Red Velvet Smith Island Cake gives regular Smith Island Cake a colorful makeover, swirled white chocolate frosting, and festive candy ornament toppers.
I’ve had Smith Island Cake on my baking bucket list for perhaps five years or more. That’s a long time! I’ve just never found the right moment or the right inspiration, until now. A ready-made red velvet version caught my eye on the Smith Island Baking Company’s website. My southern heart was instantly smitten. I wanted to make my own version because it was so beautiful, and because I want to celebrate Christmas in a BIG way. We’ve all had quite a year and I think we deserve some happiness a dozen layers high!
This is a Maryland tradition, usually made with 8 to12 yellow cake layers and chocolate frosting. In my search for a recipe, I happened upon the Maryland Office of Tourism site, which offered an authentic yellow and chocolate Smith Island Cake recipe. I used what good sense I gleaned from my red velvet-making days, and altered the recipe to a ruby hue with tangy buttermilk flavor.
Make all those layers.
I would call this cake eggy. With five large, whole eggs in the batter, it helps the thin layers hold together. As I’ve mentioned, a Smith Island Cake has between 8-12 layers. And my batter yielded 11 in my 8-inch cake pans.
Because I have four 8-inch cake pans that all fit on one rack in my oven, the cake baking went quickly. The layers only bake for 8 minutes, and aside from washing and re-greasing pans, it all went by fast. Total time will vary according to your tools and equipment. If you’re not inclined to expand your 8-inch pan collection permanently, consider getting some disposable 8-inch aluminum cake pans, which can be recycled after you’re done.
Putting it all together.
It almost felt wrong to not cover this cake with cream cheese frosting, but all those layers need structure, and that’s not what cream cheese frosting is about. The white chocolate frosting I used is tasty and held all the layers well. It keeps with the chocolate component that the original cake has as its covering.
I also really love using Swiss meringue buttercream on this cake. And I make this cake both ways. If I have a huge crowd to feed, then the sweet white chocolate buttercream is the way to go. Because it is sweeter than Swiss meringue buttercream, servings are cut smaller. However, if I have less people to serve, the less sweet Swiss meringue buttercream is my preference. You’ll find my Swiss meringue buttercream recipe in the notes of the recipe card.
Sparkle, sparkle! This cake deserved something a little flashy, so I decided to whip up some candy ornaments with lots of bling!
If you plan to make the toppers, you’ll need some sphere molds. This set has all the sizes needed. They’re not hard to make, and I think the extra effort is worth it. These are cast with red candy melts and covered with piping gel (or corn syrup) and nontoxic red disco dust.
I fashioned some ornament hangers using gum paste. The loops on the small ornaments are made with beads from a candy necklace.
White chocolate shavings make the top of this cake look snowy, and it also repeats the flavor of the frosting.
So many layers!
This cake is rather frosting-forward, since the ratio to cake is about 50/50, so if you like buttercream you’ll love this cake! It’s sweet with a discernable buttermilk tang from the cake layers, and just a notion of cocoa in there, somewhere.
Related recipe: Classic Red Velvet Cupcakes
Red Velvet Smith Island Cake
- Silicone half sphere mold 3"
- 8-inch cake pans
- Flour-based baking spray for the pans
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 5 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsweet cocoa powder (not dark)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine grain salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 cups full fat buttermilk, well shaken before measuring
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Red gel food color
White chocolate buttercream
- 2 cups 1 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 8 cups 2 lbs. confectioner’s sugar
- Milk or cream to thin
- 8 oz. two 4 oz. bars white baker’s chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
- 2 oz. white chocolate shavings cut from a bar using a vegetable peeler
- 10 oz. red candy melting wafers melted
- 2 Small food dedicated art brushes
- Silicone ball molds large and small (2-inch and 1-inch half spheres)
- * sizes are approximate
- Piping gel or corn syrup
- Red disco dust nontoxic cake decorator’s glitter
- 2 oz. gum paste
- 1 1/2 inch circle cutters or the open ends of medium and large piping tips
- 3 beads from a candy necklace
- Edible gold paint
- 2 Small food dedicated art brushes
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray four 8-inch round cake pans with flour-based baking spray.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder; add to the egg mixture one cup at a time, mixing as you go. With the mixer running, slowly add the buttermilk. Mix well and stir in the vanilla extract. Add red gel food color a little at a time until a consistent, vibrant red hue is achieved (I used about 1 tablespoon).
- Place 2/3 cup of batter into each pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool in the pans for 2 minutes (the cakes should pull away from the sides of the pan, or help them by running a knife around the edges). Turn the layers out onto cooling racks and wash the pans; re-spray with flour-based baking spray. Fill pans and bake four more layers as before. Repeat these steps until all the cake batter is used (my batter yielded about 11 layers). When all the cake layers are completely cool, they can be filled with buttercream.
White Chocolate Buttercream
- Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high until creamy. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until almost combined (the mixture may be a little crumbly). Add milk or cream a little at a time while mixing on medium high (I used about 5 tablespoons); beat until the mixture is thick and fluffy. With the mixer running, add in the melted chocolate a little at a time (make sure the chocolate is not hot or it will melt the buttercream!). Beat until the chocolate is completely incorporated.
- Place a red velvet cake layer on a cake board or serving plate. Top with about 1/3 cup (level) of buttercream and spread as evenly as possible. Repeat steps until all the cake layers are used. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until the frosting firms. Cover the outside of the cake with a thin layer of buttercream (crumb-coat) and refrigerate again, 15 minutes. Cover the outside of the cake with the remaining buttercream, swirling the frosting as you go. Cover the top of the cake with the white chocolate shavings.
- Coat two of the 2-inch silicone cavities with red melted candy using one of the art brushes. Brush the entire surface area including the very top edge of the mold. Coat six of the 1-inch cavities in the same manner. Chill until set, about 10 minutes. Re-heat candy if necessary and apply a second coat. Chill in the freezer until solid, about 10 minutes. Turn the candy spheres out onto a work surface. Let the pieces stand until they are room temperature. Save leftover melted candy for a future step.
- Place a nonstick saucepan over low heat. Place open ends of the two matching 2-inch spheres on the pan until the candy melts slightly (about 2-3 seconds at the most) and stick the two melted edges together to form one 4-inch sphere. Repeat this process with the smaller half spheres, creating three 2-inch spheres. Allow them to stand at room temperature until set, about 5 minutes.
- Wash the candy from the art brush under hot water and dry thoroughly. Lightly coat the large sphere with piping gel or corn syrup using the brush; immediately sprinkle red disco dust over the surface of the candy while holding it over a bowl to catch the excess glitter. Place the ball in the cavity of a muffin tin to dry (this prevents the ball from rolling around). Repeat this process with the smaller balls. Let stand until mostly dry, about 25 minutes.
- Knead the gum paste until pliable. Roll to 1/2-inch thickness and cut out one 1-inch circle and three 1/2-inch circles. Use the pointed end of the art brush to push a hole through the middle of each piece. With the scraps, roll out a small rope under your palms and make a loop about 1/2-inch long; twist the ends together and cut away the excess. Apply a dot of piping gel or corn syrup to the twisted end of the rope and insert it into the hole in the larger circle. Let stand until firm. Re-heat reserved melted candy. Place melted candy on the hole in the smaller circles, top each with a candy bead. Let stand until set, about 5 minutes. Use more leftover melted candy to attach the hanger pieces to the glitter ball ornaments; let stand until set 5-10 minutes. Using the unused art brush, apply a coat of gold edible paint to the assembled hanger pieces. Allow the assembled ornaments to stand until completely dry, about 30 minutes.
- Arrange the ornaments on top of the cake and give yourself a big pat on the back! (You did it!) Before serving, make sure the cake is room temperature. The flavors will be most developed when not chilled.
- The cake layers use 2 cups of full fat buttermilk which is very thick. If you’re using a buttermilk substitute, such as a mixture of milk and vinegar, decrease the amount of milk to 1 1/2 cups.
- As I mentioned in the headnote of this recipe, Swiss meringue buttercream is also excellent on this cake – and it’s as stable as the white chocolate American buttercream that is original to the recipe. I like making this cake both ways, but if you’re looking for a less sweet version the Swiss meringue buttercream is the way to go here. I love almond extract in this buttercream, but feel free to swap in clear vanilla extract if you prefer it.
If I can find some time — I may try this cake using gluten free flour. It looks sooo yummy! If I do — I'll let you know how my gluten free version works.
Yes! I'd love to know how it turns out. I've had really great results with Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 flour with other recipes. Good luck!
The ornaments and the red cake layers are too gorgeous for words! I just can’t stop staring at the perfection of your work.
I made this cake for Christmas 2022. For reference, I’m a pretty experienced baker and a red velvet cake from scratch is no biggie, so I expected this to go easily. Unfortunately, the first challenge is that the recipe says all you have to do is spray with baking spray. That is how I lost my first two layers. I used disposable pans (I only have 9″ cake pans) and my layers stuck – badly, even with spray – for both cakes. From then on, I had the pleasure of cutting parchment for every layer. I did get 10 layers… Read more »