Chocolate Little Layer Cake

I really love the way technology makes it possible for us to share our recipes these days. What we used to do through cards and letters, newspaper and magazine clippings, or simply by word of mouth, we can now accomplish within seconds. Just a quick Google search and virtually any recipe ever thought of appears on your screen.

I’m even more grateful that technology is helping us to preserve our old heritage recipes like the one I’m sharing with you today.

These beautiful multi-layer cakes have, for as long as I can remember, always been a part of family reunions, church dinners, and most holidays in the southwest corner of Georgia where I grew up. You may think at first glance that they’re standard cake layers that have been split and filled, but they’re not. Not at all. Each little thin layer is baked separately. To make it even more different from traditional layer cakes, it’s iced with warm icing while the layers themselves are still warm. Totally goes against the conventional method, doesn’t it?

In the small town where I grew up, lots of ladies make these cakes for a little extra income on the side. They come in two versions – chocolate or caramel. Some of them make a fairly brisk business of it especially around Christmas.

Now way back when, these cakes were made by cooking each layer in a hoecake pan or iron skillet on top of the stove, but now most everyone cooks the layers in the oven. It just goes faster when you can bake three or four layers at one time, you see. If you’re really experienced with little layer cakes, you can get as many as fourteen layers from your batter. I got ten this time. I need to practice more.

The recipe that I have is so typical of old-time recipes. It assumes that the cook pretty much knows what to do and only the bare essentials are given. For instance, the instructions for the batter read “Mix well. Grease 8″ pans with Crisco. Put 2 large cooking spoonfuls in each pan. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes.”  That’s it. And the instructions for the icing are “Place over low heat until all is dissolved. Do not boil. Be sure all sugar is melted.” Well, alrighty then!

I’ve tried to re-write and modernize the instructions a bit for you.

A few years ago, Kim Severson of the New York Times did a story on these little layer cakes. I had the pleasure of hearing Kim speak at FoodBlogSouth. She’s a very accomplished food writer and has received numerous accolades, including several James Beard Awards. In her story, she talked about how the cakes were made only in one area in Alabama and on Smith Island near Maryland. Well, I can assure you that they are part of the fabric of at least one small southwest Georgia town as well :-)

Before starting your baking, make sure to have all the ingredients at room temperature. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and go ahead and prep your 8″ cake pans with shortening and set them aside. How many layers you bake at once depends on how many pans you have and can fit into your oven without them touching. Some people use the disposable cake pans for this, but I don’t see the need. I just wipe them out and re-grease between each set of layers.

Now, unlike other cakes, you actually start your little layer cake by making the icing first.

Icing ingredients for Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Place a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. The heat should be barely medium-low. If in doubt, go lower. Add the sugar, baking chocolate, evaporated milk, butter, and vanilla all at once. Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. It is important that the icing does not boil and that you make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved and no grainy texture remains.

Batter for Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Meanwhile, make the batter. Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs all at once and beat until well incorporated. Add the flour and water alternately, beginning and ending with flour. (Note: the batter will appear to be curdled after each addition of water – this is normal.) Mix in the vanilla.

Batter for Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Pour approximately 3/4 cup batter into each prepared pan. Smooth the batter to the edges. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until layers are barely golden on top. Remove from oven and turn out onto cooling racks.

Clean the pans, grease them and repeat baking. When second set of layers goes into the oven, begin icing the cake.

Assembling a Chocolate Little Layer Cake

Place a still-warm layer on a cardboard round set atop a cooling rack inside a baking sheet. Spread 1/4 cup icing on the layer spreading it gently to the edges. Top with the next layer and repeat. (Note: the icing will be thin and fairly runny. It will drip down the sides of the layers. This is to be expected. Any excess icing should be scraped up and returned to the pan and all of it used in the icing of the cake. This is why I strongly recommend icing the cake set on a cooling rack in a baking pan.)

When all layers have been stacked and iced, spread remaining icing over top and sides of the cake. If the icing becomes thick, return the pan to very low heat until it returns to spreading consistency.

Smooth the icing around the sides of the cake, but realize that the contours are supposed to be visible on the outside of the cake.


Chocolate Little Layer Cake
Prep time
Cook time
A heritage recipe for a "little layer cake" from southwest Georgia
  • Solid shortening for greasing pans
For the icing:
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 blocks unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 5-oz. cans evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
For the layers:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups self-rising flour, sifted
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  1. Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8” cake pans with shortening and set aside.
  2. Make the icing first. Place a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the sugar, baking chocolate, evaporated milk, butter, and vanilla all at once. Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, stirring frequently. Do not boil. It is important to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved and no grainy texture remains.
  3. Meanwhile, make the batter. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs all at once and beat until well incorporated. Add the flour and water alternately, beginning and ending with flour. (Note: the batter will appear to be curdled after each addition of water – this is normal.) Mix in the vanilla.
  4. Pour approximately 3/4 cup batter into each prepared pan. Smooth the batter to the edges. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until layers are barely golden on top. Remove from oven and turn out onto cooling racks.
  5. Clean the pans, grease them and repeat baking. When second set of layers goes into the oven, begin icing the cake. Place a still-warm layer on a cardboard round set atop a cooling rack inside a baking sheet. Spread 1/4 cup icing on the layer spreading it gently to the edges. Top with the next layer and repeat.
  6. When all layers have been stacked and iced, spread remaining icing over top and sides of the cake. If the icing becomes thick, return the pan to very low heat until it returns to spreading consistency.
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I’m quite interested in knowing whether my readers have ever seen this type of cake or whether it really is localized to the southeast Alabama-southwest Georgia area. If you have a minute, please leave a quick comment. Thanks!

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  1. Lyric says

    I’ve seen lots of these in Eastern North Carolina, only the little ol’ granny I know that makes them makes a full size layer and splits it in half with a thin guitar string looking thing.

    • says

      Yes, I’ve seen cakes with split layers lots of time, but I’m specifically wondering whether others cook the individual thin layers like this. Thanks for responding!

      • Josh says

        I’m from Eastern NC and my Great Grandmother (I’m 24 she was born around 1920) used to make a cake just like this baking the thin layers and then using the boiled icing. She used to say when you made a cake not to be too particular about how the icing looked because if you spent too much time making it pretty you’d lose track of making sure it tasted good haha. Then again she could afford to say that considering even her “messy” cakes looked better than most of my pretty ones.

      • says

        years ago we had an Austrian baker in our neighborhood. There 7 layer cake was the best I have ever tasted. I have been trying to find a recipe to duplicate that cake. The layers were not the traditional yellow layer cake. I seem to remember they were sort of tan in color very very thin and almost had a nutty taste.
        does any one know what kind of layers these were? I have been trying to duplicate this cake for years

  2. Neena says

    This one is a beauty!!!! and—-something that I have NEVER tried to make. As long as the icing is good, it doesn’t seem to matter how the layers are. So many people just go for the icing. Me–I like the layers too.

    • says

      Thanks! I thought it was pretty even if it was just a teeny bit lopsided. And I like it all – layers and icing! Some people have trouble getting the icing smooth but this didn’t have a single grain of sugary-ness in it.

  3. Amanda says

    There is a lady near Savannah, Ga. that makes these and hers are 18 layers. She does the yellow cake with chocolate icing, yellow cake with caramel icing, and a mocha cake with chocolate icing in the little layers. They are delicious!

    • says

      Amanda – I’ve known some people who could get as much as 18 layers from their batter, too. I’ve just got to keep practicing to get it perfect. And I’ve never had the mocha version but it sounds delicious!

  4. Nancy says

    I live in Eastern North Carolina too and it would not be a family reunion without one of these cakes. I have never seen the recipe although Gladys has told me how she makes hers. Personally I would rather eat one somebody else made!

    • says

      Hi Nancy – interesting that you and one other person mentioned seeing these cakes in eastern NC. From my other hobby, genealogy, I know that quite a few people in our area have family ties to eastern North Carolina.

      • Nancy says

        Everybody would look forward to Gladys’s cake and if you didn’t get a piece before you got your food you would be out of luck.   I have a funny story to tell you.  My mother found a woman that would make those cakes and she would get one for holidays, birthdays or her bridge club.   She would not tell anyone the woman’s name!   My mother took that woman’s name and phone number to her grave!   

        • Sara says

          Nancy, Is the Gladys you are talking about lived in Wilmington and grew up in Pender Co named Gladys Harrelson Malpass?? and she has a sister Helen “Jo” Harrelson Jenkins?? Helen is my grandmother and I would really love to know how she made this cake. I have a cousin that found a recipe of Gladys but it’s a bit different.

          I know know that you can get this cake at Paul’s Place Hot Dogs in Rocky Point. Well, it taste the same as my grandmothers only it has 2 layers.

      • Sara says

        You say your other hobby is genealogy, I’m attempting to work on my dad’s family’s tree and I have quite a few blanks. My family would be from New Hanover and Pender Co.’s. If this is where your family is and you would be willing to help me, my email address is

  5. says

    What a stunning (7 layer?) cake. I’m a layer splitter, using unwaxed, unflavored dental floss, but I’ve always wanted to try the individually baked layers, even though it takes a little more time. They sell them in bakeries here (Northeast), but they’re usually rectangular. I’d give anything for a slice of that beauty, now.

  6. says

    I make one with 12 layers. I have 6 pans and I put wax paper in them. That way when they come out of the oven I can pull them right out of the pans. Bake the remainder while the first ones cool. Ive tried doing thin layered red velvet but it stuck to the wax paper. Only tried it once but I know it can be done because Ive had one and its awesome. By the way Im in southeast Ga about an hour from Savannah.

  7. Miss P says

    Ok, confession time. I tried to make this cake one time. One time. I did not have the foresight to think to place it on a rack over a baking pan to try to ice the thing. I chased icing all over my countertops, scooping, and trying to get it on the blasted cake. I did not have a happy experience.

    I am jealous.

    Miss P

  8. says

    I never made one of these in my years in the south but now I remember them…and you do it such justice; looks absolutely lovely Lana. LOVE the instructions from the original; so true of a lot of older recipes I have too.

    Thanks for the memories.

    • says

      Don’t you just love the instructions in old recipes! So simple. They put into two lines what we take a page and a half to write.

  9. says

    This cake looks wonderful! It reminds me of the doberge cakes so popular in south Louisiana. Doberge is a Christmas tradition in our family. These cakes are a lot of work and I admire you for making one.

    • says

      I had not heard of doberge cakes, so I did a Google search. Oh, my, they look delicious!! Very much like our little layer cakes.

  10. Penny Wolf says

    I live in central Ohio and do not see these layer cakes. I have made them thanks to the web but also thanks to some historical camping and old cookbooks. I have forgotten now where I read this, but I thought an
    APPLE STACK CAKE was the oldest written cake recipe from the colonists.A variation of your recipe and popular for weddings where each guest family would supply a layer of cake and the bride’s family supplied the apple filling. True or not I love the idea of the community coming together for the couple.
    I would like to try and bake a cake on the stovetop.

    • says

      That’s so interesting, Penny! I have not heard of the apple stack cake but now I want to research it. I’m sure that these small layer stacked cakes probably originated with layers that were cooked in a skillet because no oven was available. They’re also very similar to a torte and may have evolved in some way from that classic recipe. Probably people just making do the best they could with what they had on hand.

    • Jennifer says

      I’ m from Eastern NC. My husband is from Western NC. I had 14 layer chocolate cake growing up. He had apple stack cakes. I’d never heard of apple stack caskets until I moved to the mountains of NC with him.

  11. Deb says

    I’m from Iowa and I’ve never seen this before. If it had made it to our little part of the country, I’m sure Grandma would have made it or it would have shown up at a family reunion!

  12. Marianne Lashley says

    Lana, I`m friends with Brenda and Ted Horton and live at Lake Blackshear and I know you know where Irvinville, Ga. is you being from Sylvester. There`s a lady who lives in Irvinville who makes these cakes every year at christmas . She also works for one of my husband`s customers in the pecan business and she makes sure I get one of these cakes every christmas. They are DELICIOUS. Her`s are 14 layers and so moist. She also makes delicious pound cakes and sweet potato pies.

    • says

      Hi Marianne – These really are very special cakes, aren’t they? Around my hometown they come in either chocolate or caramel. I’ve heard from several people who have had them in red velvet as well. That sounds delicious!

      Actually, I’m not from Sylvester, I’m from Colquitt (Miller County).

  13. Jeanne says

    My Grandmother made this cake during holidays. She lived in Atlanta. Thanks for the recipe, it brings back great memories.

  14. Glinda says

    In south central Alabama, these layer cakes can still be found and I remember them from my childhood! My sister-in-law makes the chocolate one and her family calls it the “Son” cake, because she only makes it when her son comes down from Virginia! The entire family wishes he would come more often! I made one for a cake auction and it brought $180.00 for charity! The apple stack cake is also made in our area of the south! Homemade dried apples were used in it. Thanks for the wonderful post!

    • says

      Thank you for your comment, Glinda. Wow – your cake brought $180? That’s fantastic! I’d love to try the apple stack cake – sounds like it would be good in the Fall.

    • Angela says

      My husband has talked about his grandma making this type of cake for years. She was a hundred years old when she passed away several years ago. I had to show this to him when I saw it. He said the one his grandma made was made with dried apples. I would love to have that recipe if anyone comes across it. I will be giving this one a try but not until Thanksgiving or Christmas. We live in north central North Carolina right on the Virginia border.

      • Joy Barnard says

        Can you share the recipe for apple stack cake. I got married in 1958 and my mother-in-law used to make this for us. It was wonderful ! Had dried apple mixture between layers and boiled icing poured over the top. I ould have eaten the whole thing

  15. Elizabeth says

    Lana, I recently found your blog and just love it! My grandparents are from Coolidge, Ga and this cake reminds me so much of my grandmother! She always made the caramel version for holidays and family dinners. I now live in Dallas, Texas and am going to make this cake and introduce it to the Texans! Thank you!

  16. Connie says

    Lana, I’m from South West Georgia and my mother has been making this cake for as long a I can remember. I’ve never seen it anywhere else and she does bake each thin layer like this. Her recipe says it make 16 layers, but to hear her tell it she has only accomplished all 16 layers once. She usually breaks or burns a few layers, which is pretty easy since they are so thin. So her’s are usually 12-14 layers, but no one really cares what the exact number is or if it’s a little lop-sided, they just want to eat it :)

    • says

      Hi Connie – weren’t we lucky to grow up in a place with fantastic recipes like these little layer cakes? I’ve got to keep practicing so I can get up to at least 14 layers from my batter :-)

  17. says

    Oh my gosh, this looks divine! I have been mildly obsessed with layer cakes lately and will have to give this a try. I too remember them growing up. Boiled fudge icing is one of my favorite things in the whole world. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Missy Johnson says

    I’ve been looking for a recipe like this forever. My grandmama made one of the that was 16 layers for my 16th birthday. She died last year without writing any of her recipes down, and I am pretty sure this recipe is close, if not the one, that she used. Thank you for posting this! I love your blog! I’m a Worth County girl, transplanted to PA via NJ and miss good Southern cooking.

    • says

      Hi Missy – I hope this recipe will be similar to the one your grandmother made. It’s the traditional one used in my home area so hopefully it’s close to hers. I’d love to know if there are any other southern recipes you’d like to see on the blog. Thanks for stopping by.

  19. Missy Johnson says

    Have you ever hear this called Smith Island Cake? I just happened to pick up a Feb. 2009 issue of Cook’s Country, and they had this featured as their Great American Cake. Apparently, it was made the official dessert of the state of Maryland.

    • says

      Yes, I’ve read quite a bit about the Smith Island Cakes and I think it’s similar but not exactly the same as ours. Theirs have fewer layers, if I recall correctly.

  20. Missy Johnson says

    Oooh! I have a LOT of Southern recipes I’m looking for. Lately, I’ve been craving Lemon Cheese Cake. Not to be confused with Lemon Cheesecake. I know you know what I’m talking about.

    • says

      I know *exactly* what you’re talking about and I actually have my Mama’s lemon cheese cake recipe that I’ve been meaning to cook and photograph for the blog for the longest time. You’ve just given me the inspiration I needed to get that one done this weekend. Look for it next week. By the way, do you like your lemon cheese with the white frosting or just the layers with filling?

  21. Missy Johnson says

    I’ve seen it with the white frosting (I assume it’s a 7 minute?) with the lemon cheese between the layers, but I have only had it where the layers were filled and the cake was frosted on the outside with the Lemon Cheese. I cannot wait to see what you come up with! I remember my grandmama Harris making hers, and thinking that 9 egg yolks was an obscene anount of eggs to use. LOL That was in the eighties when everyone was concerned about eggs and cholesterol. Her recipe came from a Mitchell EMC fundraiser cookbook, which disappeared.

    • says

      Yes, it’s the 7-minute frosting. Mama always leaves hers just plain layers with filling and that’s the way I like it, too, but seems like most people want the frosting. Just kind of takes away from the lemon cheese to me :-)

  22. says

    I’m from the west (now living in the midwest), we didn’t have anything like this gorgeous little cake out there. This looks wonderful. Will you be making the caramel version soon?? That one sounds delicious too. Thanks for posting.

  23. Cindy says

    Here in a very small town in upstate South Carolina it is still being
    made. The wonderful lady who always brought it to all our church gatherings has passed on, but a couple years before, she invited my oldest married daughter to come over and spend the day learning to make it and bringing home the result! I think it was 17 layers that day, but thats the fun of it, you never know how many layers you will end up with. Thats a cake that is always asked for at special occasions. Good to see others are making it.

    • says

      Hi Cindy – It’s been fun to read all the comments from people who know about these little layer cakes. So glad your daughter learned to make it and is keeping this little piece of our heritage alive.

  24. says

    Hmmm…Please, please, please! I absolutely love caramel. Plus, I’m pregnant and a caramel cake sounds fabulous about right now! ;) I bet you have some readers that are caramel fans too. Yum!

  25. Lynn Lekander says

    Your cake looks delicious. It reminds me of a Dobosh Torte we made in cooking school. A lot of work for sure!

  26. says

    I regret I don’t know the name of the southeast Georgia town we traveled through about four years ago, or the restaurant that served several of these magnificent cakes in two different locations. I took a lot of pictures and tried everything I could to figure out how the cakes were made. The restaurant had some information handy that insisted the cakes were truly baked in separate layers, not split, but I couldn’t believe it — until now. I am so excited to know how this is done. And may I second Bakeaholic’s abject plea for the caramel version? Could it be done in 7 – 14 layers using your recipe? I made a caramel cake from a recent Saveur last week, and it all worked beautifully, but just in two layers, with a most strange and interesting boiled icing. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

  27. Lora @cakeduchess says

    Love this beautiful mile-high layer cake, Lana. It’s stunning. The icing is perfect and lovely dripping down the sides tempting me since I saw it the other day. I grew up eating a similar multi-layered cake from Hungary (Dobos Torte). I can’t wait to see if you get up to 14 layers!;)

  28. says

    My 81 year old mother has been making these for years. She gets 18 layers out of hers. She has 20+ cake pans, she greases 18 of them at a time, puts the cake batter in all and then bakes 3 at a time. Everyone loves her cakes! We live in the Sandhills of North Carolina.

  29. Patty says

    My grandmother in Hahira Ga. Used to make this cake every time we would come to visit from Alabama. I recently ask my Aunt Marynell for this recipe!

  30. Derek says

    I am from eastern South Carolina…we have a few ladies that make these upon request. I actually just finished eating a slice…this time our cake had 23 layers!!! (cake only)

  31. Stacy says

    Hi great site-especially love the layer cake. It brings back so many happy memories. I’m from the Piedmont area of SC and my family always had these cakes during the holidays. Layer cakes are bragging rights for many ladies, aunts and grannies. The taller the better. Sadly I never made one but I just might give it a try and surprise my family.

    • says

      Hi Stacy and thanks for your kind comment. These cakes are such a part of our heritage. Let’s keep making them and passing down our recipes to younger cooks!

  32. Mary B says

    My grandmother made these using a cast iron pan. South Georgia…Wiregrass Country. They were common growing up and even though the cake itself isn’t chocolate I called it the chocolate cake.

    • says

      Hi Mary – I’ve seen people make these little cakes one layer at a time in a skillet. Whichever method you choose, they’re just delicious aren’t they?

  33. Oat says

    Here in Maryland they are known as Smith Island cakes. Smith Island is located in the Chesapeake Bay.

  34. Laurel says

    I grew up in Atlanta but I’ve seen these around at various events in the city and the mountains, so they’re present in the north half of the state too. Ironically, when I’ve had them in South GA they were clearly split layers.


    my mother is from Miller cty…….has lived in Camilla after she married my daddy….where we grew up

  36. Stephanie says

    Oh my gosh I have been looking for these everywhere! My grandmother used to have them all the time when I visited her house because they were mine and my Grandaddy’s favorite. She lives in a small town near Dothan in the South East area of Alabama. I asked her how to make them recently but she’s on in years and didn’t remember the kind I was talking about. Now I can make this in rememberance of my Grandaddy and the summers I spent drinking sweet tea and reading on his porch swing. It really means a lot, thank you.

  37. Helen T. Andrews says

    Hi….I’ve enjoyed seeing your website. The multi-layer cake is found in many areas. I’m from Ozark, AL.(20 Mi. N of Dothan) and I know of many little ol’ ladies who make this cake, especially for bake sales and holidays. I’ve heard it called the ’14 Layer Cake’ and the frosting is usually chocolate, but have seen caramel as you mentioned above. I’m sure this recipe(or a version of it) has been around for a long time and is common throughout the Deep South(NC,SC, GA, FL, AL, MISS, LA, TENN & TX) and is not really from a particular ‘area’. Everyone seems to think ‘their area’ is the only one with ‘sweet tea’, pound cakes, tea cakes or other old fashioned recipes. LOL! I am a foodie myself and enjoy collecting recipes and trying them out to see if they compare to my mother’s cooking. Most don’t hold up to the test of time, as you can imagine.

  38. Shoshana says

    My great grandmother moved to California from Canton, Mississippi. She made this cake for us every time we came to visit. I had no idea it was a Southern food until I saw an article about layered cakes in the New York times. I am so thankful to have come across your recipe because it closely resembles that cake that she used to make. Thank you.

  39. Angela says

    I have been making these for years. They are wonderful!!! The caramel version is to die for as well especially with the home made caramel. The original recipes for the layers called for them to be “baked” on the stove top in a cast iron skillet. Me, I have always used 8” or 9″ pans in the oven; I will try the cast iron someday. Great site and yes, let’s keep the traditions going by passing these great recipes down

  40. Lisa says

    My Bigmama made these but I never saw how she did it. I just inherited a flat cast iron pan that was my great great grandmother’s that she used to make this cake. Yes, that means she cooked each layer one by one on top of the stove, wood burning stove I’m sure.

    • says

      Hi Lisa – I have one of those flat griddles, too, and I’ve made this cake on it as well. It just takes *forever* waiting on each layer to cook on the stovetop. Most people now bake the layers in the oven.

  41. Judy Wise says

    My granny was famous for her layered chocolate cakes she would usually only make about seven or eight layers, but OMG they is nothing in the world like them. She’s been gone for four years now and I’ve tried several times to make them and have gotten close using her hand written recipe, but like most southern cooks they never really measured anything back in the day, so I think I’m going to try this one and see how close I get to hers.

  42. Janice says

    My daughter requested that I make one for Thanksgiving this year so I’ve been combing the web. After eleventeen google pages, it finally came up with your recipe, which is the exact one I was looking for. The rest of them were for the chocolate buttercream filled. I made one several years ago, baking each layer individually, but was stumped by the frosting. So excited to be able to try this one! We had been getting them from a lady in Jacksonville, NC, but she quit making them. I don’t know where she got her recipe from, but I remember seeing them occasionally when I was growing up in Chapel Hill, NC.

  43. Blynn says

    My Grandmother lived in Marianna Florida. I remember her baking this cake through out my life in Marianna and Panama City FL. I make one at least once a year. Florida loves tiny layer cakes with chocolate frosting.

    • says

      I live in Blountstown, Fl; about 30 miles from Marianna. There was always chocolate and jelly cakes made like this at our gatheings. My Mama made Mayhaw jelly and would make a jelly cake like this, using her jelly. It was always a big hit, never any leftovers. Other ladies would bring the chocolate or another type of jelly cake.

    • says

      I live in Blountstown, Fl; about 30 miles from Marianna. There was always chocolate and jelly cakes made like this at our gatherings. My Mama made Mayhaw jelly and would make a jelly cake like this, using her jelly. It was always a big hit, never any leftovers. Other ladies would bring the chocolate or another type of jelly cake.

  44. Betty Davis says

    My grandmother used to make a stack cake like this with one addition. She added pecans between every layer. I always wanted to know how to recreate this cake as it was my favorite. I never knew how she made the chocolate glaze but this is definitely the cake. My family is from Eastern NC, Duplin County. They had a lot of pecan trees where my grandmother lived so this would account for the addition of the pecans. Grandmother also made the same cake with coconut filling and with pineapple filling. Those three marvelous stack cakes were her specialties every holiday. Hers had 12 layers. Thanks so much for posting this.

  45. Janice says

    I made the cake tonight – ugliest cake I’ve ever made made but tastes fantastic! Lesson learned – if you use the parchment paper for baking, remove it as soon as the cakes come out of the pan or they stick and cause the thin layers to tear.

  46. Stacie says

    Thank you for sharing this recipe! It is a favorite here in SE Alabama / NW Florida. I wanted to attempt my first one today, on my own, before asking for help from my husband’ s grandmother “MeMa” on the next one. Your icing recipe isn’t exactly like hers, but it looks fabulous!

  47. June Musick says

    I live in Whitesburg GA which is west GA. I had one of these for my birthday many years. A little lady from Arnco made it.
    My sister made these for years and I have made them as well.

  48. jk says

    My grandfather (raised in SE Georgia and then moved to Jacksonville FL) worked for the railroad. We would go visit him out on the camp cars (they stayed out all week working on location). The cook for the crew used to make a seven layer cake that we loved. We were just talking about it over the holidays. We will have to try this and see if it reminds us of Pete’s cake. Looks like it could be it.

  49. Patricia says

    Wow, more favorites. Grew up with this chocolate cake but fewer layers, lemon cheese cake, and caramel. I ask my sister several years ago for chocolate cake recipe. Her response was about 3 tbsp of butter, more or less, 2 cups of something else, more or less and on and on. I took all of her list of ingredients and finally put together a good icing. She used regular milk and cocoa in hers instead of evaporated milk and chocolate squares. My daughters now cook this icing. We use the quick method (cake mix) probably why we don’t get lots of layers but what we make never lasts long. My mother cooked the cheese cake and caramel. You must have attended church dinners too! My father was quite good with cooking pit barbecue, his own Brunswick stew and cane syrup. A family member who lives in Ga now brought me a stalk of sugar cane and wanted to know what to do with it. Use to walk the square in Colquitt on Saturdays and go to movies in old theater, have a hamburger at Ma Harrell’s on corner of square.

    • says

      You know I don’t make this cake very often, but when I do it’s gone before we know it. Of course, I grew up going to church dinners (dinner on the grounds as we called it). Ma Harrell’s was before my time but I’ve heard my mother and grandmother talk about it many times.

  50. Anne says

    Love this cake! I had my first slice when my husband took me to visit his family in Nashville, GA. Every time we headed south to visit his family we looked forward to having another slice this cake.
    Thank you for posting this recipe.

  51. Brittany says

    Yes I grew up my step mom would make this cake love love love it!!! Thin layers. And I going to attempt it myself!

  52. Autumn says

    I’m from the Albany area originally and have lived in Sylvester and Baconton! My Aunt just made this cake the last time I visited. Everyone goes nuts over it. I’m planning my 1st attempt at this cake for Easter this weekend:)

  53. Cindy says

    We have definitely been making this cake here in upstate South Carolina as long as I can remember. My daughter usually gets 12 to 14 layers, but the lady who taught her how to make them sometimes got 16. Delicious cake!

  54. Teresa says

    They are popular with the older generation in the northwestern part of South Carolina. Most people make them with 12 layers, but my neighbor could make 16. I think it is time to try making one myself!

  55. says

    Hi! I just found this post through the Southern Food Bloggers page, but I love it! I’m over in Bainbridge (so it’s nice to find someone blogging nearby!) but grew up in Bristol, Florida, just over the line. I had one of these little layer chocolate cakes for my birthday every year of my life! Now I’m making them too. A trick I use – I bought 14 aluminum pans from the Dollar General – that way I don’t have to wash and re-grease while I’m focusing on baking! I let the dishwasher do the rest. :) You can see my most recent little layer cake on my blog. Thanks for sharing – you don’t see them very often anymore, especially outside of the tri-state area! And you’ve got a new follower in me. :)


    • Lana Stuart says

      Welcome Natalie! I’m happy to have you as a follower. Yes, I grew up in southwest Georgia, but I live north of Atlanta now. These very special cakes are a part of our culinary history that I hope younger cooks will keep alive. They’re a lot of work to make, but soooo worth it!

  56. Megan says

    Hi! I’m from South Carolina and my grandma made this cake for every special occasion and for many Sunday family dinners. It brings back so many memories! Thanks for sharing the recipe! :-)

  57. Karen says

    I live in Madison, FL and we have several people in town who make these 10 layer cakes with the individual layers. I can’t wait to try making this one. Thank you for the recipe.

  58. Kay says

    I made this for the first time today and ended up with nine layers and it looks pretty good. It was not as hard to make as I thought it would be. Trying to give it some sitting time but I have 2 sons that had to taste it immediately. They think it is good. Kind of excited to make this old time favorite! Thanks for the recipe from a fellow GA Peach. (Macon). :)

  59. Dean says

    I am going to try this cake tonight. I’m originally from Anderson,SC and this cake was a special treat anytime or church had a dinner. It was made by a little lady we called Mama Grease because she was always cooking. I haven’t had one of her cakes in over 30 years. No pressure for your recipe. My cooking ability are questionable.

  60. Cheryl Edmondson says

    I live in the panhandle of Florida and I’ve seen, made and eaten these cakes all my life. My grandmother made them in iron skillets on a wood bring stove and if he lacked the ingredients for the chocolate icing, she would put homemade blackberry jelly between the layers and on top. My daddy liked them better with the jelly but I’m a fiend for chocolate so that’s the way I always go. I took one of these to a family reunion last year and it was the first dessert plate empty. These cakes are time consuming to make but everyone seems to love them so much it’s worth it.

  61. Kathy says

    My Mother-in-law made apple stack cake, her’s had 6-8 layers. I learned to make it from an older lady at my sister-in-law’s church, it has five layers. My kids liked it and always hoped one of the layers would break apart coming out of the pan so they could eat it right then while hot. Her recipe said you could also use it to make Tea Cakes, it’s really good. I live in Northwest GA.

  62. says

    Hi! I am writing an article for my blog about my friends obsession with these cakes! She drives to the outer banks of nc and buys 3 at a time and brings them home to freeze! I am featuring you as my inspiration as I am going to attempt to make this!! I will let you know how it goes!!

  63. Adriane says

    My Granny made a cake like this. She grew up in the Bellview area outside of Colquitt in Miller County, Georgia.

    • Lana Stuart says

      Hi Adriane – I’m from Colquitt, too, and these little layer cakes were always around when I was growing up.

        • Adriane says

          I asked my dad about this cake. He said granny made 5 layers. I don’t remember them being quite as thin. He said he really liked the caramel one she made so I’m looking for a recipe. :)

  64. Leslie says

    Wouldn’t you know it! Our family was all together for a funeral recently and they all started talking about Ma-Ma’s little layer chocolate cake. No one knew how she made it but they all missed that cake. And where is Ma-Ma from? The southwest of GA :) My husband has been trying for years off and on to make her cake. He’s going to try this one today :)

  65. dp says

    These cakes are so popular in Eastern NC that some bakeries make them. Seems to be a pocket of popularity with Bladen, Sampson, and Harnett Counties at the center. I love the chocolate (try to get one for every birthday), and no church function or wake is complete without it. This weekend I enjoyed a slice of 15-layer black walnut cake with cooked caramel icing. Oh, my!!! I’m pretty certain that both cakes are served in Heaven.

    • Susan Gillikin says

      Thank you for this recipe. I plan to make it tomorrow. Do you happen to have the caramel frosting recipe? If so please share!

  66. Sandy Powell says

    HI, I also make the little layer cakes, 14 layers that is. I have made hundreds of them. I live in SW Georgia, my recipe came from my husbands Grandmother who lived in Alabama. The recipe posted here is very similar to mine, and I am sure is just as good. I know of several people here that make this cake, so it is not just an Alabama cake or Smith Island Cake. Everyone loves it!

    • Sandy Powell says

      also, I was just reading more posts / comments, did not realize you live in Colquitt. I live in Blakely, and I bet you know my sister, I have several relatives who live in Colquitt……small world !!

  67. Jo Brooks says

    I have tried to do this several times and have never been successful. Do you just grease the pans or flour and grease? I have seen these cakes made around here in N.C.; but the two women I knew that made them no longer do. My cakes stick to the pan and break when trying to get out. I love this cake and want to be able to make it. Any help would be appreciated. I flour and grease my pans.

    • Lana Stuart says

      Hi Jo. I grease the pans with shortening. I wipe them out and re-grease in between each set of layers as I bake.

      • Sandy Powell says

        Jo, not sure if you do this or not, but do not put the batter into the pans until just before you slide them into the oven. If you put the batter into the pans and they sit for several minutes before baking, they will stick. I just spray my pans with PAM Baking or Bakers Joy Floured spray, spray well, and I turn my pans upside down and the layers fall out onto my hand. I do not flour and grease seperately. I have made hundreds of these. Good luck.

  68. Trish says

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! I’m from Eastern NC also and this cake is the one that everyone would flock to at our family reunions and holidays. My aunt would make it and bless her heart, she couldn’t cook much else, but she was a fine baker and this was her specialty!

  69. Tonya says

    This is very popular in Northwest Florida. My grandmother is making me one today. I can’t wait to share it with family and friends.

  70. Tag says

    How thoroughly delightful it is to have discovered your site, Lana, and just in time for the holidays, too, for the conversation here resonates with a warmth that is akin to sharing stories in a dear one’s kitchen. And this recipe is simply divine! Thank you!

  71. Kim W. says

    I am so proud to say that I made this cake last night, and it turned out so great!! I’ve always wanted to make one, since growing up in Eastern NC, and enjoying it. It was a big hit after church today for dessert! In fact, I think I will make another one for Thanksgiving! I ended up with 9 layers, and was happy with them, because I was using 9 inch pans, instead of the called for, 8 inch.

  72. Vicki R says

    Looks just like my grandmother’s cake everyone used to stand in line for at gatherings. My sister gave me a recipe for it but assumed I knew the meaning of a tad of this and a bit of that. Also, said to cook icing to soft-boil stage. Managed eight layers on my one try but the icing dripped to the counter and floor. Clean up was not worth it. Does this icing have the slightly crusty texture on the very outside?

    • says

      Vicki – yes the icing does have a little crunch on the outside after it has set. And it does run everywhere when you’re icing the cake. I set the cake on a rack inside a baking sheet and just keep scooping it up and putting it back on the cake :-)

  73. betty says


    am looking for a recipe with the thin layers…my mom called it “hocake cake” and cooked it on top of the stove in a small black round griddle. It was a yellow cake and the icing was clear almost with chopped pecans or chopped pineapple added…we are from south Georgia

  74. Jennifer says

    My mom is from South Georgia, near the Tifton area, and my aunts have made the chocoalte and the caramel version. I grew up in North Florida and it was a popular cake there, too. I now live in Northeast Alabama and I don’t see it made here. I have made it a few times. Most people are amazed that each layer is baked individually. I have made up to 15 layers but not all 15 were in the cake since I do tend to break a few layers.

  75. Vicki R says

    My son bought ghirardelli baking chocolate instead of the baker’s brand. Not sure if the blocks would be the same measurement. Could you give the approx. weight you use of chocolate?

  76. Natalie says

    My sweet son who is the youngest of 6 has his birthday on 12/23. I asked him what cake he wanted and described this cake. I grew in Northern Florida and this recipe has been handed down through the years in my extended family. I am so grateful you have posted this recipe. It was my favorite every Christmas when all my cousins got together. My mother has mailed yhr cake to us in the winter because we it love so much. I think of my aunt who lived in SW Georgia when I was young. This recipe is a blessing.

    • says

      Thank you for your sweet comment, Natalie! Would you believe I *just* got finished making one of these for Christmas? Best birthday wishes to your son and a Merry Christmas to you!

  77. Robin says

    My aunt who lives is Nichols, SC makes this cake. It is wonderful. I live is spartanburg/Greenville, sc area and have had some with peanut butter icing as well. Getting my nerve up to try my hand at it for the first time….. We shall see.

  78. Cathy Ammons says

    I live in Eastern NC and make this all the time. My recipe is a little different than this one. I’m going to try some of the different ones just to see how I like them.

  79. Jenn says

    My father always talks about how his mama made cakes like this when he was growing up in Reidsville, GA (SE Georgia). Simple, thin layers of yellow cake cooked in a cast iron skillet and each layer coated with very thin, syrupy chocolate icing.

  80. Sara says

    How many oz’s are in a BLOCK of unsweetened baking chocolate? Or is a BLOCK and a BAR the same thing? I’m trying to remake my grandmother recipe of this type of cake and most of the ingredients/measurements are the same, but I can’t seem to find out if a block and bar are the same thing or not. I ask for the oz’s because I know Bakers brand recently changed the size of the bars from 8oz to now 4oz.

  81. AMY BRYANT says

    You mention people in your town making a caramel icing for this cake. Have you perfected a recipe and if so would you share it? I got a recipe from an elderly friend soon before she died and it was the typical, spoonful of this and handful of that and I’ve never perfected it – although it does taste great!

    Thanks in advance!

    • Adriane says

      I’d love the recipe too. My Dad recently told me that he always enjoyed Granny’s caramel cake. I’d love to make one. Granny was the same way when she cooked- a spoonful of this and a handful of that.

  82. Valencia Hill says

    My grandmother made this cake!!!!!! ALL THE TIME!!!! She was from Mississippi! She only did the caramel, though. Do to have that recipe????? I would love to surprise my family!!!! She is gone and never shared her recipes. ( you know the type :) ) I’ll so happy I find this!

  83. Caroline says

    I so thank you for posting this recipe. My great grandmother’s recipe card looked like that of what you described, just a few sentences and no real measurements, no way I could even try to repeat that. I am going to try this one this weekend and hope it tastes like hers did.

      • Caroline says

        I made this today, it is great!! Thanks again for sharing. I only got nine layers, I really wanted 10, but I can fix that next time. I had a few problems with my layers breaking apart, but no big deal, it taste wonderful.

  84. Mary Alice says

    I’ve seen many of these cakes in southeast Georgia. They are delicious and always a coveted item at raffle fundraisers.

  85. Barbara says

    I am from Rockingham, NC and I had an aunt Gladys who made a cake like this. In fact I was talking to my cousin in Riverside Calif. and we were talking about her cake and wishing we had a piece of it. She had seven children and she sure could bake! Lots of good memories!!

    • Caroline says

      I am from Hamlet, do you know the Boney’s from Hamlet, that is my family. I have made this cake so many times now, it is so good. My mom even said it was as good as Artie’s from what used to be The Cake Shop on circle in downtown Rockingham, the best compliment ever!

  86. susan says

    My grandmother from upper part of Georgia made the thin layer cakes – carmel with yellow layers and chocolate with yellow layers. I have made them also but the key is letting the layers cool and having the icing in the right consistance so it sets up quick when you finish. 6 layers cakes are easier to manage due to the more layers you have its easier for them to start sliding.

  87. says

    My late mother, Clara (Curnutt) Truett born in 1911 said her late older sister Mae (Curnutt) Franklin made a seven layer one of these in Homer, Louisiana back in the 1930’s. Where she got the recipe is unknown since their mother never made it and my mother had never had it before. My mama said it was heavenly and never forgot that cake. They all lived in the Cotton Valley area of Louisiana until marriage. There was no other state connection. Thank you for the memory of my mother. Sincerely, Chaney (Truett) Noe. Wagoner, Oklahoma

  88. Donna Nelson says

    My husbands grandmother is from Paintsville Ky and they have an annual Apple Day,, and she made apple stack cake every year and it was a lot like your cake,,, she also made 3 kinds of apple pies,,, ,regular two crusted like you see in your grocery store,,,, something called a soft apple pie and fried apple pies,,,,, and for breakfast her famous apple butter,,,,,, I know she had at least 14 layers to her stack cake,, it was legend,,,,, and so good.

  89. Ethel says

    My Grandmother made these. She was born in 1897 and lived in SE Alabama. my husband from OK. Had never seen one and was quite impressed with the cake!

  90. Suzanne says

    My great-grandmother made a cake very much like this with the individual baked layers but her icing was more like a chocolate glaze made with coco powder instead of baking chocolate. Hers normally had between 7-9 layers and she made 2 versions, the chocolate and a pecan that was made with an icing similar to a 7 minute icing. These cakes have been passed over the past 5 generations and we still compare them to the original “Granny Cakes”. Our family is from the lower Alabama area. These cakes have always been a staple at any family get together for as long as I can remember. I have made them during college for roommates and friends and over the years I have brought them to work/friendly gathering and I have never had anyone say that they had seen or heard of this type of cake before. It is truly amazing how much things have changed over the years and how much easier it is to share info through the great wide web. I have never seen or heard of a caramel cake. I would love to have the recipe to try that one.

  91. Gladys Adams says

    I live in Delaware and heard about Smith Island Cakes for years. I came across a tiny 4 inch version in a hot dog restaurant in Cambridge, MD. I bought 2 for our yearly tea for the Adams Family women and we loved them. Wanting a bigger cake I checked on line and found many bakeries in the area that make them. The one I went to is in Salisbury MD and they make these cakes in 22 flavors. My husband loves the coconut version. They bake them as you do in many layers rather then slicing the cakes. They have 8 to 10 layers. If you want to see all the flavors you can go to Classic Cakes Salisbury MD and see the whole list.
    I enjoyed reading all the comments about your cake, it looks amazing.

  92. Lindsay says

    Lana – My family is from Dublin, GA and I remember this cake when my grandparents died. Someone made one chocolate and one caramel for my mom and her brothers. I found a similar recipe in a Martha Stewart cookbook but it was almost too sweet to eat. My friend and I are going to try and make this one for Easter. You mentioned caramel in your article but the recipe only includes the chocolate icing. Just curious if you had the recipe for the caramel icing that works with this cake. Thanks for the information.

  93. Doreen McCloskey says

    Lana, I have searched for this recipe for many years. I cannot thank you enough for posting it! My Granny from Hazlehurst, GA, made this cake many times during my childhood. I loved her and I loved this cake! Now that I have this recipe, I can pass down to my children a delicious part of my Granny’s legacy! Thanks so much!

  94. Bonnie says

    I love the pictures I’ve seen, and I would love to make a lot of them. So I don’t want to miss any recipes u put out, so won’t u please add me to u r mailing list! Ty

  95. Tonna says

    I’m from Kentucky and stack cakes are made here, mostly Apple Stack Cake. They are made and sold at Apple Festivals, etc. They have 12-14 thin layers. They look like yours except apple. They are yummy! I have never made the chocolate but I have made the apple many times. They also made a mini version (think pancake size) with multiple layers that they sell at the festivals. I’ve only made the big ones. I’m definitely making a chocolate one after seeing yours!

  96. Shelly Taylor says

    I am from middle GA, Macon, and I know that these cakes are a staple for the Church suppers and socials in the area. I have seen & have had these cakes with the many little layers that are baked individually. Around Macon, many people call this a 14 layer cake because it is about how many layers there usually ends up being after it is completed.

  97. says

    I live in North West Florida, close to Panama City and Tallahassee. We’ve always had these at gatherings, especially church gatherings. My Mama would make one, but on hers she would put some of her homemade Mayhaw Jelly, OH MY how delicious they were. Thank you for bring back wonderful memories, now i want to make the chocolate one and a Mayhaw jelly one for my kids…..and ME.

  98. Kristin says

    I am Georgia girl…born and raised down here.
    These cakes are very popular in the Vidalia-Reidsville-Statesboro areas. Everyone round here knows someone who sells them and there is always one or two old ladies in every church that make them :)

  99. Sarah says

    These are referred to as “Smith Island cakes” here in Maryland. And, naturally, Marylanders assume they’re only made here!

    • says

      Isn’t that funny, Sarah! I’ve found out through the comments on this post that they’re made throughout the South. The New York Times story that I linked to in the post stated emphatically that they are made ONLY in a small area in southeastern Alabama!

      • Adriane says

        Granny was raised in Bellview near Colquitt, and she and her mother and younger sisters moved to Central Florida when she was in her late teens, after her father passed away. She made these cakes all during my Dad’s growing up and baked them for Thanksgiving and family functions when I was growing up. They definitely aren’t limited to SE Alabama. I don’t know how any good food could be limited to one small area. People tend to take their favorite recipes wherever they go and pass them on to their children.

  100. DP says

    My saw the times article a few years ago and responded that the cakes were not exclusive to Alabama! A lot of east coast folks (nc, sc, ga) settled Alabama in the early 19th c. So I expect they took recipes with them.

  101. Lucy says

    I make these for my family and friends. I am from NC now living in GA. The most layers I have ever made was 26 “paper thin” layers for my Pastors’ birthday. A LOT of work!

  102. tara says

    The cake originates in New Orleans with pudding between the layers, It is a Doberge Cake. Gambinos bakery bought the recipe from the imigrant that first made it when she sold the bakery to them.

    • Adriane says

      The Doberge cake originated at that bakery in the 1930s as an adaptation of another cake. I’d be really surprised if the Doberge cake was the original for this cake though. It seems like the only thing in common is the multiple layers. With others telling of their great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers making this cake, I assumed it had been around longer.

  103. Linda says

    My mother made these at Christmas all of my life until she died in 1999. She sometimes had 13 layers on her cakes, the difference being that her’s was the boiled chocolate icing. Every year we gathered at her house to make the cakes, (fresh grated coconut, apple/orange, banana and a nut pound cake). I was usually the one that got the job of stirring the icing.
    The Christmas before my mom passed away in February, she was worried about her cakes and how they were going to get done. I told her that I would do them. She insisted they be done at her house and every once in a while she would get out or the bed and come to make sure I was doing them right.
    I have not been able to see a Christmas come since she passed away that I did not have those same cakes. I have only managed to get 10 layers on mine, but it is definitely part my Christmas memories with my mom.
    I live in the midlands of South Carolina.

  104. Julia says

    I am from Eastern North Carolina and my aunt used to make these for holidays and birthdays. Hers usually had 25 or so layers and you could only eat a thin slice because they were so rich. These cakes are delicious and your looks beautiful. When I get some time to bake, I am going to give this a try. Thank you so much for sharing!

  105. Vicki says

    My Great Grandmother Grandmother & Mother made these multilayer cakes all their lives. Chocolate, Lemon Cheese, Coconut & Carmel were always around for Holidays and Birthdays. They would take all day to make because of the small ovens and many layers.
    I still have their recipes, but forget to make them often enough.
    You’ve inspired me to do it again!
    I live in Savannah and there used to be a lady here who you could order them from, but can’t find her anymore.

  106. Pamela says

    This looks pretty much idential to a “Smith Island” cake. If you don’t know about Smith Island it’s a small community, on an island, in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I tried to enclose a picture of a Smith Island cake but the site won’t allow me to do so in this comment box so here is a website address of a company where a person can order a variety of these cakes. The cakes are not only in chocolate, they come in a variety of flavors. See description from Wikipedia below. I particuarily like that THIS cake has been designated as the OFFICIAL dessert of the state of Maryland. I guess since this is the case I’d better learn to make one pretty darn quick. They can be anywhere from 8 to 15 layers. Heck, if you’re going to do it, you might as well go all the way and go for the 15 layers. I guess I’d better get busy and order my Frieling Cake Layer kit.
    If for some reason this website address does not work, you’ll have to paste it as it wouldn’t paste in a link, just do a search for Smith Island cake and you can find a variety of recipes to make your own. This cake is one of them on my “bucket” list of cakes I want to make one day. HOWEVER, before I attempt this cake or ANY cake with some small, tiny, fragile, delicate layers I fully intend to purchase a Frieling Layer Cake Slicing Kit which can be purchased from Chef’s Catalog. The thing cost $60.00 so it’s not like adding on a little cookie cutter or a new Ateco tip or something. But truthfully, I wouldn’t even THINK to attempt a cake like this without that tool.

    Smith Island Cake:
    Smith Island has its own region-specific traditional cuisine. The most famous dish is a locally produced cake featuring 8 to 15 thin layers[9] filled with creme, frosting and/or crushed candy bars. The cake is iced with a cooked chocolate icing. Beginning in the 1800s, Smith Islanders would send these cakes with the watermen on the autumn oyster harvest. The bakers began using fudge instead of buttercream frostings, as cakes frosted with fudge lasted much longer than cakes with other frostings.[10] The cake is often made using a commercial cake mix but with unique additions such as condensed milk. It can also be made from scratch using flour.[11] The most common flavor is yellow cake with chocolate icing but other flavors such as coconut, fig, strawberry, lemon, and orange are also common. Known simply as the Smith Island Cake, the dessert is baked for any occasion and not reserved only for holidays.[12] The cake is also baked as the feature prize for a local fundraising tradition called a cake walk which is a game played like musical chairs where donated cakes serve as the prize. Great attention is paid to the perfection of the pencil-thin layers that form the distinctive cake.[13] Before each round, the prize cake at stake is cut in half and shown to the players who pay to participate in the game. A poorly stacked cake may not attract many players and as a result, not raise as much money as a more perfectly executed cake.[14]

    On April 24, 2008, Smith Island cake was designated as the official dessert of the state of Maryland

  107. Adriane says

    I don’t think I’d want to use a slicing tool. That would take some of the charm away for me. It’s the fact that my Granny made this cake and I want to make one like hers that makes me want to make them in the first place.

  108. dearcat says

    Hi Lana. Just found you recipe for the 10, 12, 14 layer cake. I am 78, been cooking all my life, used to make cakes, professionally. I even lived in LA for a couple of years, but I never heard of this cake. I am from Maine. Never have seen it on a menu or anywhere ekse in the Northeast. I am going to try to make it. It sounds wonderful.

  109. Rosemarie says

    Lana I don’t know if this is an appropriate question here or not. Please delete if not. I am a great grandmother, 86 yrs. old, and I am having a problem with making my old tried and true recipes. They use to always turn out perfect and could depend on the recipes. Now they flop, or don’t turn out right. Someone said, that the ingredients, e.g. flour etc. are a different consistency now than they used to be. I know you aren’t any where near my age, but have you, or anyone you’ve heard of have this same problem? If so how do they correct it.

    • says

      Rosemarie – It’s true that lots of ingredients are different nowadays, especially flour. The White Lily that we always depended on for our Southern recipes is even different (company was bought out and the formulation changed). I’m not sure how to compensate for the differences, though, but I’m going to do some research and I will email you with what I find out.

  110. Vicki says

    If you do find out how to convert the measurements, to answer the above question, please post for all of us to see.
    I have a similar problem with all my handed-down recipes.

  111. Mallory says

    Thank you SO much for sharing this recipe! I am a southerner (my family is from Nashville, GA) who is living in Hong Kong….Good cake is hard to come by here, and I have been craving this classic southern cake. I just made your recipe and it came out perfect…just like the cake I remember from family gatherings. I am so proud of myself that I got 12 layers out of it! Thanks for helping bring a little taste from home to a far away place!

  112. Kathy says

    Lana, I’m from Tifton and make this cake for my son’s birthday and other times when I have two hours to spare. I once threw away batter when I got to layer #18 because I was too tired to go on! Do you have a secret to keeping all the layers stacked evenly? No matter how hard I try, they seem to come out lopsided! My momma says an ugly cake is the best tasting so mine have to be awesome!

    • says

      Kathy – You can try using a couple of long wooden skewers. Put them in after about 5 or 6 layers and keep stacking up on them. Just be careful because it’s real easy to tear your layers on them. Personally – I just keep pushing it up straight as I work. They always try their best to slide around :-)

  113. Tammy Johnson says

    I’m from south eastern North Carolina & North Eastern South Carolona. Lived on the border actually. I grew up eating these cakes. My mother made then all the time. Some times in a hoe cake iron skillet ,(and I bet most people don’t know what hoe cake is), some times in the oven. She made everything from scratch and the cooked icing. WOW. I don’t like canned or ready made icing to this day. I don’t remember her ever measuring anything. And yea she would make and sell cakes at Christmas. You could even find individually wrapped pieces of this cake in local conveinant stores for sale. This cake is all is all over the South East so no one area can put claim to it.

  114. Danielle says

    Hi! I can’t wait to try this recipe! But I haven’t used baking chocolate much, when you say 3 1/2 blocks is that the smaller blocks that the break into, or 3 1/2 bars?

    Thanks for your help! :)

  115. Darlene says

    Thank you for the directions. I made these as a child with my grandmother all the time. Her entire family was from the Columbia, SC area. She was born in 1912.

  116. Debra says

    I’ve been baking these for years in S.C. My recipe came from the local newspaper and like you mentioned – only the ingredients & no directions. Most layers I ever got was 15. This is our Christmas & Birthday cake. Would love to have the caramel icing recipe you wrote about. Just found your blog – it’s a joy to read. Thank you for sharing.

  117. Pamela says

    It’s interesting to see how many people bake this type of cake or know someone who does. I’m a lifelong Marylander and Smith Island is the first place I ever heard of these cakes. I’ve not had the joy of actually getting to eat one and now that I HAVE to live gluten-free (trust me, this is NOT by choice but by medical necessity), I’m going to have to wait until either myself or someone else “de-glutenfies” it (is that a word?). I personally think Ms. Severson was referring to MANY MANY years ago, perhaps even the late 19th century and early 20th century in which the cakes were only made on Smith Island and the Alabama area. (Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover how these two areas, so far apart, at least a 100 years ago, had this particular style? I wouldn’t be surprised if a young bride moved from one location to the other and took the tradition with her, that how this sort of thing happened pre-modern technology.)

    But, it IS interesting to see how far and wide the cakes have grown. The online retailer Kitchen Krafts has a cake divider system which makes NUMEROUS layers that I’ve been wanting to buy. I wonder if that’s considered cheating to get lots of layers? Or, does it make a flavor difference to bake such thin small layers? Is it along the same concept of pancakes versus waffles that taste differently despite coming from the same batter? Food for thought anyway! (no pun intended there) However, for some reason, no matter WHAT I do, even using Wilton’s cake levelers, etc., I can NOT seem to get even, nice layers when I try to divide normal cake layers. Has anyone used one of those multiple layering sets? They’re not cheap which is why I haven’t purchased it yet. Perhaps I’ll just try baking the small thin layers. Lana, you tickle me with your comment of seeing just how many layers you can get from your batter. I had a great Aunt Zelda who was the baker in the family during her life. She was youngest of 3 sisters and each sister was excellent at one “female” skill. The oldest (my grandmother) was an amazing seamestress and quilter, anything with a needle, the middle one, fashion and entertaining and the youngest, she loved baking but don’t ask her to do any of the other stuff. She also had a bit of obsessive compulsiveness in her (actually all 3 of them did) and would count EVERY cookie she baked. It was a challenge to herself to see just how many sandtart cookies she could get out of each batch of cookie batter. The difference was determined by how thin you could roll the cookies. They’re best when you can almost see through them.

  118. Caroline says

    Question: I have made this several times now and I LOVE IT! It is by far the best 10 layer chocolate cake recipe I have made, but it always looks lopsided, who can I make it look even and pretty? I feel like it is because I put one warm layer onto another and they just naturally slide. Any advice? Thanks and thanks for the wonderful recipe!

    • says

      Caroline – If the layers are uneven, make sure you even out your batter in the pans before you put them in the oven and also make sure your oven/stove is sitting level! You can also try inserting a toothpick or two every 3 or 4 layers to hold it in place.

  119. Fran says

    We live in Dry Branch, GA and my grandmother used to make these layer cakes in the cast iron skillet sometimes on top of the stove, sometimes baked in the oven in the skillet. But she used cocoa powder and cooked the icing on the stove. When she iced the layers she would use a fork and poke holes in the top of the cake to allow the icing to run in. Delicious.

  120. Bobby Wade says

    My mother, Lizzie Whatley, always made these cakes at Christmas time. She would make one each for all 7 children, and 1/2 each for the grown grandchildren. Hers had a unique taste, which I have been unable to capture, and it was in the frosting. If anyone out there knows what I am talking about, I would love to hear from you. We grew up and lived in the lower Alabama area near Dothan, AL. I have been told a lady in Georgia bakes the cake and it has the same taste. I wish I knew who, because I would give my eye teeth to get the recipe.

  121. Sandy Collins says

    Thank you so much for this recipe Lana!
    I live, and grew up, in Northwest Florida. This cake is one we would only have at family reunions in Andalusia, AL – where my mother’s family is from. My husband is from Sylvania, GA and his grandmother made this cake all the time and it was his favorite. Since we didn’t know anyone who had the recipe, on either side of the family, I went looking and yours was the only one that truly reminded us of those cakes.
    Since I’m not a baker I used a box cake mix (sorry folks) for this first attempt. I figure if I get the frosting right then I will make both the cake and the frosting next go around….
    I have just finished and I am so excited! To me, the frosting tastes exactly like I remember! This is for my husband’s birthday tonight so I haven’t cut it yet.
    One tip – I had the frosting on Low – I mean the lowest possible setting. All was great then I glance over and it is boiling! Just a bit, on one side, so I yanked it off the heat, grabbed my whisk and started beating it – not the way you do to incorporate air but just to thoroughly blend it. I think I saved it from being too grainy….whew. So if this happens to you – don’t give up on it, you might can save it.

    • says

      Sandy – thank you so much for your very kind comment. Nothing makes me happier than when one of my recipes brings back fond memories for someone, except…when a reader take the time to comment and let me know that they enjoyed it! Hope your husband enjoys the cake!!

  122. Teresa Hawley says

    I made this for my oldest daughter’s wedding….the final outside layer was cream cheese frosting…..what a huge cake…a heavy cake…and not a single crumb left !

  123. says

    This cake is an old favorite of mine that my grandmother use to make. My son always request this cake on his birthdays every year! This cake is still very popular in South Carolina.

  124. says

    Lana, I live in the Pee Dee area of South Carolina and this cake is one cake that is highly sort after during the holidays. I knew a lady that made them for me but she is sick and does not cook anymore. Thanks for sharing your recipe. I will be attempting to make one myself for Thanksgiving.

  125. Yvonne Torres says

    Omg I have been trying to find one for a long time and I would really like one especially that I am 8 months pregnant and have a craving for it. Unfortunately I’m not that much of a great baker so if you know anyone willing to deliver please let me know.

  126. Belinda Skipper says

    I am from eastern South Carolina and grew up with my grandma, Mom, aunts and many members of the community where they grew up making these cakes. They used cocoa instead of chocolate blocks. I have seen layers so thin and cakes up to 20+ layers. This is my favorite cake.

  127. Annette says

    My family from north and middle Georgia had them all my life and I am 65 years old. Not just a cake for a small area. A real treat!!!

  128. Linda says

    My grandmother made a lemon cake like this every time we visited her in Mississippi and it is now being made in Arkansas and Texas. The recipe was given to her by an older aunt. I know they were making it in Marengo Co., Alabama before 1900. It is a family favorite. I used to call her when I started making the batter and again when making the icing. Wish I could still do that! I have her recipe and spoon in a shadow box on my study wall. I have to look at it every time I make THE CAKE. My children have fond memories of my grandmother’s cake and other cooking. I agree that from scratch cakes are better than mixes. Thank you for this article; based on it, I may have to adjust a couple of my methods. Like making the icing first.

  129. Caroline Domack says

    This cake is beyond wonderful! I would like o make a couple now for Christmas, will they freeze nicely? Thanks!

    • says

      You can freeze it if you allow the icing to set until quite firm after your frost the cake and then wrap the cake very well. Allow it to thaw in the refrigerator or in a very cool place for a couple of days before serving.

  130. Katherine says

    The cake looks fantastic! Can’t wait to try it :) . I also live in a small town in Eastern NC, very close to the SC border. These cakes are made by many older ladies in town, but aren’t as common as they were when I was a child.I don’t think I have ever seen a caramel one around here though, only the chocolate and they usually have anywhere from 7-11 layers.

  131. Donna says

    Katharine, I live in your region. Burney’s Bakery in Elizabethtown and Southport sells both chocolate and caramel 12-layers. The caramel is just as good as the chocolate and as good as homemade!

  132. Kim Whitfield says

    Thank you for posting this recipe. I live in Wilmington,NC and travel a great deal all over NC. I have found this cake in many a traditional BBQ restaurant all over NC, sold by the slice. There are many small local bakeries and ladies that still make it today and it is at every family gathering. The grocery chain Piggly Wiggly in SE NC usually has a homemade version available by the slice daily and the cake can be ordered ahead. Some of the stores use box mix and frosting and some make homemade (Warsaw and Wallace NC are good). They also can be found in the grocery’s freezer section and thaw beautifully. Thank you for posting and accepting comments. I love your site.

  133. Sami says

    weird question, does the icing harden? I had a woman make this cake for us and her icing was amazing! I haven’t had a layer cake like it since!

  134. Laura F says

    I love baking my son homemade birthday cakes every year. One year it wasn’t about how the cake tasted at all it just had to resemble “It’s a Small World” from Disney. But this cake looks great and delicious. I would like to know if it’s possible to put strawberry frosting between layers as well.

    Thank You,

  135. Heidi Collins says

    I Love this cake I m from Germany my friends Mom USed to make this cake only on Birthdays because she say it is to much work she used a spring form cake pan and baked each layer by it,s self we call the cake Prinzregenten Torte

  136. Ann DesRochers says

    Lana, I was so thrilled to find your blog with this recipe! My parents are both from southeast Alabama, my mother from Dothan and my father from the Clio-Louisville area. My paternal grandmother and my mother’s sister made these cakes for every special occasion, both chocolate and caramel.
    Caramel was my favorite. Could you post a recipe for that?
    My son, who will be 50 years old tomorrow, has been asking me to make one “like Aunt Pearl used to make” for years, and I’ve just now managed to find your recipe. I’m going to surprise him with one this weekend. Can’t wait to see his reaction!
    Actually, I think it’s the directions that will help most – I’ve baked for local restaurants for years, but just made regular 3 or 4 layers. I’m looking forward to this special creation.

  137. Marcelle Tudhope says

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing this recipe! My grandmother, from Savannah, GA used to make this cake all the time. It was a family favorite AND brought in quite a bit of money for her since she would bake, sell and deliver cakes year-round. We could never get her to write down the recipe (she only had a third-grade education) and somehow we never managed to be with her when she baked. She loved to have everything done ahead of time so that we could just “visit.” I made this for my son’s 24th birthday yesterday. All plates were practically licked clean! I’m visiting my parents in GA this coming week and plan to bake one for them. It’s probably been a good 25 years since they’ve had one and I wonder how it will hold up against the memory! Thank you again for taking the time to share!

  138. patricia says

    My husband is from Cairo and before I met him I had never heard of this cake. He talks about his grandmother making it, I grew up in NE GA just above Athens. I hope this recipe is like hers was, because after 22 yrs there is nothing I can think of to get him for Valentines Day that would be more special.

    • says

      I’ve never tried that, Melissa. My guess is that the buttermilk would make the layers too tender and they’re probably fall apart. If you try it, let me know how it works out.

  139. Rebecca says

    OMG! My late grandmother, who would be in her 100’s, used to make these. It was her “go to” cake. She lived her entire life in No. Florida near the Georgia line. The only difference is that she baked her layers on the stovetop on a cast iron griddle. I don’t know how she managed to keep the size of the layers consistent but she did!

  140. Everett says

    I have had this in eastern side of the Tallahassee, Florida region. My daughter-in-law makes this at the holidays, but her layers are 1/2 or less the thickness of what yours shows and is about 13-15 layers to make a standard height cake. Hers is the hit of every family get together it is like eating yellow cake soaked in chocolate syrup. It is Heavenly.

  141. Susan Houston says

    Thanks SO MUCH for posting this recipe! I had one of these cakes years ago at a family reunion in Dasher, GA (near Valdosta), and apparently it was an old family tradition. That part of Georgia/North Florida is full of descendants of the Salzburgers, several waves of immigrants from Germany and Austria who came over starting in the mid-1700s. This cake seems very much like a Germanic torte; I can totally imagine that it came from that ancestry!

    I got a copy of the recipe at the reunion and have since lost it, so I’m delighted to see this. Thanks!

  142. CM says

    Yes! My Aunt Cleo in South Alabama always made these for family reunions. It was always my favorite item on the dessert table! I was specifically looking for a how-to like this so I could re-create it. Thank you so much!

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