The first time you eat a piece of Texas sheet cake, chances are you’ll say to yourself, “This cake tastes familiar. Where have I run into it before?”
It’s a reasonable reaction because Texas sheet cake is very closely related to German Sweet Chocolate Cake, so close that with your eyes closed, it could be a bit of a push to tell the difference. Both are chocolate cakes covered with a sugary coconut-pecan frosting. One is baked in layers, and the other in a single pan, but you don’t know that until you open your eyes. The connection, say culinary historians, is that German Sweet Chocolate Cake was what inspired Texan cooks to create their famous sheet cake.
The origin of Texas sheet cake is unclear; the story behind German Sweet Chocolate Cake is easier to explain. In 1957 a Dallas newspaper printed a recipe it received from a reader called “German’s Chocolate Cake.” The cake was made with German’s Sweet Chocolate, a sweet, dark baking chocolate developed in 1852 by Sam German, a worker at the Baker chocolate factory in Massachusetts.
In no time, nearly everyone in Dallas was baking German Sweet Chocolate Cake and the recipe was passed along to the rest of the country. Both the German Sweet Chocolate Cake and Texas sheet cake recipes call for two of Texans’ favorite ingredients: buttermilk and pecans. The big difference is that the sheet cake is infinitely easier to put together. Instead of melting chocolate, creaming butter, and beating egg whites, all of which are involved in making German Sweet Chocolate Cake, everything for Texas sheet cake is stirred together in one large bowl. The frosting recipe for both cakes is similar. The German Sweet Chocolate Cake is a stacked 3-layer structure filled with frosting, which takes a little more doing.
Given our druthers, we go for the sheet cake. It’s a big old-fashioned cake, easy to transport and a real crowd pleaser.
—Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.