Not long ago, this magazine’s “estimable advice columnist,” a.k.a. the Texanist, answered a question regarding the proper ingredients for a Texas sheet cake. Needless to say, the subject inspired a sheet-load of letters from passionate readers, all eager to share their own tips: “Use extra-dark cocoa powder!” “Don’t use an electric mixer!” Texans clearly have a proprietary interest in the enormous rectangle of thin, flat chocolate cake slathered in deliciously sugary, pecan-studded chocolate icing. But what exactly makes it a “Texas” sheet cake? Some say it’s simply because the cake is huge. Others maintain it’s because it’s flamboyantly rich. Still others point to the addition of Texas-y ingredients like buttermilk and pecans, or to the fact that the recipe is similar to one submitted to the Dallas Morning News in 1957 that subsequently swept the country. I like the explanation offered by the aforementioned, ever-genteel Texanist, who proudly declares it “as big as Texas and twice as oily.” That seems a fitting description of this “oleo”-and-shortening-infused version, a recipe from my maternal grandmother’s collection in the handwriting of my paternal grandmother. That makes it plenty Texan to me.
In a mixing bowl combine 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Whisk until smooth and set aside.
In another mixing bowl combine then sift 2 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
Bring to boil in saucepan 1 stick unsalted butter, 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, 6 tablespoons cocoa, and 1 cup water.
Pour hot mixture over flour mixture and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Add buttermilk mixture and stir to thoroughly incorporate.
Lone Star cooks were smart to get their state’s name on something that tastes so good.
—Ann Burger, The Charleston Post and Courier, January 28, 2001
Pour batter in buttered and floured half-sheet-cake pan (about 15 x 10) and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until edges of cake pull away from the pan and the cake springs back when you touch it.
About 10 minutes before the cake is done, bring to a boil 1 stick unsalted butter, 6 tablespoons buttermilk, and 6 tablespoons cocoa. Quickly remove from heat (it will not be pretty) and add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 pound powdered sugar; beat with an electric mixer till smooth. Stir in 1 cup pecan pieces.
Spread icing over hot cake (this is important). Allow to cool, then cut into squares and serve.