Chocolate Sheet Cake, a.k.a Texas Sheet Cake, is one of those desserts that I believed to be so ubiquitous and overdone, I questioned (momentarily) posting it here. But based on the oohs and aahs of intrigue that it elicited at a recent family gathering, it seems that one woman’s go-to dessert can be another’s revelation.
Chocolate Sheet Cake goes hand-in-hand with memories of my step-grandparents, Granny and Papa Roy. Granny’s sheet cake was as predictably familiar as the $2 bills Papa Roy gave us every Christmas. I made a beeline for it, right past the forks and plates, and chose instead to eat the dark, fudge-y squares by hand. Licking the icing off of your fingers is the best part anyway.
For a little girl whose definition of grandparents meant deceased or distant, Granny’s warm personality and wicked sense of humor was a breath of fresh air. She had fire-red hair, the kind of cackling laugh that warms a room, and her shaky hands made difficult work out of her smoking habit, but she managed. She had the odd yet endearing inability to pronounce soft “a’s” which meant my sister Ash would always beAesh to her.
She told the best stories and my favorite: the dream in which she’s flying gloriously over a gorgeous field, reveling in the ability of flight. Then she watches as Papa Roy creeps out of the bushes, pulls out a shotgun, and shoots her out of the sky. To an outsider this story may seem to be a troubling metaphor for their marriage. But to those of us close to them and their quirky yet loving lifelong partnership, the story makes perfect, hilarious sense.
Sadly, Ash and I lost touch with Granny and Papa Roy many years ago. My dad and stepmother’s divorce left my adopted family with many pieces to pick up and sides to choose. We did our best to avoid sides all together until one Christmas, when the $2 bills never arrived.
Hurt manifests itself in different forms for everyone. We all deal with it in the best way we can and are forced to accept the unintended consequences. Fortunately for Ash and I, my mom was always our much-needed constant. Plus, she makes one hell of Chocolate Sheet Cake too.
Chocolate Sheet Cake
This cake is a sure-fire dessert hit that’s low on labor. The ease in preparation coupled with its sheer size make it ideal for feeding the crowd that will descend on your backyard this Memorial Day weekend. It’s so rich it stands tall on its own but I’m sure a scoop of vanilla ice cream wouldn’t hurt. As for the forks and plates? Purely optional.
For the cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 Tbs best-quality cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
For the icing
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 Tbs milk
4 Tbs best-quality cocoa
1 lb (box) powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a rimmed cookie sheet or jelly roll pan (aprx. 11 x 17 inches) with nonstick spray.
2. To make the cake: combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large saucepan over medium heat bring butter, water, and cocoa to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, remove from the heat. Add the flour mixture to the warm cocoa mixture and whisk well to combine. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and soda and beat well. Pour on to the greased baking sheet, spread evenly, and bake 25-30 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
3. While the cake bakes, make the icing. In a large saucepan, bring the butter, milk, and cocoa to a boil. Boil for 1 min and remove from the heat. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla, stir vigorously until smooth. Fold in the pecans. Pour icing over the warm cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. Spread icing to the edges and let cool.