Bas Rouge’s chief dessert creator and baker Melissa Weller is serving up a European inspired take on the Maryland classic Smith Island Cake.
Only one state can boast a ten layered treat as its official dessert. In Maryland, where comforts like shortbread cookies and peach dumplings abound, Smith Island cake reigns supreme. The combination of yellow cake and chocolate icing creates a perfect balance of sweet, and its notable height caters to a crowd.
Though it originated on Smith Island, where parties and social gatherings consider it a staple, the English torte-inspired cake has become a favorite statewide. Many deem Frances Kitching as its creator seeing as her recipes appear in the island’s official cookbook, Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook (1981, Schiffer).
Since its early days, Smith Island cake has evolved to include not only chocolate icing but also banana, orange, and coconut. Other iterations of the cake have replaced the yellow batter with chocolate. At Bas Rouge in Easton, Maryland, Melissa Weller, chief dessert creator and baker is one of many offering a new take on this traditional treat.
The dobos torte she prepares at the fine-dining establishment draws inspiration from Europe, in line with Bas Rouge’s origins as a Viennese cafe. Using coffee syrup and bittersweet chocolate buttercream produce a moist and lavish cake. The cake’s rectangular shape is purely functional, but Weller scatters golden, crunchy caramel shards on top for a stunning finish. Weller calls the cake “a happy mix of local and something that the restaurant aspires to be.”
Developing the recipe wasn’t so simple. “My first variation was dry, so I put it away because it didn’t work. I started making a crepe cake, which is a lot more like the Smith Island cake. I thought, ‘let me try the dobos torte again using a coffee syrup.’” She also created a new sponge cake recipe and used a buttercream from her cookbook. This second try was a success as her cake now appears at the end of meals on a cake trolley for guests to choose from.
Weller plans to offer additional familiar Maryland desserts with nods towards Europe, but the Dobos Torte marks her first triumph at bringing two cultures together for a deliciously good time.
1 8-by-3-inch six-layer rectangular cake
5 large eggs, separated
½ cup sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ cup flour
½ cup freshly brewed coffee, hot
½ cup sugar
16 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate
3 large egg whites
¾ cup sugar
24 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, softened
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Make the batter: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a half sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until frothy. Slowly add the sugar to the whites, continuing to whip until your french meringue forms stiff peaks. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, beat the butter, powdered sugar, lemon zest, vanilla extract, salt, and egg yolks until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Fold in a quarter of the french meringue. Then alternate folding in the flour with the remaining meringue in several additions.
- Transfer batter into the prepared sheet pan and use an offset spatula to spread evenly to form a thin cake layer.
- Bake the cake until it springs back in the center when touched, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Make the coffee syrup: While the cake is baking, stir together the hot coffee and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool slightly before using.
- Make the buttercream: Prepare a double boiler: Fill a small or medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and place over medium-high heat on stove. Bring water to a boil then reduce heat to let water simmer. Place a medium to large bowl over pot, taking care that it does not touch the water.
- Roughly chop the bittersweet chocolate (unless you are using chocolate chips). Add to bowl of the double boiler and use a rubber spatula to stir frequently until chocolate melts, scraping down the sides of the bowl so that chocolate doesn’t burn. Once smooth, remove from heat and set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes. Reserve double boiler for future use.
- While the chocolate is cooling, combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whisk on low to medium speed to combine.
- Place bowl with the egg whites over double boiler and cook, whisking constantly, until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warmed through, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Return the bowl to the mixer stand. Whisk the egg whites and sugar on high speed until the whites hold stiff peaks and have cooled to room temperature, for about 5 minutes.
- Turn off the mixer and replace the whisk attachment with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on high speed, add the butter in increments of 2 to 4 tablespoons, pausing between each to incorporate butter into mixture. When all the butter has been added, turn off the mixer and add the melted chocolate and salt. Beat on medium speed until the chocolate is incorporated.
- Assemble cake: Once the cake has cooled, use a small knife to loosen the sides and flip it upside down onto a work surface. Peel off the parchment paper. Cut the cake in half to form two 8-inch by 12-inch rectangles. Then cut each rectangle into thirds to make six total 8-inch by 3¼-inch rectangles. Use a pastry brush to brush the top of each rectangle generously with the coffee syrup.
- To build the cake, spread a ½ cup of buttercream over one of the layers. Then place a second layer on top and spread ½ cup of buttercream over this layer. Continue to build the cake until all of the layers are stacked. Finally, decorate the outside of the cake with remaining buttercream.