King Arthur flour, fresh dairy cream and imported semisweet chocolate for the pantry-friendly packaged cake mix, evaporated milk and unsweetened cocoa powder used by many island bakers.

"It's a sturdy little dense and rich cupcake," says Barrett, one of Washington's top cake bakers, who is known for her attention to detail. "Higher-quality ingredients produce a higher-quality product in the end."

The recipe is involved, but the results are showstopping. She kept the look of multiple layers by making regular-size cupcakes and cutting them horizontally into slices. The cupcakes are best baked a day in advance, when the ganache icing also can be made. Her flower decorations are optional. You'll find her recipe here.

-- Walter Nicholls

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