Thursday, April 26, 2012

Texas Sheet Cake Extravaganza

I made Texas Sheet Cakes for 150!  As in 150 people.  Yikes.  A friend asked me if I would be interested in providing dessert for a function she was planning for about 100 people.  I have never done anything like this before and must admit I was intrigued by the challenge.  So, I gave it some thought and then agreed!

Remember how I said that most Texans have no idea what a Texas Sheet Cake is?  Well, I figured this was my opportunity to educate a bunch of Texans!  Plus it is a super easy dessert to make, and you can make it a couple days in advance with no problem!  Once I decided to make Texas Sheet Cakes, I had to find the "right" recipe.  I got out my old cookbook from my parent's church and found the recipe my mom always makes.  Then I did a quick online search to see what the best recipe online might be.  You guessed it, the Pioneer Woman's recipe!  Let's compare the two recipes, shall we?  With the exception of the church cookbook substituting margarine for some of the butter and using a bit less butter in the frosting, the recipes are identical.  Ah-ha!  Well, since the recipes had such rave reviews, I knew I was set on the cake!

The next question was how to serve it?  The plates had to be pretty!  I decided to do a pool of creme anglaise on the bottom, then the cake, with a salted caramel sauce on the top.  Both the creme anglaise and the salted caramel sauce could also be made a few days in advance, so I was feeling good!  I found some recipes and got to work!

Let's start with the salted caramel sauce.  I found this recipe on Bakingdom.

Stir sugar, water, and corn syrup in a small saucepan.  Now STOP stirring, and place the saucepan over high heat, bringing to a boil.  Swirl the pan occasionally.  If when you swirl, the sugar mixture goes way up on the sides of your saucepan, take a silicone pastry brush dipped in water and wipe it away.  This will help your clean-up process because those drips are likely to burn and be REALLY HARD to get off!  When the mixture gets to be the amber color of the bottom picture, take it off the heat!

Now grab a long handled wooden spoon and an oven mitt.  Stir constantly with that hand while you slowly pour in whipping cream (from a decent height above the pan) with the other hand.  It feels a bit like a crazy science experiment as you do this.  The mixture goes crazy and bubbles and expands.  This is why you need your hands way above the pan, as the steam rises up and the mixture sputters a bit.  Each time I made this recipe (a total of 9 times, though I did double it a couple times) I felt like a mad scientist and wanted to chortle a bit!  The photo above is taken AFTER the cream is in, as the bubbles subside.  I couldn't figure out how to take a photo of the mad scientist part without potentially causing myself bodily injury.  I hope you understand!

Now add butter and sea salt.  I recommend sprinkling the sea salt over the sauce before stirring, as opposed to dumping it at once.  You don't want a salty clump to deal with !  Mix the salt and butter until they melt.

Mmmm, salted caramel!  It is DELICIOUS.  You could drizzle it over anything, really.  Jazz up some vanilla ice cream!  Make some yummy caramel popcorn!  Add a nice zip to some hot cocoa!  Or just dunk your finger in there (after it is nice and cool) and smile!

Salted Caramel Sauce
adapted from Bakingdom
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 TB corn syrup
1/2 c. whipping cream
2 TB unsalted butter
1 1/2 ts. sea salt

Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a small saucepan, and stir to combine.  Place the saucepan on high heat and bring to a boil without stirring.  Swirl the ingredients in the pan occasionally.  Continue boiling until the mixture reaches a light amber color.  Remove from heat and very carefully add the cream in a slow steady stream, while stirring constantly.  Once combined, add the butter and salt and continue stirring until both are melted and combined.  Cool to room temperature before using.
Printable Recipe

On to the creme anglaise.  I used the recipe in The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Muchet.
Stir together heavy cream, whole milk and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a low simmer and remove from heat.

You need 5 large egg yolks.  So get out 3 bowls and get to work.  Three bowls so you can separate over one and get the white into that bowl.  Dump the yolk into another, and then transfer the white into a bowl for all of the whites.  Do this each time so you don't mix up the yolk/white with one egg and mess up the whole bunch!  Then whisk the yolks together until they are nice and smooth.

Pour about 1 cup of the hot creamy mixture into the bowl with the yolks, whisking the entire time, to temper the yolks.  Then pour that mixture back into the saucepan and stir over low heat until mixture starts to thicken and gets to 178-180F.  Use your instant-read thermometer for this.  You don't want scrambled eggs!

Once the cream hits that temperature, pour it through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl.  Add vanilla extract and whisk together.  Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard, and place the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice and water to cool.  Once cool, use or store in air-tight container with plastic wrap on the surface in the refrigerator until needed. 

Creme Anglaise
adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking
1 c. whole milk
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. sugar
2 ts. pure vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks

Combine milk, cream, and sugar in a medium saucepan and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Bring the mixture to a low simmer and remove the pan from the heat.  In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks together.  Slowly pour about 1 cup of the hot milk into the yolks, whisking constantly, to temper the yolks.  Pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking constantly.  Return to medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the custard thickens and reaches 178-180F. 

Immediately strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a small/medium bowl.  Add vanilla extract and whisk to combine.  Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard and set the bowl over a large bowl of ice and water.   Once the custard has cooled, use or store in refrigerator.

Store for up to 5 days, refrigerated in an air-tight container with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

If you need a half recipe, half all of the ingredients and use 3 egg yolks.
Printable Recipe

Now the most important part, the Texas Sheet Cake!

Mix together your flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.

In a saucepan, melt the butter.  Add cocoa and stir together, then add boiling water.  Let the entire thing boil together for about 30 seconds and remove from the heat.

Pour the chocolate over the flour mixture and stir lightly to cool.

Pour the buttermilk into a mixing cup, then add the eggs, baking soda, and vanilla.  Stir it all together and then add it to the mixing bowl with the flour and chocolate.  Pour into a sheetpan and stick that baby in the oven!

While it is in the oven, make the icing.  So, get a saucepan back on the stove and plop in a stick of butter!  Here is where the Pioneer Woman and my parent's church cookbook differ.  The Pioneer Woman uses 1 3/4 sticks of butter here.  The church cookbook uses 1.  While I am positive that 1 3/4 sticks of butter is divine, I have eaten this cake before with 1 stick and it was divine as well.  Since I was planning on making 7 of these cakes, I decided to go with 1 stick per recipe.

 Once the butter is melted, add the cocoa, stir, and turn off the heat.

Add milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar.

Stir in the pecans.

By this time, your cake is probably about ready to be taken out of the oven!  Take it out and immediately pour the warm icing over the top.  This is the secret of Texas Sheet Cake.  When you pour the warm icing over the warm cake it melts into the cake a bit, forming this luscious gooey layer between the cake and the icing.  Mmmm.  I then pressed another 1/2 cup of pecans onto the top of the cake.

This, my friends, is Texas Sheet Cake.  It is divine.  It is amazing.  It is a downright sin that people around here don't know what it is!  They are totally missing out on a great thing!  And a super way to impress your friends and family!  Easy AND delicious!  Is there a better combination?

Texas Sheet Cake
adapted from my parent's church cookbook and The Pioneer Woman
2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
1/4 ts. salt
4 TB (heaping) cocoa (for me, this meant a scant 1/2 cup)
2 sticks butter
1 c. boiling water
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 whole beaten eggs
1 ts. baking soda
1 ts. vanilla
1 stick butter
4 TB (heaping) cocoa (see above)
6 TB milk
1 ts. vanilla
14 oz. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the cocoa and stir. Add boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, and remove from heat. Pour over the dry ingredients, stirring lightly to cool.

In a measuring cup, pour the buttermilk and add the beaten eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Stir into the chocolate mixture. Pour into an 18x13 sheet pan (also known as a half sheet pan) and place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the icing. Finely chop 1/2 c. pecans. Melt the butter n a saucepan and add the cocoa. Stir to combine and remove from the heat. Add the milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Stir together. Stir in the chopped pecans.

Pour over the cake right after you take it out of the oven. Sprinkle remaining pecans on the top.

If you can hold off on eating this cake, it may be stored in the refrigerator for about 3 days. Wrap the entire pan tightly with foil, mounding it on top so the foil doesn't touch the icing. Then wrap that with plastic wrap. It is easiest to cut this cake when it is cold, but it should be eaten at room temperature.

Makes 24 ~3 inch squares
Printable Recipe

You might notice that I lined the pan with parchment paper.  You don't have to do this but I wanted the extra guarantee that there would be no sticking for ease of removal for the event.  It would have likely worked fine without, but I just wanted that extra assurance! 

After making 9 batches of salted caramel, 9 1/2 batches of creme anglaise, and 7 pans of Texas Sheet Cake (one with no pecans), I was "ready" for the event.  Here are all of the cakes in the "kitchen" of the event space.  I put "kitchen" in quotes because though it sort of was like a kitchen, in that it had a refrigerator and a sink and some counters, that was all it had.  Well, that and a lot of random things like wine glasses and chaffing dishes and stuff.  Mr. Clever Mom aka sous chef extraordinaire and I got right to work!

We set it up like an assembly line.  First we set out as many plates as we could.  Then my sous chef extraordinaire put about 1 1/2 TB of creme anglaise on each plate and swirled it into a circle to cover the bottom portion of the plate.  Then I came behind him and placed a square of cake in the center of each pool of custard.  In the mean time, we had the caramel sauce warming in hot water in my crock pot.  Remember how there isn't a stove in this "kitchen".  Ugh.  Cold caramel is a thick mess and I needed warm caramel I could drizzle!  I put the caramel in a large squeeze bottle and drizzled about 1/2-3/4 TB of caramel sauce over each cake.

We covered every surface we could find until we had 150 plates made!  It took us about 2 hours to plate everything, from the time we arrived at the event place until the time we finished.  Phew! 

Yummy-ness as far as the eye can see!

The servers at the event brought the cakes out at dessert time and placed them on a table.  My hubby and I were able to sit down and enjoy the meal!  Yeah for sitting!  Note to self - if you EVER do this again, do NOT wear high heeled shoes!  What was I thinking?  Clearly I had lost my mind.  I was on a tile floor in heels?  That is plain crazy.  I most certainly will not do that again!  I am not sure if my feet will forgive me.

I have to tell you honestly that Texas Sheet Cake is scrumptious all by itself.  It simply does not need anything to go with it.  However, if you have a need to make it extra pretty for an event or something, I think the creme anglaise/salted caramel combination is a winner.  You get the creaminess and vanilla of the custard and the salty-sweetness of the caramel mixed with the chocolatey-pecan of the cake.  Wow, the combination was a hit!  People who claimed to "not like dessert" devoured it and asked for more!  Personally, I don't understand people who don't like dessert, but I was pleased to have created something they enjoyed!

Make this for some friends.  I promise you, they will love it!


  1. Sharron, the cake was divine!! We loved it at the event and it was so tasty and also well presented. We brought some home and enjoyed it the next day too - delish! Thanks so much.


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