Written by Katherine Sasser.
Photos by Elizabeth McLaurin.
My name is Katherine Sasser, and I have been a home cook for twenty years. I learned everything I know from what I call the holy trinity of recipe writers: Martha Stewart, Rebecca Rather, and, of course, Ina Garten. In fact, at the time of this writing, I am 42 weeks into a year-long project called Ina In A Year where I am cooking through all 963 of Ina Garten’s recipes in one year.
I own a small business in Fort Worth called Hurley House. We specialize in hospitality and offer a selection of homemade baked goods, take-away meals, and host private events in our space. I also run a hospitality blog where I share recipes and ideas on how to create space for others as well as provide a glimpse into my everyday life.
Today I am so happy to bring you one of my family’s favorite recipes.
I firmly believe that every home cook, whether novice or seasoned professional, needs a recipe for the kind of birthday cake that comes together without much notice, amply feeds a crowd, and delights every guest regardless of age. My Chocolate Birthday Sheet Cake fits the bill perfectly.
All of the baked goods at Hurley House originated in my home kitchen which means that all four of my children know from experience that I can make a beautiful and delicious layer cake in a host of different flavors.
So, when it comes time for their birthday, and I ask the question, “What kind of cake would you like?” I am always hoping they choose one of the layer cakes Hurley House is known for. I know they aren’t trying to vex me with their choice, but nine times out of ten, they request the Chocolate Birthday Sheet Cake.
Let me be clear. It’s not that I don’t like this cake. I, in fact, love this cake. But I find it incredibly worthy of a good eye roll that the children of a bakery owner choose the cake that is the simplest to execute and the least glamorous. Our rules of the house dictate that the birthday girl or boy gets to decide everything, including the cake, and so I oblige. Happily.
Over time, I have decorated this sheet cake with everything ranging from M&M’s in the form of the birthday girl’s initials, My Little Pony figurines, tiny plastic army men, and yellow toy bulldozers with mountains of crushed up Oreo crumbs for dirt. This cake can handle any theme your kids throw your way.
There are three key things that make Chocolate Birthday Sheet Cake so desirable.
First, the cake part itself is moist and dark. The batter is made with butter and oil, so it has the flavor of butter, but the quality of oil-based cakes that make them the epitome of tender without a hint of dryness.
Second, and honestly a huge selling point when life is busy, this cake does not require any of the ingredients to be at room temperature. You can decide to make this cake and dive right in without delay. It bakes directly in a sheet tray, which is also how it is served, thus taking away any nervousness about messing with cake layers or wondering if the pan will release the cake when it’s time to frost it.
And speaking of frosting, the third key is that this cake is glazed rather than frosted. The glaze is mixed up on the stove while the cake bakes, and then it is gently smeared on top of the hot cake when it comes out of the oven. It oozes into every crack and crevice, and the entire situation cools into one glossy-topped, chocolate-lover’s delight. It really is that good.
As an added bonus, it is almost impossible to eat this cake without a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The two flavors and textures play perfectly together, and the vanilla cream with the chocolate glazed cake is a to-die-for combination.
Celebrations require cake, and I hope you give this one a try! As always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, or contact me directly. I love to be a resource to fellow home cooks!
CHOCOLATE BIRTHDAY SHEET CAKE
for the cake…
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup water
1/4 pound (4 oz, or 1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
for the glaze…
1/4 pound (4 ounces, or 1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
sprinkles for decorating (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 11 X 17 X 2-inch sheet tray, typically referred to as a half-sheet tray. (You can also bake this in a 9 X 13-inch pan, but it will require a longer bake time in the oven.)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and Kosher salt with a whisk until all the ingredients are melded together, and there are no streaks of white or black left.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the water, unsalted butter, and vegetable oil until the butter melts. Stir occasionally. You are not trying to bring it to a simmer but rather to heat it just until the butter melts.
Once the butter is melted, pour the hot butter mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Combine well with a whisk.
Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Stir until well-combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the top of the cake.
Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
While the cake bakes, prepare the glaze.
In a small saucepan (you can use the same one in which you melted the butter) over medium heat, combine all the glaze ingredients. It will be very thick until the butter begins to melt. As it warms up, gently stir, patiently incorporating all the ingredients together. To remove any lumps from the powdered sugar, use a whisk at the end and beat it for a few seconds until smooth. Once the glaze is mixed, you can remove it from the heat.
When the cake comes out of the oven, gently pour the glaze over the hot cake. If your glaze has cooled and firmed up, don’t worry. The heat from the cake will help soften it. Use an offset spatula to evenly spread the glaze over the entire cake. If you are using sprinkles, add them now.
Allow the cake to fully cool to room temperature before serving. Cut into squares and enjoy with ice cream and candles!