Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake

My favorite “take” on classic chocolate Texas sheet cake, this delightful cake is so moist, ultra-chocolatey, and so easy to make (no mixer required!).

Slice of Texas sheet cake on white plate with fork.

Texas sheet cake is a funny little cake.

I remember my  mom making it a few times growing up, although she called it something entirely different (Mama Hinckley cake, don’t ask me why). And when I got married 16 years ago, I found out how deeply and truly Brian’s love runs for Texas sheet cake.

It’s his favorite cake. Or so he says until faced with this one or this one or this one.

The jury is still out, despite numerous research articles, on how the generationally beloved cake got its name, but I stick to the idea that because it’s baked in a pan the size of Texas, it can safely be called Texas sheet cake.

While there are obviously other names for the easy, no-fuss and definitely no-frills dessert (like Mama Hinckley cake, as I mentioned before, but I’ve also heard it called frosted chocolate sheet cake which is a super exciting and cutting edge name for the cake), around here we lovingly refer to it as Texas sheet cake.

And even though it’s taken me ages to post a chocolate version, you may already be familiar with this white Texas sheet cake and this peanut butter Texas sheet cake.

Sheet pan of Texas sheet cake with a piece of cake on a spatula.

There’s something about the endearingly thin, super moist chocolate cake slathered in warm chocolate frosting that garners fans generation after generation.

Admittedly, I don’t make it as often as my family would like. For one, it feeds a heck of a lot more people than the seven of us living under this roof.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need 2/3 of a pan of leftover chocolate cake staring me in the face when everyone else leaves to go to school and work. I am fully aware of my self-control (or lack of).

And secondly, I’ve never felt like it was quite chocolatey enough to justify indulging. Some recipes call for a shockingly scant amount of 3 tablespoons cocoa for the entire cake!

Talk about a travesty of chocolate cake proportions. If you’re going to have chocolate cake, HAVE CHOCOLATE CAKE. Know what I mean?

Bite of Texas sheet cake on fork.

There really aren’t many variations on this recipe if you start digging around. 2 cups flour + 2 cups sugar + 1/2 cup buttermilk. If that sounds familiar, we’re more than likely working from the same recipe.

Over the years, I’ve taken my Aunt Marilyn’s classic Texas sheet cake recipe and made some very slight adjustments to make it more my style.

Namely, a bit more cocoa in the cake and the frosting, and I often use my Aunt Marilyn’s tip to use buttermilk in the frosting instead of milk.

I know that might sound weird, but it’s definitely in the “don’t knock it til you try it” category, because it makes a rather ordinary cake somewhat special.

If you’re new to the land of Texas sheet cake, rejoice knowing that this cake is incredibly easy to make.

For both the cake and the frosting, the base ingredients are simmered in a saucepan before adding the remainder of the ingredients (no mixer needed!). Then the cake bakes in just a few minutes (remember, it’s thin, so don’t overbake!). And the magic really occurs when the warm frosting is poured over the warm cake.

After it cools, the frosting forms a delightful almost crackly layer of creamy chocolate frosting on top of the rich, perfectly chocolatey, indulgently soft cake.

Slice of Texas sheet cake on a white plate with a bite taken out.

What size pan do you need for Texas sheet cake? 

This Texas sheet cake is often baked in a half sheet pan (i.e. the large, rimmed baking sheets about 11X17-inches in size). I’ve also seen a lot of Texas sheet cake recipes that say to bake the cake in a jelly roll pan. And even some declare the cake can be baked in a 9X13-inch pan.

So what is a home baker to do? First, let’s clear up a few things. 

Even though the term “jelly roll pan” is thrown around a bit irresponsibly at times to encompass any large shallow baking pan, it is NOT the same as a half sheet pan.

Jelly Roll Pan = 15X10 inches (this is the one I have {aff. link} and I use it almost exclusively for cream cheese filled pumpkin rolls)

Half Sheet Pan = 11X17 inches or about 12X18 inches on outer edges and often just called a “sheet pan” (I have these pans {aff. link} – they last forever and I use them for all my cookie baking; they also come in a 2-pack at Sam’s Club or Costco and are cheaper there, I think)

9X13-Inch Pan = I prefer using a metal 9X13-inch pan {aff. link} for baking cakes but a glass baking pan {aff. link} can also be used (it helps to reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees if using glass)

When it comes to Texas sheet cake, the batter really can be baked in any of the above pans. (If using a jelly roll pan, make sure the sides are high enough so the batter doesn’t overflow.)

But if you want to maintain the strict identity of the classically thin and loveable Texas sheet cake, my opinion is you need to stick with the half sheet pan.

What pan size you actually choose will say a lot about your personality (and your feelings about Texas sheet cake in general), but ultimately, it’s up to you. Armed with the information above, all I will say is: choose wisely! 🙂

Texas Sheet Cake

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Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 2 cups (15 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces, 2 sticks) butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa (see note)
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) sour cream or buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces, 1 stick) butter
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa (see note)
  • 1/3 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) powdered sugar (to avoid lumps)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a large, rimmed baking sheet/half sheet pan (about 11X17-inches). Set aside.
  2. For the cake, in a large bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a medium saucepan, add the butter and water. Sift in the cocoa (to avoid lumps). Bring the mixture to a boil. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
  4. Add the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
  5. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cake is evenly baked and springs back lightly to the touch (watch closely; your oven may cook hotter and the cake may need even less time).
  6. While the cake bakes, make the frosting. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa, milk (or buttermilk), vanilla and salt. Heat, stirring cosntantly, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar gradually until the frosting is smooth (if your powdered sugar is extra clumpy, sift it in to avoid lumps in the frosting). Keep the frosting warm if the cake is not finished baking.
  7. Pour the warm frosting over the warm cake and spread evenly. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

Notes:

My recipe for Texas sheet cake has slightly more cocoa powder than other recipes out there. I like the extra boost of chocolate flavor without it being overpowering, but you can dial the amount of cocoa powder back to 4 tablespoons (for the cake and the frosting) if you want. Natural, unsweetened cocoa powder (i.e. Hershey’s) works great for both the cake and the frosting. As a slight variation, I’ll often sub in 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa in both the cake and the frosting for a deeper, richer chocolate flavor.

While a half sheet pan (11X17-inches) is commonly used for Texas sheet cake, you can also bake the cake in a jelly roll pan (15X10-inches) or a 9X13-inch cake pan for thicker cake and frosting layers (increase baking time as needed). If using a jelly roll pan, make sure the sides are high enough so the batter doesn’t overflow. 

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Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe (from my old recipe binder put together by my Aunt Marilyn 20 years ago)

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