For the past few, oh I dunno…. decades the only real question for family gatherings is: who is going to make the Texas Sheet Cake? It’s goes without saying that this unassuming, pecan studded cake will be sliced up at the end of every family celebration. As sure as the sun will rise, ya know? So… who is going to make it?
The steady Texas Sheet Cake bakers in our clan are my dad, mom, and aunt Judy. Is one cake better than another? I’ll never tell but they all work from the same, chocolate-stained recipe card from our late Aunt Mary. We’ve learned, after a few well intentioned deviations, not to mess with Aunt Mary’s recipe. Don’t go thinking you can add peppermint extract to the cake, walnuts to the frosting, or god forbid a… fruit. You don’t mess with a good thing and if you do… I mean we’ll still eat it but we’ll shake out heads about it after our plates are clean.
It’s a crime that it’s taken me so long to share this cake with you. It’s classic Americana. It’s classic Wilson family shenanigans.
Let’s talk about a few things.
What is Texas Sheet Cake?
Texas sheet cake is a thin chocolate cake baked in a jelly roll pan. The cake batter is thin, making for a light and tender baked cake. What really sets a Texas Sheet Cake apart from other cakes is the stovetop cooked chocolate frosting made with melted butter, milk, chocolate, powdered sugar and, most importantly – pecans. The warm frosting is poured over warm cake creating a fudgy, undeniably special chocolate cake.
Texas Sheet Cake is known by many other names. Southern Living touts it as a funeral cake, which made me do a double take and made me extra thankful that we don’t wait for a death in the family to enjoy this cake. Some people know it as a Chocolate Sheath Cake or with a touch of cinnamon as a Mexican Chocolate Cake. Some attribute the cake to Lady Bird Johnson. Some to the popularity of a German Chocolate Cake recipe printed in a Dallas newspaper in the 1950’s. Texas Sheet Cake is one of those recipes that, because of its ease and deliciousness (thank you pecans and chocolate), just got around through recipe cards and church cookbooks and imprinted itself into so many of our family recipe arsenals.
What do you need to make Texas Sheet Cake?
It’s simple really:
• butter for the cake and frosting.
• cocoa for the cake and frosting.
• baking soda and salt
• buttermilk (though sour cream also works wonderfully) and eggs
• milk, any fat will do
• and chopped pecans
To start, whisk together the dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Set aside, we have a bit of stovetop work to get to.
In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk in cocoa and hot water.
I honestly love a stovetop cake. See also: Neapolitan One Pot Chocolate Sheet Cake.
Add the warmed cocoa/butter mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
Add the buttermilk and beaten eggs and hand whisk the thin batter smooth.
Pour the cake batter into a greased jelly roll pan and carefully transfer to the oven (truly the hardest part of the recipe).
Bake until the cake is gently puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry or with just a few moist crumbs. If the toothpick still has sticky batter, the cake needs a few minutes more.
While the cake bakes… guess what? More chocolate.
We’ll whisk together a warm chocolate and pecan glaze on the stovetop. Butter, cocoa, milk, powdered sugar, vanilla, and chopped pecans. It’s beyond. It’ll take all you’ve got to not eat the frosting with a spoon before the cake comes out of the oven.
When the baked cake emerges from the oven it’s topped with warm chocolate pecan frosting and as it all cools, the most magical thing happens.
The cake and frosting become one. There’s this perfectly tender cake topped with a chocolate pecan shell. In the center, where the cake and frosting meet is a fudgy equator that, as far as I can tell, is a thing of dreams (or, if you’re lucky, a thing of every family gathering).
You should need no further convincing.
In our family, this was the sort of cake that lived awkwardly in the pan, tilted and teetering in the refrigerator, for a day and a half. Each member of the family stealing moments at the open refrigerator to peel back the plastic wrap and sneak slivers with a butterknife.
I secretly hope this cake feels as nostalgic for you as it does me. If it doesn’t, maybe all this chocolate talk is enough to inspire a new tradition. Either way, I sincerely hope this cake finds it’s way into your oven.Print
Wilson Family Texas Sheet Cake
An American classic. A thin layer of chocolate cake topped with warm chocolate pecan frosting.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: Serves 8 if not more 1x
For the Cake:
- 2 cups (254 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Frosting:
- 3/4 cup (100 grams) finely chopped pecans
- 2/3 cups (151 grams) butter
- 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups (312 grams) powdered sugar
- Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 18×13 sheet cake pan.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add cocoa. Stir together. Add boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour warm chocolate over flour mixture, and stir lightly to cool.
- In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, beaten eggs, and vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate/ flour mixture. Pour into sheet cake pan, spread evenly and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs not wet batter.
- While cake is baking, make the icing. Chop pecans well. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add cocoa, stir to combine, then turn off heat. Add the milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar and stir until smooth. Add the pecans.
- Pour the warm frosting over the warm cake. Allow to cool and set for at least 30 minutes. Cut into squares and enjoy! To store, wrap the cake in plastic wrap or foil and keep in the refrigerator or at room temperature.