Great BBQ Desserts: Texas Sheet Cake

Baking, Cook, Fire Smoke & Flavor, Regional Spotlight

 

In Texas, where our Fire Smoke & Flavor BBQ tour began, every family has their own way of making the state’s signature sheet cake. Still, one golden rule is never broken: the cake is always baked on a baking sheet, not in a cake pan. This tradition ensures a lighter, less rich texture — immediately countered by a layer of chocolate frosting, almost as thick as the cake itself.

 

Texas mom Rachel Matthews is the blogger behind A Southern Fairytale, where she posted a Texas Sheet Cake recipe that’s been in her family for more than 40 years. Matthews shared with me her secrets for making this authentic Texas dessert, perfect for topping off a meal of classic slow-cooked brisket sandwiches.

 

Matthews recalls her mother and grandmother baking this cake when she was a little girl. “I can remember sticking my finger in the frosting when I was five or six years old,” she says. “They’d make it for birthdays, potlucks or just because we were having friends over. It’s like eating a memory.”

 

Now, Matthews says, it’s her little kids who are sneaking tastes of cake when they shouldn’t be.

 

 

Besides using a baking sheet, Matthews insists the frosting is the key to a good sheet cake. “You pour on the hot frosting after you bake the cake, and it chills and gives you a cool crispness,” she says. “Some people even serve the cake chilled from the icebox, as my grandmother would say. Traditionally the frosting is made with pecans, but I’m not a fan of pecans, so mine is made with walnuts.”

 

Matthews’ cake also calls for vanilla and cinnamon, two ingredients that she says “make the cake.” However, she adds, “You look in any church or Junior League cookbook and you’re going to find tons of different sheet cake recipes.”

 

And a final tip: ”You need a sheet pan with raised edges,” she says. “You just have to. When you move into a new house, you bake a Texas sheet cake, a) because it’s delicious, and b) because it lets you know if your oven is level or not.”

 

Texas Sheet Cake

 

For the cake:

2 cups flour (but not really … more like 1 cup and just a hair shy of another cup … 1 cup and 1 not-quite-level cup)

2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

16 Tbs. (2 sticks) margarine

1 cup water

3 Tbs. cocoa powder

2 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

 

For the frosting:

8 Tbs. (1 stick) margarine

3 Tbs. cocoa powder

6 Tbs. milk

1 box (1 lb.) confectioners’ sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

 

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease a sheet cake pan (be sure it has raised edges).

 

In a large bowl, stir together the flour (I use a little less than 2 full cups), granulated sugar and salt.

 

In a saucepan, combine the margarine, water and cocoa powder. Stir while bringing to a boil. Pour over the flour mixture.

 

In another bowl, stir together the eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, vanilla and cinnamon. Add to the flour-cocoa mixture.

 

Transfer the batter to the prepared sheet cake pan and bake for 18 minutes.

 

Five minutes before the cake is done, make the frosting: In a saucepan, combine the margarine, cocoa powder and milk. Heat and then add the confectioners’ sugar, nuts, vanilla and cinnamon. Pour the frosting over the cake and allow to cool.

 

Recipe and images courtesy of A Southern Fairytale.

27 comments about “Great BBQ Desserts: Texas Sheet Cake

  1. Paula Reid

    I have quarter sheet pans, half sheet pans, etc. — what are the measurements of the pan you used for this? Would love to make it!

    Reply
  2. Rachel

    Paula — I’ll do some measurements… it’s just sold in stores here as ‘Sheet Pan’ :-) let me look — it’s roughly 10 X 15 ;-)

    Reply
  3. Kathryn (@kat1124)

    Rachel, thanks for the awesome recipe! We’re moving into a new house soon, I’m going to make this cake to celebrate and see if my new oven is level. :)

    Reply
  4. Angel

    Isn’t this Pioneer Woman’s recipe that has been posted on her blog, as well as published in her book? I will say I have made this off of the recipe on Ree’s site and it is delish.

    Reply
  5. Rachel

    Angel, I don’t know if it is or not. This is the recipe that my family has been making for decades :-) Like I said, everyone in the South (Texas) has one of these, it’s been around forever :-) Glad you’ve enjoyed the one you’ve made!

    Reply
  6. Kate

    Does it have to be margarine or would butter work too? I know, it may seem like a dumb question, but I’ve seen the chefs on Food Network talk about the different qualities of butter vs margarine in baking.

    Reply
  7. Rachel - A Southern Fairytale

    Kate, I’ve never tried it with butter. The original recipe calls for Oleo, which my mom and granny informed me is margarine. I’m not a food scientist :-). To answer that question, I’d find Heather @HeatherSolos on twitter or at her blog Home-Ec 101. She’s my go to food scientist person. :-) Sorry, I don’t have a better answer, and it’s in no way a stupid question!

    Reply
  8. Steffano2

    If I may recommend don’t add the nuts to the frosting. Toast them, cool, chop, and after you place the frosting on the cake sprinkle the nuts on top of the cake it adds great texture. Beside the nuts get all soggy and start to break down in the frosting. IMOP.

    Reply
  9. Heather Solos

    Since margarine’s melting point is only slightly higher than that of butter’s you’re not going to find too much of a difference in this particular recipe. You’ll find it makes more of a difference in cookies where the speed of spread is going to have more of an effect. I’ve made similar sheet cakes with butter in the past.

    Reply
  10. peter taylor

    Angel, Texas sheet cake has been around longer than the existence of the Pioneer Woman or her blog. She gets her recipes from old church cookbooks. On a personal note my great grandmother used to make it for my mom when she was little too.

    Reply
  11. Bo

    @angel Pioneer Woman’s recipes are NOT all hers. Most of the recipes she’s published or posted on her blog are from elsewhere. I have a recipe dated from 1956 for a “Texas Sheet Cake” that is almost identical to hers.

    Reply
  12. Jenn

    @Angel… get a grip… that recipe has been around and published in so many cookbooks, it’s not like it is exclusive to Ree or is “Ree’s secret recipe”….
    I think YOU should be asking REE where she got her recipe and maybe she can start giving credit to her recipes….

    Reply
  13. Rachel - A Southern Fairytale

    @Steffano2 I love toasting nuts to top desserts, I’ve never had them go soggy in this, but it never lasts that long either ;-) :-) Great tip, though! Thank you.

    @Heather, thank you my food science guru xoxo

    Reply
  14. Dyanna

    I LOVE this cake. I also grew up with my Mom and Granny making it (in Texas). My Mom called it Coke cake though because she put Coca Cola in the cake and frosting. I’ll have to make both some day and compare them!

    Reply
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  16. Alice Norris

    I wonder why some Texas Sheet Cake recipes omit the eggs. How would this affect the texture of the cake?

    Reply
  17. Margie G.

    Rachel, I was wondering what a lb of confectioners sugar measures in cups?

    Reply
  18. Sue

    A friend had a party and wanted everybody to bring Texas food. I knew there would be a lot of chili so I looked online. I found your recipe and made the cake. Unfortunately, I got sick and couldn’t attend the party. But my husband went and said the cake was the hit of the party. He said everybody made a point of telling him how wonderful the cake was. One friend said it was the best cake she had ever had. I’m sure I will be making this cake many, many more times. Thank you for the recipe.

    Reply

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