The Recipe: My favorite make-ahead cake, a chocolate sheet cake that’s kid-friendly, especially covered with sprinkles! It's dark and moist and chocolate-y. I a-d-o-r-e how the chocolate frosting sort of melts into the cake! Plus? There’s no need to get the butter out ahead of time because the recipe calls for melted butter! Better yet? No mixer required! All you need is a saucepan, a bowl and a wooden spoon.
The Conversation: The innocent start to The Year of the Cake.
The Year of the Cake, that’s what one extra-good cake just might trigger, even for someone more likely to grab a carrot than a cookie, a chicken thigh before a cake slice.
It all started innocently enough. We spent New Year’s at my sister’s in her tiny hometown in North Texas. How tiny a town? Well, think a mere 1.3 square miles. No grocery, not even a saloon since it’s a dry county. The welcome sign outside town announces a population of 512 people.
(The cake, Alanna, the cake!)
Well, what my sister’s tiny town does have is fine, fine chocolate cake. It’s made by a local lady and sold at the corner store that’s serves as the all-in-one gas station, convenience store, coffee shop, pizzeria and short-order grill.
So on New Year's Eve morning, Adanna (yes, we are Alanna and Adanna, sisters not twins!) advised hitting the corner store early, before the cake ran out. With post-holiday diet aspirations, I pitched the idea of maybe sharing a slice or two. She nixed that idea with a quick “No way!”
As midnight flipped the calendar to the new year, we sat in serene silence, smiles on our faces, savoring the last bite of moist, chocolate-y cake as much as the first.
Yes, my sister, she’s one smart woman. But that cake, I fear, twas the gateway cake. Later that week, two nights in a row we shared slices of Southern Belle Lemon Layer Cake at a tony restaurant in Natchez, Mississippi. And by the end of that year, I’d made a dozen cakes, double, even triple my usual pace. Just two survived the (tee hee) cut because really, how many cake recipes does one cook need? There’s more than enough temptation out there.
But Chocolate Sheet Cake is special. It’s dark and moist and ever so chocolate-y.
And soooo easy to make, did I mention that yet? Just a saucepan, a bowl and a wooden spoon for mixing. Kids love it. Guys love it. We even have a Swedish acquaintance who swears that the cinnamon in Chocolate Sheet Cake makes it taste just like a traditional Swedish cake her mother makes!
MAKE-AHEAD CHOCOLATE SHEET CAKE I’d love this cake anyway but the fact that it keeps so well for serving on the second or even third day is an a-m-a-z-i-n-g bonus. Just leave it in the pan, cover and refrigerate to keep firm.
CHOCOLATE SHEET CAKE
Time to table: 1 hour!
Enough for a 9x13 cake pan, double ingredients for an 18x13 half sheet pan
CHOCOLATE SHEET CAKE
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 227g) salted butter
- 2 tablespoons (15g) unsweetened dark cocoa powder, preferably Hersheys Dark
- 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee, optional but recommended
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 cup flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 125g
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup (50g) buttermilk, well shaken
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 7 tablespoons (1 stick less 1 tablespoon) salted butter
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons (40g) buttermilk
- 2-1/2 cups (300g) powdered sugar
- Multi-colored sprinkles, the kid favorite (and mine!)
- ¼ cup pecans, toasted and chopped fine
- Sweetened coconut
CHOCOLATE SHEET CAKE
Mise en Place Heat the oven to 350F. Lightly spray a 9x13 cake pan with baking spray. Gather your bowls, mixing tools and ingredients. This process? It’s called “mise en place” [pronounced mees-en-plass].
Start with a Saucepan In a saucepan, gently melt the butter on medium heat, not letting it boil. With a wooden spoon, stir in the cocoa powder and espresso powder. (Be sure to smash any tiny clumps with the back of the spoon, otherwise the cake will have powdery lumps. No wooden spoon? Use something about as big as a serving spoon.) Add the boiling water and stir to combine. Let cool while mixing the dry ingredients.
Move to a Mixing Bowl In a large bowl big enough to become your primary mixing bowl,stir together all the dry ingredients (that’s the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda) with a whisk or a spoon until well combined. (Use the cinnamon as a guide, once it’s evenly distributed, the other ingredients should be too).
Pour the saucepan’s butter-chocolate mixture into the mixing bowl and stir gently until just combined. (Just set the saucepan aside, you will use it again for the frosting. No need to wash it!)
Small Mixing Bowl In a small bowl, whisk the egg until well combined, then whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla. (No whisk? Use a fork!) Stir the egg mixture into the large bowl until no egg-y streaks can be seen but no more.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan, spreading it to the edges, smoothing the top.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the center is done and the edges are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Back to the Saucepan While the cake bakes, make the icing. In the saucepan, melt the butter on medium low, just don’t let boil. Stir in the cocoa and cinnamon, breaking up any lumps, then turn off the heat. Stir in the milk and vanilla, then the powdered sugar.
Frost the Warm Cake As soon as the cake is out of the oven, pour the frosting over top, spreading gently to the edges. (It will be soft.) Sprinkle the sprinkles, pecans or coconut over the top.
Let cool completely before cutting.
Everybody Loves the Sprinkles!
At an outdoor party, this cake disappeared in a f-l-a-s-h. It had been baked two days before and was still so moist and fresh, no one knew! For extra casual, I leave the cake right in the sheet pan.
And More Sprinkles!
For a wedding party, I used waxed paper to form a heart with sprinkles. Cute and easy both!
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