Kitra: If I had to pick the defining cake of my childhood, it’s this one.
Jordan: We should note that we are not from Texas.
But we did grow up in a household with many, many editions of Taste of Home.
Our grandmother would send us the annual “best of” cookbook each year and while there are some questionable recipes in there, there are also some gems.
Those books were pretty hit and miss, but our copies fell right open to the hits (usually one or two in each book). I think the Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake pages eventually fell out of the book due to overuse.
Not that you can actually over-use this recipe, because it is a perfect cake. If I had to pick only cake that I could ever eat again—some sort of bargain with a demented wizard or something—it would probably be this one. It’s that good.
It is also hideous, often a trademark of very good cakes. (Thanks, stovetop icing that somehow sets both too fast and too slow but tastes so good no one cares that the whole thing looks like a crumpled paper bag.)
You can make the whole thing (cake and icing both) in a single saucepan with a whisk and a spatula. It takes longer to cool than it does to mix and bake, which is unfortunate because you’ll want to eat it immediately.
It’s a chocolate cake that isn’t too chocolatey, it’s a sheet cake that is thin enough that the size doesn’t feel overwhelming, it can serve a crowd or one, it keeps for days on the counter, etc. There is no end to the upsides of this very understated cake.
The only thing I’d disagree with there is Kitra’s contention that it keeps for days on the counter. It could keep for days on the counter, probably, but it never lasts that long. Especially not if you happen to cut slivers off of the edge every time you walk by, which you will.
There are people who make this with pecans, but those people are just uncomfortable with the idea of an ugly but good cake, which makes them wrong. Let it be what it is and don’t try to fix it. Especially because they do not even make it less ugly.
Some of you may be coming to this recipe already believing that it’s not right if it doesn’t have pecans, and you’re welcome to add them. However, if you’re new to Texas sheet cake, we really recommend doing it without because this cake needs nothing. No added crunch, no whipped cream or ice cream, no powdered sugar. It’s perfect exactly as it is.
Let the slicing commence! *waves race flag*
Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake
Adapted in scale only from Taste of Home
The original recipe uses, appropriately, a 10”x15” half-sheet pan. We’ve halved it here; Kitra used a 7”x11” pan but you could also use a 9”x9” pan or make a slightly thicker cake in an 8”x8” pan.
The directions below have you mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl; Jordan just added them all to the wet mix without combining them first. So just know that if you’re feeling lazy and/or rebellious, that’s probably fine.
Jordan also used a gluten-free flour blend and the texture was a bit strange (though still delicious), so proceed with caution if that’s your thing.
For the cake:
- ½ cup (4 ounces, 1 stick) unsalted butter
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons (10g) cocoa powder
- 1 cup (125g) flour
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup (60g) sour cream
For the icing:
- ¼ cup (2 ounces, ½ stick) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1½ tablespoons (8g) cocoa powder
- 1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons (225g) powdered sugar
Preheat your oven to 350° and coat your pan (see note) with baking spray.
In a medium saucepan, combine butter, water, and cocoa powder and heat on medium. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the saucepan and stir until combined, using a rubber spatula to make sure there aren’t pockets of untouched liquid hiding in the corners. Add the sour cream and stir until smooth.
Pour batter into your prepared pan and bake 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the icing. In a saucepan—you can use the same one, just scrape/wipe it out reasonably well—combine the butter, milk, and cocoa. Bring to a boil over medium, then remove from heat. Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth and set aside. Depending on when you make the icing, it might start to set up before the cake is done; if that happens, just return it to low heat and whisk until it’s smooth again.
When the cake is out of the oven, pour the icing over top and quickly smooth the top as best as possible. Let the cake cool fully before slicing and serving straight out of the pan.