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Your New Go-To Chocolate Sheet Cake + Giveaway

by Kristina Gill

Sheet cakes remind me of those back-to-school days of summer when I was in elementary school, which seemed to creep closer and closer to the beginning of August each year I got older, shortening my summer break. The beginning of the school year, however, meant birthdays and birthdays meant cake — whether it came from the Kroger deli or someone’s mother made it. The cakes of my childhood were always piled high with frosting. I only ate the the frosting if it was dotted with sprinkles — or jimmies, as we called them — otherwise I scraped it off. The chocolate jimmies were the best.

This week’s recipe comes from baker Jessie Sheehan’s second book, . It’s for Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting, and I consider it the adult version of those childhood cakes I remember. It’s also the quintessential cake to ring in the new school year if you have kids — make it and become the baker whose cake everyone looks forward to! —

Image Above: Vintage interior art, permission granted to Chronicle Books by Kraft Heinz Foods Company

Why Jessie loves this recipe:  The Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting pays (sweet) tribute to the beloved cake-mix cakes of my childhood. Be it Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker, when I was little, my favorite cake always came from a box. I loved its springy crumb, its dark brown color (yes, cake isn’t — I mean wasn’t — CAKE, unless it is/was chocolate), its sweet, slightly chemically-induced taste, and if the vanilla frosting atop it came from a can, well then all was right in my 10-year-old world. This cake is my from-scratch version of all that, wherein the chocolate flavor comes from cocoa and espresso powders, and the rich, tender crumb comes from oil and egg yolks; funky chemicals need not apply. And with the blanket of billowy marshmallow-like frosting atop it, I like to think I’ve done Betty (and Duncan), and my 10-year-old self, proud.

For a chance to win a copy of The Vintage Baker, respond in the comments section below by September 12, 5PM EST to the following question: What food related event do you cherish most from your childhood? Was it the county fair (pie!)? Was it participating in a cake walk? Was it birthday parties? Summer vacation road trips? Let us know! We will announce the winner in the comments section, so be sure to check back!

About Jessie: Jessie Sheehan is a baker, food writer and recipe developer. She is the author of and the co-author of . She has contributed recipes/and or written for epicurious, Food52, Fine Cooking, TASTE, Little Sous, and Main Street Magazine, among others. She likes layer cakes with lots of frosting and cookies that are thick and chewy, and has a soft spot for chocolate pudding. She lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn with her husband and two boys, not far from her beloved Baked, the bakery where she got her start. She blogs at  and can be found on Instagram at . You can find her recipe for the “Old School” chocolate wafer icebox cake in our archives here.

Image above: Cover. All photography by .

Image above: Jessie Sheehan

Image above: Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting

Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting

Serves 16

Many of my booklets feature devil’s food cake with sea foam frosting. Popularity aside, I’d have jumped at the chance to make anything topped with sea foam frosting, as the name alone is so enticing. I took the Rich Devil’s Food Cake recipe from 11 Famous Recipes—Hershey’s Cocoa (1959) and turned it into a one-bowl chocolate cake—my favorite and super-easy to make. I used oil instead of shortening for moistness and added espresso powder to amp up the chocolate flavor. A generous sprinkling of sanding sugar in seaside colors enhances the beachy vibe.

Ingredients

  • Devil’s Food Cake
  • 1¾ cups [245 g] all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup [60 g] Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup [200 g] packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup [200 g] granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1¾ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup [120 ml] vegetable oil
  • 1 cup [240 ml] buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup [240 ml] boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp espresso powder
  • Sea Foam Frosting
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup 6 Tbsp [280 g] packed light brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp light corn syrup
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • Dash of table salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Blue and green sanding sugar for decorating

Preparation

1

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C]. Grease a 13-by-9- by-2-in [33-by-23-by-5-cm] pan with nonstick cooking spray or softened butter, line with parchment paper, and grease again.

Add the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on low speed until well combined.

In a small bowl, add the egg, egg yolks, vanilla, oil, and buttermilk and whisk until combined. With the mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Beat until incorporated, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and espresso powder and add to the batter in the mixer bowl. Mix again on medium speed for 30 seconds, until smooth. The batter will be quite thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 28 minutes, rotating at the halfway point. The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a moist crumb or two. Let cool completely in the pan. The cake can be made 1 day ahead and kept tightly wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter.

2

To make the frosting:

Place a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water over medium high heat. Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Add the egg whites, brown sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, salt, and 5 tablespoons [75 ml] water. Using an electric hand mixer, beat the egg white mixture on high speed until stiff and glossy, about 7 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan of hot water, add the vanilla, and continue beating for another 2 minutes.

Generously frost the cake and sprinkle the top with sanding sugar. The frosted cake is best served within a few hours. The frosting dries and loses its “foamy” fluffiness pretty quickly but the cake can be kept, lightly covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Reprinted from The Vintage Baker by Jessie Sheehan with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018

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Comments

  • My mom would try to surprise us with visits from our grammie from out of town, but I always knew from the smell of cinnamon rolls baking that grammie would be waiting for me by the time I got home from school. :)

  • I used to spend weekends in the summer with my grandmother. She would bake sandwich cookies filled with her homemade raspberry jam that were out of this world – such a happy memory!!!

  • Thanksgiving is my favorite food event. Every year my mom would cook all our favorite recipes, including Hawaiian Pie. None of us like pumpkin so our tradition was Hawaiian Pie. Every time I eat it I think of my family around the table sharing laughs, inappropriate conversation and gratitude.

  • One of my favorite childhood food memories – every time my out-of-state aunt and her family would visit us at our grandparents’ house, we’d make egg foo young and shrimp dumplings. We would rarely eat Chinese food outside of these visits – they were always so special and I loved working on the assembly line wrapping dumplings with my family.

  • My sister & I used to spend the summer in Iowa as kids with our grandparents. We would make little frozen fruit cocktails and creme de menthe ice cream in small dixie cups with my grandma. It was so much fun and I loved running to the big freezer in the mudroom to grab a treat.

  • Christmas Eve – my parents had a restaurant when I was growing up and on Christmas Eve they would close a few hours early and family friends would come have a huge meal with us at the restaurant. The food was extra-good because they could prepare all our home-cooked favourites in abundance using the high heat commercial equipment. When we finished, everyone pitched in to clean-up (it was a snap with the big dishwashing unit) and the kids could all help themselves to diner-style Jello, ice cream or cream pie for dessert.

  • My mom used to make from scratch a red velvet cake or an angle food cake with boiled white frosting for my birthday. I am now ready to teach my grand daughter the joys of home made baking.

  • My Great Aunt Babe would make homemade egg noodles that she boiled in chicken stock all day — so salty and delicious! Then she’d make angel food cake with the leftover egg whites — soooo good. She only made it for the annual summer family reunion, so I literally counted down the days every year. It was the absolute best.

  • Truly the only food event or memory I have that involved my mom cooking from scratch was her occasional boxed devils food cake with homemade seven minute frosting. Partly because it’s so amazing, but also because egg whites and sugar were cheap compared to frosting from a can, and sometimes even free from the food pantry. I haven’t had one in probably 2 decades. It’s time I share this recipe with my 2 year old. Thank you.

  • I loved to bake anything with my Mom, but I especially loved making Peanut Butter Criss-Cross Cookies! So fun to make hatch marks with the tines of a dinner fork!!

  • My birthday when I was little. My Mom would make a cake and my friends would come. We would play in the sand box, have a rousing game of musical chairs, play pin the tail on the donkey and finish the day with a cake made from love. My Mom and my brothers would all pitch in. These memories are especially beautiful because my Mom and two of my brothers are no longer alive. But when I think of the memory, I can capture their spirits and feel the profound love they had for me! Thanks for the chance!!

  • My favorite food centered memory is a little weird. My dad is German and when my German grandma would come to visit it was always a treat. She didn’t speak much English, but she always gave us three things: katzenzungen, chocolate that supposedly shaped like cat tongues, haribo gummy bears, and sauerkraut.

    It’s a weird mix, but she knew it was what she liked and it’s how she said, “I love you.” And with hugs.

  • In grade school, on ‘meet the teacher’ night, mothers were asked to bring their best cake to the cafeteria where, at the end of the evening , slices of the cakes were sold to raise money for the PTA. We were oh, so proud if our mother’s beautiful cakes sold out quickly and pitied the students whose mothers brought unimaginative store-bought cakes which were often left untouched at the end of the night.

  • My birthday (and my siblings’s birthdays). We could pick out our meal for my mom to make and a cake for my dad to make. Every year I asked my dad to make me Boston Cream Pie. One year I got it into my head that I loved flounder. I’m not even sure I knew what it was. My mom made it for me, carefully prepared with love. Turns out that I didn’t like it at all that birthday, but ever since, I always feel warm when I see flounder at the grocery store or on a menu. Food is love.

  • I loved the picnic lunches we always took the lake when we were water skiing. Sometimes it was hot dogs we roasted on a stick, hamburgers cooked over a fire, or simple sandwiches with crunchy potato chips. My favorite was cold fried chicken and homemade potato salad!

  • My favorite food memory from my childhood is when my grandma taught me to make her amazing yellow butter chocolate chip cake. My favorite dessert ever.

  • Hi, I love sea foam icing! My favorite memory of food, and childhood, was going to my grandparents, every Sunday, for grandma’s home cooked dinner… Their house wasn’t very big; and it would by my family, aunts and uncles, and cousins…
    Not only the tempting aromas of her cooking, but the love there.
    Thanks, Cindi

  • It’s coming back from school to the smell of fresh baked cookies and my mom, grandma and aunts sitting down drinking mint flavored tea. That smell and that scene means that there is a delicious meal ahead and lots of sweet treats.

  • I remember my mom baking pink and white candy cake cookies for our school
    Christmas party – they were beautiful and I was proud to bring them to school.

  • Growing up in India meant desserts are a way of life, you have something sweet with every meal. There is one kind of dessert which was available only during Christmas – Plum cake or Fruit cake. I remember this one particular bakery from where my mumma would get this cake. They would soak the fruit and nuts in rum for days before using it to bake the cake. So Christmas was not only about Santa or gifts, but about the decadent plum cake.
    I looked up wiki about the origin of this cake and here’s what it said – Settlers in British colonies brought the dried fruit variety of cake with them, so that for example, in India it was served around the time of the Christmas holiday season and in the American colonies, where it became associated with elections, one version came to be called “election cake”.

  • We used to spend part of our summers with our Great Grandparents in rural Colorado. Grandma had the most amazing garden, and collecting the daily harvest was part of the morning ritual. It was my amazing luck that our visit fell during the peak of strawberry season. Each day we’d hull and slice strawberries by the gallon, some of which would later be served over the yellow sheet cake (from a box of course!) that was resting in the kitchen under one of grandma’s hand-embroidered flour sack dish towels. That is still how I define strawberry shortcake, with a dollop of whipped cream of course, and nothing says summer to me than that first sweet strawberry still warm from the sun.

  • Weekend dinners are the food related events I cherish from childhood and I still recreate those menus. Sunday favorites were fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and creamy slaw, roast pork with applesauce and roasted potatoes, and stewed chicken on biscuits. Every Saturday we had ground beef tacos topped with a dollop of mayo along with the hot sauce. A midwestern flourish to a food item we learned living as transplants to Southern California from Minnesota. We often finished our meals with dessert and my favorites were lemon meringue pie, German chocolate cake, and banana pudding.

  • My mom and I were always the “pie girls” for family gatherings growing up. Our pie crust recipe was passed down from my Swedish grandmother and is still my favorite crust of all time. I have very fond memories of standing on the kitchen step stool at the counter helping make the pie fillings while my mom rolled out crust after crust. We would usually make 7-10 pies per gathering!

  • Years ago my home town hosted a yearly food festival which featured chefs from different parts of the country. You’d pay a small fee to attend each event. The proceeds went to helping restore some of our older buildings. It was great fun trying all the wonderful dishes not often found here.

  • Growing up with a mother whose motto was “if it takes more than thirty minutes, it’s gourmet”, meant that there was not a lot of baking in our house. The weekly treat that this Catholic child loved was English muffin pizzas on Fridays. Thomas’ muffins, Ragu and mozzarella cheese…..a piece of heaven for this non-fish eater.

  • When I was a girl I drew a picture of a girl in a pretty dress and left it on my mom’s pillow. I don’t remember if she told me she liked it but I do remember that she recreated the design in frosting on my birthday cake that year ❤️

  • Family Christmas baking with Mum 💕 starting with the Christmas cake in October with lots of fruit and brandy top ups, Christmas mince tarts, Christmas pudding and trifle #motherslove #foreverbakingmemories

  • I was in charge of taking out and cleaning the China for Thanksgiving every year. We had a simple white design with a small rose pattern and the green beans and cranberry sauce always looked so vibrant on the plate. While the China was lovely, my actual favorite item was the Turkey themed melamine platter because… it had the turkey obviously!

  • Every Independence Day my mom would make a flat sheet cherry/blueberry pie topped with pretzels and always made it look like an American Flag!

  • For me, there are a couple events with strong food memories. One, chicken or turkey roasting but especially the making of stock on the stove. It takes me back to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. That was The Smell of her house in Fall. The other is classic one bowl or box cake mixes with berries in Summer. My sister and I both have birthdays around 4th of July. So for me Summer parties included outdoor picnics, vacations, family/friends and lots of cake, frosting and berries.

  • I am from Murfreesboro, TN, but I live in Oregon now. I don’t have an accent nor do I strongly identify being “Southern bred,” but every once in awhile I crack up at the memory of myself baking chocolate mayonnaise cake from a handwritten 3 x 5 index card. It was so good!

  • My favorite food related memory that I cherish the most is Friday night pizza family dinners. We made pizza most of the time on pre-made crusts from the local Italian grocer, it was great. On rare occasions my parents would spring for delivery or we would eat at a local pizza pub! This helped shape my love for pizza and I now make my own dough, using a sourdough starter. I’ve taught my kids the process and they both have embraced my passion. We very rarely order pizza out, maybe a handful of times in a year, even though we eat it at least once a week! One thing I love about pizza is that we could eat it everyday of the week and never have the same thing, a dough skin is like a blank canvas…the possibilities are endless!

  • My very favorite food-related memory was making sugar cookies every year with my grandma. She always saved greeting card boxes to put them in and once we mailed them to my parents in secret. I was SO excited when they package arrived. My parents acted surprised, but I really don’t know if they were or not. I still make them myself at Christmas and other holidays. I think I’m the only one of my cousins that does.

  • Thanksgiving was always my favourite time of year. The end of the heat, the changing colours of the leaves, the migration of the Canadian geese, the gathering of the harvest (I grew up on a farm in the middle of the Canadian prairies and watching the men work the fields until the crops were in was a truly spectacular sight) and then the feast at the end of it all. The long awaited for homemade pumpkin pie, using pumpkins straight from our garden and whipped cream from the local dairy farmer just down the road! My eyes were always bigger than my stomach, but nothing in the world beat those amazing flavours and textures of mum’s pumpkin pie!

  • Twice a year, during Cambodian and Chinese New Year days are when my family gathers to make all the dishes, dumplings, and desserts. We get together and prepare everything for the next day. It’s when I heard stories of my parents’ childhood and learned how to properly make family desserts and dishes. It is a this special bonding time for all of us to ask about our family history.

  • We had just moved to town. I was seven. I won the elementary school cake walk three times in a row. I was only allowed to keep two cakes since my dad read the room. Seven year old was stunned by the injustice.

  • Christmas night was always my favorite. My grandma would make antipasto, stuffed mushrooms, ravioli, and meatballs. I cherished it more than the presents!

  • My childhood was FULL of baking and cooking memories. I loved baking with my mom, making cookies, pancakes, carrot cake for my dad’s birthday (which he actually didn’t really like, but it was an easy toddler recipe.) I always got the wooden spoon from my grandma when she made rice krispie squares – with a generous glob still on the spoon. As I got older I started baking myself, helping with dinner (pizza night! taco night! burgers!) and getting a huuuuge crush on Jamie Oliver.
    All of these memories and recipes have given me a skill, love and appreciation for food that not many people might have. I still love baking and generally have pizza or tacos at least once a week still! Oh, and Jamie Oliver is still rocking it.

  • Growing up, my next door neighbor was a woman close to my grandmother’s age who had a huge strawberry and raspberry patch. I would go over on summer mornings and ask her if she needed “help” picking the ripe berries.

    “Of course!” she would say. And when we had picked enough, she would invite me in and serve me the berries with real cream in beautiful petite flowered china bowls.

    She made me feel so special.

    RIP Mrs Kelly, you are always in my heart.

  • Saturday evenings as a kid in the 70s. We’d watch the Love Boat and Gilligan’s island and get to eat all the junk food we wanted. For me it was always potato chips and homemade French onion dip, made by mom. I wasn’t a kid who liked candy. Those Saturday evenings were golden.

  • I love picnics from my childhood. We always used to make egg salad sandwiches, and I didn’t get them every day.

  • I loved baking food for the town’s annual fair. I participated throughout junior high and most of high school and won some sort of award nearly every year. I discovered my all-time favorite brownie recipe (which I still use today) and have a lot of fond memories of those years!

  • When we were younger, for birthdays we got to pick our favorite cake from a scrapbook of cake recipes my mom had gotten from others, or cut out from magazines. My favorite childhood memory was we always got to pick out an animal my mom would make out of marshmallows. One year I picked a dog, and the dog was too close to my birthday candles, so there was spontaneous combustion of the marshmallows. I always did enjoy these cakes…

  • Saturday morning – making fruit scones with my grandma and eating them hot from the oven with slabs of butter spread on the halves.

  • I think my favorite memories were at my grandparent’s house. My grandmother was an incredible cook and baker and we would go to her house often for dinner with my parents. There was always a pot of soup before every delicious dinner and always some sort of cake. A bundt, a dump cake, or some new recipe she found in the newspaper. My mother inherited her skills as well as my sister and this is why I love being in the kitchen so much!

  • Oh my, it has to be Thanksgiving because of the pies (apple & pumpkin). This was the only time of the year that my mother made pies, which meant the morning after turkey day, we had pie for breakfast! But just as important as the pie event was the leftover dough my mother rolled out, spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, which was baked to crispy goodness. Ah, the memories………
    Deb

  • Christmas Eve dinner with all the traditional Slovak food. More important to me than any other holiday. Lots of family history learned around the table.

  • For my birthday, my mom would make a from scratch chocolate triple layer cake with home made frosting, so good. Not too sweet, and so chocolate, no matter where we were this was the birthday cake…

  • My grandma’s Mexican fudge at Christmas! Eggs, cheese, and green chili’s. Have no idea where the name came from!

  • I love the question what food related event do I cherish most! That takes me back and makes me pine for my grandmothers. One grandmother was a farmer’s wife and was in the kitchen constantly. The other was on the golf course and hosting cocktail parties, but both had signature treats. Probably my most cherished memory is coming home from school when my grandmother had arrived at our house early from Western Kansas and made a batch of her beloved cinnamon rolls from scratch. That smell. Heaven. The other grandma would treat us to a rich chocolate cake with a cooked creamy white icing. I am happy to say I was able to decipher that recipe card and recreate that cake exactly. Just smelling it really took me back to summers in Bella Vista. I don’t think I will ever be able to make cinnamon rolls like my grandma though. She really had a gift.

  • My mom and grandma made the best and richest cakes with lots of frosting. For me, the cake is a vehicle to hold the frosting. I’ve made several different kinds of frosting including buttercream, 7 minute boiled, shortening and royal icing which is good for cutout sugar cookies and holding together the sides of a gingerbread house. . We helped choose the cookie cutters and cut out the rolled out cookie dough. Grandma taught us how to tint the royal icing and to decorate with silver dragees, cinnamon hearts, and sprinkles. We had an assembly line going with my 3 siblings and, of course, licked the bowl and had to taste one cookie immediately, especially one we had decorated ourselves. Royal icing dries right away, so you had to put the decorations on quickly to have them stick. I forgot to say that if cupcakes were left on the kitchen counter right near the cat’s dish, the tops got nibbled until they were frosted. We didn’t know if the cat had nibbled if there was frosting on to cover the evidence.

  • My favorite food memory from my childhood is my grandmothers fruitcake. She made a half dozen of them every year, they were packed with candied fruit and pecans that my grandfather, we called him Pappy, picked from the shells for her by the pounds. I miss helping her in the kitchen, as she got older it got harder for her to hand stir the ingredients together, so she would have me assist her. She loved me unconditionally and encouraged my creativity. I miss her, her sweet smile and her cooking, especially around the holiday times.

  • I always cherished Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is always wonderful food being cooked and friends and family coming together!!!^_^

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