Saturday, March 08, 2008

State by State - Maryland: Smith Island Cake

I'm afraid you might begin to think I should have called this series State by State Sweets, but let me regale you with one more sweetie from Maryland - the Smith Island Cake. On Smith Island, these cakes are simply called layer cakes. They can come in just about any flavor, but they're stacked 8, 10, or even 12 layers high - perfect for those who want a little cake with their frosting ;)

Since I have no photo, before we go any further, you must click on over here to get a sense of the proportions. While you're there, take a look at that frosting recipe - doesn't that add up to four pounds of frosting?? Actually, other photos of Smith Island cakes I've seen look more like the tortes they're sometimes compared to, with relatively thin layers of frosting between the cake layers.

Tom Horton's, An Island Out of Time, describes life on the island and introduces the reader to some of its inhabitants, including Mary Ada Marshall. With Smith Island Cake currently in the running for Maryland's state dessert, Mary Ada and her 8-layer cake traveled to Baltimore for a spot on yesterday's morning news. I was thrilled to find this video of the segment - Mary Ada is charming. When asked how long it takes to make one she says, "Some women it might take an hour. I can make one in about 25 minutes." She's not exaggerating either - Tom Horton says he timed her and she could bake and ice an 8-layer cake, wash the pans and put them away in 20 minutes. I wish!

No word yet as to whether the legislature will bestow the title of State Dessert on the Smith Island Cake, but I promise I'll keep you posted!

Monday, March 03, 2008

State by State - Maryland: Berger Cookies

A Berger cookie begs the question, is there such a thing as too much chocolate icing? When my mail-ordered boxes arrived several months back, I wasn't so sure the answer wasn't yes. The dark chocolate icing certainly was enticing, but the size of the cookie was intimidating. Despite my initial skepticism, I had no trouble eating every last crumb of my Berger cookie and my officemates quickly polished off two boxes of them. Too much icing? Phhhhffft!

I barely remember the cookie itself, which is overshadowed in every respect by a generous half-inch of that dark fudgy icing, but it was a firm, cakey cookie. It much resembles the familiar black and white cookie from New York, but it has lots of black and no white.

I had not heard of them until I started hunting around for a cookie that hailed from Maryland, but they apparently have legions of fans. They have been made in Baltimore since the 1800's and according to DeBaufre Bakeries, which makes them today, the recipe is little changed from the original.

My attempts to find a recipe for the cookies were less than successful. I found a recipe for Suzanne Laubheimer's Version of the Famous Berger Cookie (scroll down - it's the second recipe), but the icing clearly wasn't right (just melted chocolate chips) and I was suspicious that the cookie wasn't close either when I read the instructions to shape the dough into one-inch balls and flatten with a glass. I decided to use a black and white cookie recipe for the cookie and the fudge icing recipe from a half moon cookie recipe. I ended up with a cookie in the spirit of a Berger cookie (lots of icing, though I didn't have the guts to pile it on to the degree you find on a Berger cookie), but just not the same. If I try this again I would use a cocoa-based fudge icing for a darker flavor and color.

Next time - A state dessert for Maryland?