Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.
~ Dave Barry~
I honestly don’t know where to start with this post. Do I sing the praises of chocolate cakes in general? Should I say something about the Pioneer Woman who’s recipe this is? Could I just tell you to try this cake and not worry about anything else? Maybe I should start with my reasons for Googling a chocolate sheet cake recipe. It’s quite simple really – I’m terrible at decorating cakes! I have tried, but I’m not arty or patient enough. So I like to make things easier on myself by choosing a cake recipe that doesn’t really require decorating. Enter the Chocolate Sheet Cake. It seems to originate from the USA, particularly Texas and surrounding states as many recipes are called Texas Sheet Cake. It’s basically cake batter poured into a sheet pan (baking tray in South Africa) with chocolatey icing poured over the top after baking while the cake is warm. South Africans: think Malva Pudding in an all-chocolate outfit!
Do not judge this cake by its looks!
So you will be correct in thinking that this cake doesn’t look like much, but tastes divine! I cannot think of a better way to combine lots of butter, eggs, buttermilk and cocoa! And the topping has more of the same butter and cocoa with some chopped nuts and icing sugar added in. It might not win you any prizes for looks, but it cannot be beaten in taste! Does anyone really want to spend hours decorating a cake anyway? If you want to make this cake pretty, I would suggest keeping a new baking tray in pristine condition just for this cake (you will want to make it often enough to warrant this). You can also get creative with colourful toppings like M & M’s (or Smarties in SA), shaved white chocolate or other chocolate candy.
Pioneers and Imperial measurements
I should really just post the link to The Pioneer Woman’s recipe as I use it exactly as she wrote it. Ree Drummond started a recipe blog 15 years ago and has grown her brand into various recipe books, TV shows, a mercantile (fancy restaurant, bakery & store) and even a Lodge. She is every food blogger’s goal – especially as her net worth seems to be calculated at several million US dollars. But the only snag is all the American measurements. So I am including the recipe “translated” into South African measurements and terminology. Next time you want to make something decadent and chocolatey you can get right to it instead of having to Google how much three-quarters of a stick of butter is!!
Chocolate Sheet Cake
For the Sheet Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- ¼ t salt
- 225 g butter (2 sticks in the USA)
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder (heaped tablespoons)
- 1 cup boiling water
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 2 eggs
- 1 t vanilla essence
- 1 t bicarbonate of soda (baking soda in the USA)
For the Icing
- 198 g butter (1¾ sticks in the USA)
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder (heaped tablespoons again)
- 6 tbsp milk (or 90 ml - either is hard to measure)
- 392 g icing sugar (sifted) (1 pound minus ½ a cup - this took some math to convert!)
- ½ cup chopped pecan nuts (finely chopped) see note
For the cake
- Grease a large baking tray (see note) and preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Mix together the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Once melted, add the cocoa powder and stir together.
- Add the cup of boiling water and let the mixture cook for 30 seconds.
- Remove from the heat and add to the flour mixture. Stir lightly to cool (Ree's words).
- Measure the buttermilk into a measuring jug, add the beaten eggs, vanilla and bicarb (baking soda).
- Mix the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and pour into the prepared baking tray.
- Bake for 20 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
For the icing
- Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat and add the cocoa powder once melted.
- Stir to combine and remove from the heat.
- Add the milk and sifted icing sugar and mix. Add the chopped nuts.
- Pour the icing over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. It flows slowly and lusciously all over the place without too much effort.
- Decorate with some grated or shaved chocolate or colourful candy if you didn't add the chopped nuts, or even if you did - I won't judge you!
- I have often made the icing without the chopped nuts as my husband is allergic to tree nuts. The nuts give it some crunch which is lovely, so feel free to replace the nuts with something crunchy. SA readers think broken Crunchie bars (honeycomb) or Peppermint Crisp. If the cake is for children Rice Crispies or Astros could be nice.
- The Pioneer Woman uses an 18 x 13 x 1-inch sheet cake pan. A large baking tray in South Africa is generally 39 x 27 x 2cm. Which is more shallow than US sheet pans and therefore I make my cake in a 37 x 27 x 5 cm roasting pan which makes the cake a bit thicker and prevents spillage. If you have a baking tray that's 2,5 to 3cm deep that should be fine.