Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chocolate Sheet Cake for a Crowd

It's 78° here in Chicago making it a near perfect day. This is summer at its best, without too much heat and humidity. I still feel like baking and there seem to be many opportunities to do so - with backyard cookouts, neighborhood picnics, and 4th of July celebrations around the corner. These events usually drum up a crowd and feeding a hungry horde can be a bit of a challenge. What to bring? This isn't the time for fancy layer cakes and if I bake cupcakes, I have to show up with at least 24 and most of my recipes are for a dozen. I could bake a couple of cherry pies but they're a bit labor intensive and I'll still wind up with only 12 servings (have you ever seen anyone eat slivers of pie?). For casual gatherings of 20-30 people, my Chocolate Sheet Cake fits the bill.

Variations of this very simple recipe have circulated for years. Also known as Chocolate Buttermilk Sheet Cake and Texas Sheet Cake, it comes together in just a few minutes and only requires a hand mixer. Melted butter is used in both the cake and frosting, so you don't have to remember to take the butter out of the refrigerator or freezer ahead of time. It's likely you'll have all the ingredients needed on hand, too (if you don't have buttermilk, just add 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk and let it stand for 5 minutes). You'll need a 15"x 10" or 16" x 11" sheet pan, also known as a jelly roll pan. This is a very moist cake because it contains both butter and oil. This delicious dessert will remind you of a frosted cakey brownie - only better! You can serve the cake directly from the pan but feel free to use one of those 3-tiered cake plates for a nicer presentation.



1-2 tablespoons butter or shortening for greasing the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil (I use canola)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup water
4 tablespoons natural cocoa (do not use "Dutched")
1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso powder
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour the pan. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the oil, butter and water and heat until the butter melts. Remove from heat and add the cocoa and instant coffee. Add to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Using an electric hand mixer, blend for about 15 seconds. Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and beat until blended, about 30 seconds, stopping to scrape the bowl after 15 seconds.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20-22 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 lb. confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons natural cocoa
1 teaspoon pure vanilla

While the cake is baking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and keep warm. Pour frosting over hot cake and spread quickly. Cool on a wire rack. Yields about 32 generous pieces.