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It’s their cake and everyone eats it, too

Smith Islanders turn cakes into dough after they become the ‘official’ Maryland dessert.

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The cakes are usually built with eight, nine, or 10 pancake-thin layers (some cakes go as high as 14) alternating with layers of frosting. The cake is usually yellow, but sometimes chocolate, made from scratch or from a mix, with the baker’s own secret additions. In truth, the cake is merely a vehicle to deliver the star of the confection, the homemade frosting.

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Frosting is key to the cake’s epicurean as well as architectural ambitions: It’s what imparts the rich taste, dense texture, and structural integrity. No toothpicks or other engineering assistance is allowed.

“You’ve got to get your frosting right, or they’ll slide,” says Mary Ada Marshall as she puts together a statuesque peanut-butter-fudge cake in her kitchen in Tylerton, one of three island communities.

Marshall sculpts her eight-layer cake in an assortment of flavors, depending on the season: the traditional (and still most popular) cooked chocolate frosting, along with banana, orange, coconut, pineapple, strawberry, peach, and island-grown fig and pomegranate. She bakes them quickly – in just 25 minutes – and in quantity. “In a good week, I’ll make 25 cakes,” she says as she flips a hot cake disk out of a pan and places it atop a swirled cushion of frosting. “I bake them as people order them. They call. I don’t do computer.”

The orders pour in, from Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina, Wisconsin. “I even mailed one to Baghdad,” she says, a birthday gift for a soldier.

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The daily tour boat from Crisfield arrives at the dock in Ewell, the island’s largest village, at a little past 1 p.m. Hungry tourists walk off Captain Alan Tyler’s vessel and into his family’s restaurant, the Bayside Inn. “The boat lands, I open the door,” says Betty Jo Tyler, the captain’s daughter, “and people point to the cake we have on display and say, ‘That’s what we’ve come for. We gotta have a slice of that!’ ”

Ms. Tyler gladly obliges, selling five to six cakes, either whole ($29) or sliced into 16 pieces ($3.95 a slice) a day in the summer. Guy bakes the Bayside’s cakes, and sales are definitely up since the native dessert gained official state status.

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