Texas Sheet Cake is a classic American dessert that's designed to feed a crowd. While subtle variations exist, most people agree on a thin chocolate buttermilk cake that's baked in a jelly roll pan and topped with chocolate icing and toasted pecans. (Interested parties may want to check out the Library of Congress blog for more on its history.) All recipes I encountered forwent any creaming of butter and sugar, instead using a melted butter/boiling water combination to make the batter. The icing is also made with melted butter, typically in a saucepan.
Variations typically concern: the size of the jelly roll pan, whether or not to include cinnamon in the cake crumb, and the exact type of icing. I decided to use the biggest jelly roll pan I owned (18- by 13-inches) because, well, this thing isn't named after Texas for nothing. I also settled on using cinnamon in the crumb because I found it helped round out the otherwise sweet cake. Similarly, I chose to use buttermilk (as opposed to regular milk or just water) in my icing to provide a subtle tang to offset the sweetness. Not that this cake isn't sweet—it most certainly is, but intentionally so.
Why this recipe works:
- Buttermilk does double duty here: it keeps the thin cake layer moist and it adds a subtle tang to the icing.
- Making the the icing in the saucepan means it comes together quickly—no beaters involved. It also gives it a pleasing smooth yet fudgy texture.
- Baking the cake in a jelly roll pan means there's a great cake to icing ratio (well, for those of us who like icing.)
- Lots of crunchy pecans keep things texturally interesting.
- Yield:makes 1 18- by 13-inch cake, feeds a crowd
- Active time: 40 minutes
- Total time:40 minutes
- For Cake
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- For Icing
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 16 ounces confectioners' sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
For Cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour jelly roll pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Whisk in cocoa, and when smooth, water. Bring just to a boil, then take off from heat.
In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla and whisk until combined.
Pour cocoa mixture over flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Stir in egg mixture until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes.
For Icing: Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat. Whisk in cocoa powder. Take off heat then add buttermilk, salt, and vanilla. Add 1/2 of the confectioners sugar, whisking until combined. Whisk in water, then remaining confectioners sugar until icing is basically smooth. Pour over warm cake and smooth with a spatula. Top with toasted pecans.