Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Fudge Frosting

It's funny how sometimes all we crave is something simple.  There are times when all I want is a simple chocolate chip cookie, rather than a delicate macaron, or a simple brownie with vanilla ice cream, instead of a more elaborate scoop of gelato.  This cake came about as a result of such a feeling.  My lovely sister, whose advice and opinions I always take into account when it comes to baking, had been requesting a simple, no fuss chocolate sheet cake with chocolate frosting for the longest time.  As much as I like simple recipes like a sheet cake, both in making them and in consuming them, I just felt that a sheet cake with swirls of frosting was a bit too simple.  It just didn't have the wow factor that can come with a Bundt cake, or the intense anticipation that comes with pulling a tray of fresh cookies from the oven.  While certainly delicious, a sheet cake just seemed a bit bland.  I mean, it's literally a massive sheet of cake, and I couldn't see past that.  That, in combination with the fact that I just happened to keep coming across much more interesting recipes (in my opinion, anyway), kept this chocolate sheet cake on the back burner.  

I kept delaying this chocolate sheet cake in favor of making S'mores Ice Cream Sandwiches, Lemon-Raspberry Cupcakes, and my new favorite recipe for Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. I kept pushing it back and back until this past weekend when I suddenly realized that I couldn't push it back anymore.  This past weekend was my sister's last weekend at home before we would make the six hour drive to Hanover to drop her off at Dartmouth.  It basically came down to making this chocolate sheet cake now, or having to wait another three months to make it when she comes home for Thanksgiving.  It was a now or never type situation, so I chose to give in and bake up a deliciously simple chocolate sheet cake.  I'll admit that I went about the task in a slightly apathetic mood, because a chocolate sheet cake isn't exactly my first choice when I want chocolate.  Being the fiend that I am, when I get a craving for chocolate, there needs to be as much chocolate as possible, and the cake, or cookies, or whatever I'm feasting on needs to be rich, decadent, and slightly overwhelming.  While this chocolate sheet cake is certainly none of those things, I was surprised with how much I actually enjoyed the sheet cake in the end.  It was somehow, perfectly satisfying, and more. 

As much as I may pride myself on being a simple kind of gal who enjoys anything that requires little fuss, I have to admit that my sister definitely has me beat.  You'll never see me without makeup on, even if it's just concealer and mascara, my dressed-down/stay at home clothes are always composed, and while I may love a good yogurt cake, I'd have a very hard time saying no to a towering chocolate layer cake that took several hours to assemble.  My sister, on the other hand, is perfectly alright with slightly imperfect wash-and-go hair on most days, going on five day camping trips, and with finding the ultimate versions of her favorite, quintessential recipes. It's no surprise that chocolate-glazed doughnuts, classic New York-style cheesecake, and basic panna cotta are among some of her favorite desserts. It's also become no surprise to me that she ended up choosing Dartmouth as her school.  Initially, I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of living so far away from a major city, and choosing to spend four years in such a rural environment seemed so incredibly foreign to me.  I purposely chose to attend Columbia due to my obsession with New York City, so when my sister announced her big decision I felt a strange mix of confusion and shock.  I couldn't help but think that she was crazy for leaving New York City so far behind, but there was no changing her mind.  I just accepted her decision, and watched as she stocked up on extra blankets and wool socks, and researched winter parkas. 

It wasn't until this past Tuesday when my parents and I helped her move into school that things began to make a little more sense.  She was all too excited to for the six hour drive up to school and to drive over the little bridge that leads into campus and to show us around the whopping ten blocks or so that make up Main Street.  While it couldn't compare to Broadway, I also couldn't help but think that this Main Street was actually full of character, and frankly, perfectly adorable.  My sister was thrilled when she walked into her dorm room and saw that she would have a view of the mountains right from her bed.  Even though the day was cold, rainy, and gray, I saw that the fog-covered mountains really did look beautiful.  By the time we had to leave to start the long drive back home, I realized that my sister was right, and that Dartmouth was the perfect school for her.  Sure, it's far from home and what I would call "real civilization", and I'll call her out if she ever pretends that she isn't going to at some point get a serious craving for a burger and fries from Shake Shack, but in the end, I know she made the right choice.  She was perfectly happy in her new home.  

This chocolate sheet cake with fudge frosting is a perfect match for my sister, and I'm so glad I finally got around to making it.  It takes only a few minutes to prepare, and is just so comforting.  It needs no gimmicks, aside from a few mandatory colorful sprinkles resting on top of generous swirls of frosting.  This sheet cake recipe is actually the Pioneer Woman's Texas Sheet Cake, but without the pecan frosting.  My sister specifically requested a fudge frosting, and I'm glad she did, because that's the one frosting I can simply never get enough of.  This cake is definitely Texas-sized, and is the perfect dessert to bring along to a party, as you can easily feed a crowd with it. The sheet cake was a huge success with my sister and with everyone else who tried it, and it will definitely become a new addition to my list of favorite recipes.  It's not pretentious, it's not overwhelming, and it's not overly indulgent.  It's simple in every way possible, and that's what makes it special.  Enjoy! 

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Fudge Frosting
frosting recipe adapted from Epicurious
sheet cake recipe from The Pioneer Woman


For the Fudge Frosting

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup half and half
3 teaspoons instant coffee powder
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Chocolate Sheet Cake

2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water


Begin by preparing the fudge frosting.  Combine the butter, granulated sugar, half and half, and instant coffee powder in a saucepan, and set it over medium heat, stirring until the sugar and coffee powder dissolve and the mixture comes to a simmer.  Remove the mixture from the heat, and add the semisweet chocolate, whisking until smooth.  Whisk in the vanilla extract, and then pour the mixture into a large bowl.  Sift in the powdered sugar and cinnamon, and whisk to combine.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic onto the surface of the frosting (this will help to prevent a skin from forming).  Chill the frosting in the refrigerator until it becomes firm enough to spread, about 1 1/2 hours.

While the frosting chills in the fridge, prepare the cake.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and lightly spray an 18x13x2 inch jelly roll pan (I used a half-sheet pan) with nonstick spray.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.  In another small bowl, mix together the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla extract, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the cocoa powder, whisking together to combine.  Once the butter has melted completely, add the boiling water.  Allow the mixture to bubble for just a moment, then turn off the heat.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture, and briefly stir to cool off the chocolate. Pour in the egg mixture, and stir until smooth.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared sheet pan and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.  

Once the cake has cooled completely, remove the frosting from the fridge and whisk until smooth. Using an offset spatula, frost the top of the sheet cake with frosting, and then decorate with sprinkles. Cut the cake into squares, serve, and enjoy!

Makes 1-18x13 sheet cake, or about 24 servings


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