Texas sheet cake DSC 2773

Texas sheet cake for a birthday

Anytime is a fantastic time for a birthday, but I’m particularly partial to those birthdays that fall in the month of June. In my family, I have my dear cousin Andrew, a New York director filmmaker. In the city, I have my old cosmic buddies, Lisa and Jeanette. One of my favorite writers (and a fellow Texan), the belated and much missed Larry McMurtry was a June baby and well, yes, my birthday is in June, too.

I’m kind of shy about my birthday (OK, obviously not that shy if I’m writing about it on the internet for thousands of people to see!), and haven’t had a big bash in a few years. I’m more prone to thoughtful contemplation about the nature of aging, all shared with good friends, good food, good songs and good cheer.

A friend once commented on the choices people make on their birthdays and how this defines them. She divided people into two groups: those who go for the new and those who go for the familiar. I tend to fall in the latter category, wanting my birthday to be about comfort and treasured favorites since getting older is enough of an adventure. Growing up, it wasn’t my birthday unless I was eating a certain chocolate cake known as Texas sheet cake.

Now I don’t know if Texas sheet cake originated in Texas, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Texan who doesn’t serve this rectangular chocolaty dessert. It’s a mainstay at barbecues, pot-lucks, birthday parties, picnics, bake sales, or any event you need a portable sweet that can feed tons of people.

It’s especially appealing in the summer as you can mix it by hand and it only takes 30 minutes to bake. It’s quick and easy and it won’t make you all hot and bothered through overexertion or an oven that’s been on for too long.

Texas sheet cake | Homesick Texan
So how did it get its name? Nobody really knows. Most say it’s called Texas sheet cake because of the size of the thing, though it’s not that big. Others have said that the Texan part of its moniker stems from its popularity within the state, though I reckon you can find chocolate sheet cake just about anywhere. Then there has been speculation that a long time ago, a Texan sugar or flour company printed a sheet-cake recipe on a package and added the word “Texas” to make it more appealing.

That may be true, but I have yet to find evidence of which sugar or flour producer committed this act, thus making that theory a bit suspect. And to add more confusion to the name’s origin, let’s not forget those who call it Texas sheath cake.

Perhaps that colloquialism refers to how the cake covers your knife as you slice it, but I believe that’s a stretch. Most likely, the term sheath is just another case of your typical Texan malapropism. But no matter what it’s called, I adore it and it was the only cake I ate as a kid. In fact, Texas sheet cake was so ubiquitous in my life, I didn’t even know there were round layer cakes until I was older.

This moist, fine-crumbed cake is usually made with cocoa and buttermilk, but recipes vary in if they call for shortening, butter or, as the one in my possession, Oleo. (I’ve never even seen Oleo, but I think it’s margarine.) And one of the hallmarks of the cake is that the icing is always poured on right when you take the cake out of the oven, making for a slick, shiny and slightly runny topping. So depending on how fast you work, you can usually whip this up in under 40 minutes, which makes it perfect for those steamy summer days when you don’t want to spend too much time laboring in the kitchen.

Since this is such a terrific summertime party dessert, I thought I’d share my birthday cake with y’all. I used my grandmother’s old recipe, substituting butter for the Oleo and I spiced it up a bit with 1 teaspoon of ancho powder. But other than those slight modifications this is the same tasty cake I’ve eaten all my life, an old and familiar friend.

Texas sheet cake | Homesick Texan

Happy, happy birthday to all my fellow June babies. Now pour yourself a glass of milk and let’s dig in! Whether you’re feeding a crowd or just a few, this soft, heavenly cake is certain to make everyone’s mouth sing with joy.

Print
5 from 2 votes

Texas sheet cake

Servings 16
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (optional)
  • Pinch kosher salt

Ingredients for the icing:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • Pinch kosher salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400° F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.
  • Sift the sugar and flour together in a bowl. Melt the butter on low in a saucepan, and when melted add cocoa and water. Turn the heat to high and while stirring, heat until boiling. Pour the cocoa mix over the sugar and flour and mix well with a spoon.
  • Add the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon, chile powder, and salt, and mix well with a spoon.
  • Pour batter into the pan, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.
  • Meanwhile, 5 minutes before cake is done, to make the frosting, bring to a boil the butter, cocoa, and milk in a saucepan on low heat. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, pecans, and salt. Beat well, and then spread over cake while both are still warm.

Notes

My family always made this cake in a 9x13 pan, but if you wish to bake it in an actual half-sheet pan, I'd reduce the baking time by 5 minutes.

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114 Comments

  1. My family’s recipe is for “sheath” cake too. I thought it was a mistake, but I guess that’s a legit name for it! My favorite cake in the world.

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      JenBeee–Although a strange one, it is a legit name indeed!

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Can I make this cake with regular milk instead of buttermilk?

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Vera–Yes, it should be fine.