Dessert

Dr Pepper sheet cake

Dr Pepper sheet cake with spiced pecans DSC 5976 1

After dinner one Sunday night, a group of us were sitting around the table, relaxing after a satisfying meal. When discussing what we were doing in the next week. I mentioned that I had a few extra bottles Dr Pepper on hand and was thinking about making a cake with it. When the table volunteered that they would be willing subjects with whom to share my efforts, I decided to make my idea a reality.

Dr Pepper cake is an old Texan favorite. The cake, which uses the fruity dark namesake soda as part of the liquid, can take a couple of different forms. There’s an oatmeal version, which is rich with warm spices, coconut, and pecans. Then there’s a chocolate rendition, which has another classic, Texas sheet cake, as its foundation.

The history of Dr Pepper chocolate sheet cake can be traced to the mid-20th Century, though its exact origins are unknown. It’s similar to another chocolate sheet cake, Coca-Cola cake, which also has unknown provenance though first recipes are said to have been published in the 1950s.

The earliest Dr Pepper cake mention I could find was from San Antonio, where a shopping center advertised it had on display a Dr Pepper birthday cake. The first recipe I encountered was from Oklahoma, and it appeared in the Ardmore paper in 1974. The Oklahoma cake was a chocolate sheet cake that replaced the boiling water with Dr Pepper, though it also included marshmallows, which isn’t typically done these days.

Dr Pepper sheet cake | Homesick Texan

As for Texas sheet cake, its origins are also murky. In my research, I’ve traced the method of making a chocolate, rectangular, one-layer cake with a boiled frosting to a cake that was popular in the early 20th Century known as fudge cake.

Its provenance may not be Texan, though the earliest recipe I did encounter for fudge cake was in a 1908 edition of the San Antonio Light. The recipe called for the usual sheet cake ingredients, such as buttermilk, flour, and nuts. The only difference was the chocolate was delivered via bars and not cocoa, which is how we make our chocolate sheet cakes today.

While there is more to discuss about Texas sheet cake, today I’m focused on the Dr Pepper rendition. For my chocolate one, I take my basic sheet cake recipe and make a few changes. Besides substituting Dr Pepper for the water (the buttermilk stays), I’ve also started reducing some of the soda then blending that with butter, cinnamon, pecans, and a pinch of salt for spiced nuts.

Dr Pepper sheet cake | Homesick Texan

After the nuts are done, I chop some and swirl them into the chocolate frosting. Though I also leave a few whole, and layer them on top of the cake for both extra crunch and garnish. While these steps add a few more minutes to what is typically a fast recipe, I enjoy the extra boost of flavor the Dr Pepper gives to the pecans.

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Dr Pepper sheet cake with spiced pecans DSC 5976 1
5 from 6 votes
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Dr Pepper sheet cake

Course Dessert
Cuisine Texan
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings 16
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup Dr Pepper, preferably made with cane sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch kosher salt

For the Dr Pepper spiced pecans:

  • ¼ cup Dr Pepper, preferably made with cane sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups whole roasted pecans
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch ground clove

For the frosting:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 pound (3 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped Dr Pepper spiced pecans
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup whole Dr Pepper spiced pecans

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.
  2. To make the cake batter, stir the sugar and flour together in a bowl. Melt the butter on low in a saucepan, and when melted add the cocoa and Dr Pepper to the pan. Turn the heat to high and while stirring, heat until boiling. Turn off the heat.

  3. Pour the cocoa mix over the sugar and flour and blend well with a spoon. Add to the batter the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and blend well with a spoon.
  4. Pour the batter into the pan, and bake uncovered for about 25-30 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.
  5. While the cake is baking, to make the nuts, pour the ¼ cup Dr Pepper into a skillet, bring to a boil, then continue to cook on high until reduced in half to 2 tablespoons, about 3-5 minutes.

  6. Turn the heat to low and add the butter. When melted, add the vanilla, then stir in the pecans until well coated. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, salt, and clove, and while stirring, cook until the pecans are well coated and fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.

  7. Remove from the skillet. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. (I usually sprinkle on a bit more cinnamon and sugar after cooking). These can also be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.

  8. For the frosting, reserve 1/2 cup of the pecans as whole, then chop the remaining pecans.

  9. Because you want to pour the frosting over the cake while the cake is still warm, 5 minutes before the cake is ready is a good time to make the frosting. Though you can also make the frosting immediately after the cake is done, just don’t wait too long, as you want the cake warm when you cover it with the frosting.
  10. To make the frosting, add the butter, cocoa, and milk to a saucepan, and while occasionally stirring, cook on high until melted and boiling. Remove from the heat.
  11. Stir in the powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, chopped pecans, and salt. Stir well until blended, then spread over the cake while both are still warm. Top the cake with the reserved whole pecans.

  1. 5 stars
    Well, my stomach is now rumbling. I’ll let you know how it turns out 😉

  2. Catherine

    This looks fantastic. Any suggestions on how to find cane sugar Dr Pepper if you aren’t anywhere near Texas? Or will the corn syrup version work in a bind?

  3. Mary Dennis

    I remember this cake from most chili’s birthday parties. Can a regular sheet Pan that the sides are only about a half Inch be used or is a glass casserole Pyrex dish better. I think I remember just regular sheet pans being used.

    • Lisa Fain

      Mary–If you prefer to use a sheet pan vs. 9×13 pan, you’ll just need to reduce the baking time. I’d check it at 20 minutes instead of 25.

  4. Kim Van Antwerp

    Outstanding recipe! Apparently since the Dublin DP fiasco, cane sugar Dr Pepper is widely available. I hadn’t learned that before so used the regular kind for my cake. It is surprisingly not overly sweet. I used King Arthur’s double-dutch cocoa and skipped the frosting in favor of vanilla bean gelato. Thank you Lisa for another winner!

  5. Cristal Ortiz

    5 stars
    This cake is so so good. I unfortunately have been cursed with that evil celiac nonsense so I had to make it gluten free. I’m usually super disappointed at how things turn out when I convert them to gluten free and often don’t bother baking at all anymore. This recipe did not disappoint. Even though I made a complete disaster area out of my kitchen it was totally worth it. It was so good it’s almost addictive. I had to take it to work to keep from eating it all in one sitting. I will be making this again plus a double recipe of those pecans. I’m drooling like Homer Simpson just thinking of them. 😋

    • Lisa Fain

      Cristal–I’m so glad it also works well as a gluten-free cake, too! And yes, aren’t those pecans addictive? Enjoy!

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