I've always felt my Texas sheet cake was the ultimate potluck cake. It is incredibly easy to make both the cake and the frosting. The cake can be brought to the party and served in the same dish it was baked in (no need to worry if the cake will stick to the pan!) and the icing is a pourable, un-mess-up-able dream. I've made it for every bbq or potluck for the past two years and it has always been demolished, and I have always been asked for the recipe.
Except last week. Last week, I brought it to a dear friend's Cinco de Mayo party. My (okay, rather homey) chocolate cake was far outshined by several more visually stunning concoctions (all store-bought, of course). In particular, someone brought store-bought cupcakes with red, green and white icing with cute mini mexican flags flying atop each one, all of them arranged on top of a huge sombrero. How was a sheet cake supposed to aesthetically compete with that?
I complained to my husband and his friend that no one was trying my dessert, and they strategically placed themselves next to the dessert table urging people to try it. "Hey, try that cake! It's amazing!" (What a blow to my baking-ego! Hah. Thank you guys.) A too-cool twelve-year-old boy did try it, and declared with a nod that it was, "Decent. Decent." And then he brought over all his friends. I brought home an empty pan.
Sometimes all it takes is one bite for word to spread.
We are about to make a big move next month. New home. New friends. New schools for the boys. New climate. It helps to know that my baked goods - no matter how homely in appearance - will always, eventually and inevitably, bring joy wherever we go. (However, next time I go to a Cinco de Mayo potluck.... I'm making cupcakes and putting them on a damned sombrero. Killer presentation for the cost of a cheap hat? Count me in. But, don't worry, I'll be making the cupcakes from scratch.)
Texas Sheet Cake
I originally wanted to make this cake because of the recipe in "Vintage Cakes" by Julie Richardson. While I do use her frosting recipe (which is just perfect for this kind of cake), I much prefer the cake recipe from my tried and true and so beloved "Joy of Cooking" (the 2006 edition). Mostly because I find the half oil / half butter ratio yields the perfect tender to moist balance in this cake, but also because Richardson's version uses a lot of coffee and I try to not bring desserts made with coffee or alcohol to a kid-friendly event... the caffeine and alcohol don't cook off that much actually, and you know, I'd rather be at an event where the kids' only stimulant is each other and sugar (that is
for the cake:
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
for the icing:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted (or not sifted if you are short on time and want to sprinkle the dish with nuts or sprinkles anyway... there will be a few very small dot-like lumps throughout the icing if you don't sift)
Preheat the oven to 375 and grease a 10 x 15 inch pan. (I use a ceramic roasting dish, but a glass pyrex is better.)
Whisk the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the water, vegetable oil, butter and cocoa powder to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the flour and stir just until smooth. (Note: place the saucepan to the side to use later for the icing and save yourself a pot cleaning.)
Let the mixture cool slightly then whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla. Mix in one egg, combine thoroughly, then mix in the other egg and stir until very smooth.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in the middle of your preheated oven for about 20 minutes. As always, do not overbake!
While the cake is baking make the icing:
Melt the butter in (the same as you used for the cake, no need to wash it had the same ingredients!) a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in cocoa powder and bring the mixture to a rolling boil and boil for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in 1/3 cup milk and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Whisking continuously, add the confectioner's sugar one cup at a time. Pour immediately over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with nuts if you desire. Or with colored sprinkles. Or marshmallows! Or pipe "eat me" in frosting on top. (Kidding. Despite above story, it does not need to be told twice to get eaten.)