Fudge icing is a notoriously tricky confection to execute. Time and temperature are key: just a few seconds or degrees can make the difference between a solid, tall cake and a wonky, edible leaning Tower of Pisa. Case in point: the Smith Island Cake. Most layer cakes are three or four thick layers, solidly weighed down onto icing, creating a sturdy pastry. But the Smith Island cake consists of eight pancake-like thin, lightweight cakes, sandwiched with a syrupy chocolate fudge icing.
When I first tried to bake the Smith Island Cake featured in Jane and Michael Stern's article Surf and Turf in Issue #145, I was working as fast as I could with the fudge frosting to stack each layer evenly on top of the next. The first few layers went up fine, but once the sixth and seventh layers were stacked, the cake started to get a little wobbly thanks to the still-warm icing on which they rested. I placed the last layer on top, quickly iced the entire stack, and as the cake began to lean a little, set it in the fridge with one last gentle shove to stand up straight. I closed the door and hoped the cold would work its magic on hardening the icing quickly.
It didn't. A couple hours later, when we were all working late into the night to meet our deadline for the issue, I opened the fridge and found a Dali-esque cake staring frumpily back at me, half-melted and half-frozen in time. For all of us in the SAVEUR office, exhausted from our deadline and feeling just like the cake looked, it was enough to set off gales of laughter. Fortunately, it tasted better than it looked, and everyone dug into it, quickly devouring the chilled, tender confection with the perfect amount of sweet, buttery, chocolatey comfort. To prevent your cake from slipping and sliding like mine did, just have patience and frost and stack the layers slowly. If the frosting starts to harden and set, simply reheat it for easier spreading. Once the cake is stacked, give it a 10-minute rest to set up before frosting the outside, then refrigerate the cake until fully set.