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Texas sheet cake

There’s been quite a debate in our house about what to call the cake pictured above. My husband calls it “sheath cake”, I call it “sheet cake”. Josh says it’s been called sheath cake in his family for decades; I say maybe so, but it doesn’t make any sense — what is the cake sheathing? Is the cake itself a sheath? Well no, because it’s a chocolate cake! It’s baked in a 13 x 9 inch pan, therefore it’s a sheet cake.

(I’m a bit obsessed with etymology — can you tell?)

For simplicity’s sake and because it’s my blog, I’m going to call it Texas sheet cake. It’s a rich, dense, moist chocolate cake with a consistency closer to a brownie than a layer cake. The cinnamon is what really sets it apart from other chocolate cakes, adding a hint of warmth and complexity. As much as I love this dessert, I think the tooth-rottingly sweet frosting almost ruins it, but Josh insists this is exactly how his mother and grandmother made it, and who am I to argue with Texas tradition?

Texas Sheet Cake

2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease and flour a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda and cinnamon, and set aside. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients, stirring until smooth. The batter will be on the thin side.

Pour into prepared pan and bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the frosting:

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk the milk and cocoa in a heavy saucepan. Add the butter and, over medium heat, stir until the butter melts. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until smooth.

Remove cake from oven and immediately spread the frosting on the hot cake. Let cake cool until frosting hardens.

P.S. If anyone can tell me the origin of the name “sheath cake”, please let me know.

9 Comments

  1. Budget Babe wrote:

    i’m a word nazi, too, but whatever you want to call this cake, it looks like heaven to me!

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Cat wrote:

    I don’t get the “sheath” cake thing, but judging by searches it’s pretty common. No one seems to give an etymology or decent explanation for “sheath.”

    “Sheet” makes perfect sense to me.

    Perhaps the only way to settle it is the way my roommate from New Orleans and I settled our dispute over pralines. We agreed to call all pralines made in Louisiana “prah-lines,” all pralines made in South Carolina “pray-lines,” and inferior pralines made elsewhere by whichever name we preferred. :)

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  3. Cat wrote:

    Proposed explanations:
    Dallas News.
    Homesick Texan.
    Less plausible story by Lex Jenkins.
    Blame Grandma, take 2.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  4. mirascod wrote:

    It’s a sheet cake, Texas pronunciations be damned! It looks pretty tasty. Southern women (and Texas is the South for better or worse) can bake. My teeth hurt just looking at the frosting.

    Saturday, December 22, 2007 at 8:05 pm | Permalink
  5. Cat wrote:

    All due respect, Texas ain’t in the South. It’s a different country. ;)

    Sunday, December 30, 2007 at 2:15 am | Permalink
  6. Sly wrote:

    According to a very old cookbook I found (Southern Heritage series) the cake was called “Sheath” cake because of the way the poured-on frosting enrobed (coated) the cake. Since then, most people have assumed that it was a mispronunciation of “sheet” — but a sheet cake is any cake cooked in a sheet pan, while “Texas Sheath Cake” usually refers to a specific recipe. the only difference if your recipe and the old one that I found is that they use shortening instead of oil, and they boil the butter/shortening/cocoa mixture before adding it to the dry ingredients. they also add 1 cup of chopped salted peanuts and an optional cup of flaked coconut to the frosting after the sugar is mixed in, which probably made the original taste less sweet.

    Monday, April 14, 2008 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  7. I did a brief survey of web sites that spoke of (or had recipes for) the Texas sheet cake, and I saw two proposed reasons why it could be called a sheath cake. One claimed it was named after the sheath pan (a 13x9x2 inch pan with lid), and the other, proposed by OED contributor Barry Popik, is that perhaps ‘sheet’ sounded too close to something rude, and ‘sheath’ was a more polite alternative.

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  8. allison from Dallas wrote:

    either way, its our family favorite-the paper i wrote the recipe down on is dog eared, yellow and tattered, and now LOST (hence i looked up SHEATH CAKE on google)but it says “Texas Sheath Cake” on the top in my 9 year old handwriting.

    no canola oil though in my recipe and you cook the chocolate in both stages–the cocoa is NEVER in the dry ingrediants–thats down right BLASPHEMOUS!

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  9. ZBordes wrote:

    You probably have had several responses by now to your request to know if anyone knows where the term “Sheath Cake” originated or comes from. Check out this website for the “history of Texas Sheath Cake” http://foodnearsnellville.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/a-brief-history-and-survey-of-the-texas-sheet-cake/. –ZB

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. wasabigelatine › Cool as a cucumber on Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    [...] may be misleading; if your hands are as big as my husband’s, it might end up tasting like Texas sheet cake [...]

  2. [...] through family and otherwise can’t tell you where it came from. The blogger Wasabigelatine presents the cake, once again handed down through the generations, a family recipe. The Blogger Pioneer Woman [...]

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