Chocolate Sheet Cake

by Julie Ruble on March 18, 2010 · 23 comments

My family and I like to joke that Pioneer Woman stole this recipe from us, since she has such a similar one on her blog. We know it’s not true by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it makes us feel a little smug. We think to ourselves, We had an amazing family recipe that Ree Drummond decided she was going to pilfer! Because it was so awesome, of course! We’ve been robbed by fantastic Pioneer Woman, of all people! Wouldn’t it sound cool to tell people that at dinner parties?

Ahem . . . but, as I mentioned . . . not actually true. In reality, the recipe for this amazing Chocolate Sheet Cake was created by who-knows-who, and was passed around, shared, and adapted to fit into many families’ recipe boxes. Here’s an interesting discussion about the origins of the cake. Several folks on Pioneer Woman’s blog recount where they came across the recipe first: some found it printed in a newspaper decades ago, some grew up eating it in their own kitchens. My family’s recipe was passed on to us by my great aunt, Linda Houts. Bless that woman.

Readers also shared their different names for the cake: Fabulous Sheet Cake, Cowboy Sheet Cake. Beth Moore and some other folks calls their version Texas Sheet Cake — and the flavor is, indeed, big enough for even Texas! As for my family, we always just called ours Chocolate Sheet Cake. But now I’m a little jealous of all those fancy names! I might have to come up with something a little more snappy. What do you think of Majestic Imperial Fantabulous Sheet Cake o’ Love? MIFSCOL for short? Okay, okay, fine . . . we’ll stick with Chocolate Sheet Cake.

But this is one fantabulous cake. It’s simple enough that I made it as a child (repeatedly — as in, any time my mom would hand over the cocoa powder and a spoon). My favorite time- and energy-saving characteristic of this cake is that you don’t have to wait for the cake to cool to pour the rich frosting all over it. So easy and quick!

But it’s not just simple — it’s also delicious enough that I still make it as an adult (wait, what? I’m an adult?!) when I want the absolute best chocolate cake flavor. Don’t you love it when the easiest also happens to be your favorite? The cake is fluffy and extremely moist with a gooey, deep chocolate frosting. I’m telling you . . . something magic happens when you put all these ingredients together, and the product is greater than the sum of its parts!

I’ve devoured this cake in Chocolate Chickie Cake Balls, in the Ice Cream Cupcakes I posted earlier this week, and (of course) all by its lovely lonesome. It’s also the perfect platform for a big ol’ scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. After my discussion of Freezer Tetris last post, I’m sure you’ll believe me when I say that there’s a big ziplock bag of Chocolate Sheet Cake in my freezer right now, just waiting for another fun recipe where I can sneak it in! Once you get a taste, you’ll be looking for any reasons you can find to bake it, too!

Chocolate Sheet Cake



Recipe by: Linda Houts
Yields: one half sheet cake (serves about 12)

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
dash salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting Ingredients:
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
6-8 tablespoons milk (as needed for consistency)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt together and set aside. Mix butter, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, and water together in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Pour over mixture of dry ingredients. Stir well, then add buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Mix to combine. Pour into a half sheet cake pan (12 x 18 in.) sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes. When a toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs, the cake is done. While cake starts to cool, make the frosting. Mix butter, cocoa, and milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and add confectioner’s sugar, nuts, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Spread over warm cake.


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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue March 18, 2010 at 8:11 pm

I first tried a “Texas sheet cake” YEARS ago when a college roommate made it! So delicious! Yours looks divine!

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Denie August 18, 2010 at 6:36 am

Hi Sue,

I’m a first timer to bake a sheet cake from my home. :) A family member asked me to make one
for a gathering their having on September 5th. It will be an adventure for me because I haven’t baked a cake this large since going to cooking school and that was way back in (1985). Wow!! She wants two different kinds of sheet cakes. Oh, my! :) I already baked the cream cheese cake and it was GREAT!! :) Now I need a chocolate sheet cake. Ouch!! :) I’m going to go full force with is assignment and I will not be afraid to bake the big cake. Ha! Ha! :) Wish me goodie googles and I’ll see how it turns out. Plant u now and dig u later.

Denie :)

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Megan March 18, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I’ve always heard of this as Texas sheet cake, but I’ve never seen walnuts in the frosting. Yum! If I wasn’t still stuffing myself with pieces of chocolate stout cake, I’d seriously need to make this right now!

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Jennifer M. March 19, 2010 at 1:58 pm

My mother made this delicious cake for our family at least 40 years ago. So, it’s not a new recipe by any means. But wow, it’s yummy!
I’ve been a fan of PW’s blog since the beginning. Well, two months after she started it. I’ve never thought that she claimed that every recipe is of her own making. She freely admits where recipes come from. I don’t get the big deal. She makes a dish that she or her family and friends have made for years, or finds a new recipe she likes, or makes something which was recommended to her. Isn’t that what most of us do?
I think part of her appeal is that she features food that is, for the most part, food we’ve grown up eating. Not fancy, but delicious. Don’t we all have foods in our histories which we associate with family gatherings, holidays, etc? I think that’s a big part of why she is so popular.
And on a personal level, I was lucky enough to attend a booksigning when her cookbook came out. It was so much fun being there! She is a gracious, friendly, beautiful woman without a pretentious bone in her body. She’s as real as it gets.

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Julie March 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I totally agree, Jennifer! I’m only sad I haven’t had the chance to meet her :)

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Jennifer M. March 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Julie, I hope you get to meet her one day! Did you read where she mentioned she’s going on her booksigning tour, part 2, this spring? I hope Charlotte is on her list!
Oh, I just read your entry about tarts. My goodness! Those are beautiful! I’ve been on the fence for a long time about purchasing a rectangular tart pan. But no more! After seeing your lovely raspberry tart, I’m getting one today!

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Julie March 21, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Aw, thank you, Jennifer! I love that rectangular tart pan — it’s one of those simple things that gives a lotta “oomph”! :)

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Ling May 15, 2010 at 1:02 pm

totally agree! i’m sure ppl have lotsa similar recipes being passed down by their ancestors… and they claimed it to be their own original recipe… when it would easily have been someone else’s juz tat the family has been using it for ages… i would think tat certain ppl resort to saying tat others steal their recipe when they are not as famous as the person who juz kindly posted the recipe to share with other ppl. i certainly dun see PW claiming credit for coming up with the recipe. in fact, she onli claimed tat its the BEST chocolate sheet cake she had ever.

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Julie May 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Hi Ling,

Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone has actually accused PW of stealing this recipe :) Just a joke.

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Ash March 22, 2010 at 10:33 am

This looks totally amazing!! Such a sinful looking cake.. but I’m into that. haha.
I just made PW’s glazed donuts last week, love her site!!

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Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella March 26, 2010 at 9:06 am

How exciting Julie! It does sound like the ultimate chocolate cake. Look at that gorgeous icing and nuts! :o

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monica July 15, 2010 at 6:14 am

Julie, this recipe has also been in our family forever!!! we call it crazy cake [crazy hah?] also love the white version, really like your blog.

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Julie July 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

Thanks, Monica! I love that!!

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su April 13, 2011 at 3:01 am

lovely….. recipe…. should try them …!!!

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Jennifer April 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Can I bake this in 2 smaller pans? I don’t have a half sheet cake pan. If I can what size do you reccomend?

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking April 27, 2012 at 11:14 pm

I sometimes do it in 2 9×13 inch pans, but it’s not as great texture-wise because it’s not as thick. You know, maybe try an 8-inch square and a 9×13? Just check for doneness early and often and pull it when a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs.

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Kirstin January 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

What is the size of the two pans shown in the photograph? Are they quarter sheet pans? Thanks …

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking January 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm

They’re 9×13.

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A September 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Hi Julie,

I love your blog! I read it all the time, and have for over a year now. Thank you for sharing your recipes–I have tried quite a few of them and seriously love them. And I always get a lot of compliments! I had a quick question about this cake–I’ve made it before as a sheet cake, and it was great, but was thinking of making cupcakes or mini-cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday. Do you think they would work?

Thanks again!

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