Erin Pack-Jordan coaches Debate and teaches Mythology in SLC. She previously worked at the Texas State Historical Association. When not researching delicious funeral desserts, she enjoys baseball, live music, and attempting to visit all 50 states. Catch her on Twitter @epackj
“In Texas, we’re fond of a particular type of chocolate sheet cake that’s almost as common at church gatherings as communion elements.” The Good Funeral Guide
The Sunday after I finished 2nd grade, my beloved grandmother died quite suddenly. She loved to surprise people in the small central Texas town where we lived. In a way, her death felt like a cruel joke, a surprise nobody wanted to experience. After the funeral, we all gathered for a traditional Southern meal.
And of course, there was Texas Sheet Cake.
Our neighbors and friends brought other food as well. But in hazy childhood memories, Texas Sheet Cake sticks out most vividly amongst everything else on that buffet table. My grandmother was not a native Texan, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the post-funeral food.
Throughout the years, Texas Sheet Cake has become a familiar sight at many Texan funeral spreads. Although the origins of this dish are a bit murky, it is ubiquitous with mourning in Texas and other parts of the Southern United States.
Many variations exist, including vegan sheet cake, white sheet cake, and gluten-free sheet cake. There’s even a Christmas sheet cake featuring crushed peppermints in the frosting. Some folks even call it Church Lady Cake because of its familiarity at community potlucks. Talk about being well traveled. In most of its various incarnations, Texas Sheet Cake involves tons of chocolate, complete with a buttery aftertaste and delicious, pecan-laced frosting.
According to The Food Timeline, historians don’t quite know when the first recipe for Texas Sheet Cake appeared or even where it originates from; it might not even be a native Texan. Could it be the cake’s large size, use of pecans, or connection with Lady Bird Johnson? Possibly. Nobody really knows. Although the early connection is murky, Texas’ relation to this treat is solid. As a Dallas Morning News headline so aptly put it, “Cake this wonderful has to be from Texas, right?”
Why is Texas Sheet Cake so popular at funerals? Even bad bakers can throw a decent sheet cake together in record time. Besides, Texas Sheet Cake just feels right. The ingredients culminate like a gentle patio breeze. You feel satisfied. Everything feels, at least temporarily, okay. It feels like home.
I can’t think of a better dessert for mourning.
Here’s a my favorite version of Texas Sheet Cake, courtesy of Texas Table Top’s Kelly Bogard:
1 cup salted butter
1 cup water
1/3 cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat butter, water and cocoa until butter is melted.
Combine dry ingredients. Set aside.
Mix together eggs, sour cream and vanilla.
Slowly add dry ingredients and cocoa mixture to the wet ingredients. Continue mixing until all lumps are gone.
Pour into a jelly roll or cookie pan.
Bake for 20 minutes.
1/2 cup salted butter
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
While your cake is baking, use the same sauce pan as you did earlier to heat the butter, milk, cocoa and vanilla for the frosting. Once melted, slowly stir in the powdered sugar and continue stirring until all of the lumps are gone. Then stir in the pecans. Let the cake set out for 5 minutes. Then pour over the frosting, spreading it to cover the entire cake. Serve warm.
Photo credit: Nicole Cook, from Daily Dish Recipes