by J.D. Roth
text by Kris, links by J.D.
Jd loves Texas Sheet Cake, a sort of cake-like brownie topped by a rich chocolate glaze. Very sweet, very chocolate-y with a hint of cinnamon. I think this is something his mother fixed when he was growing up. Chocolate sheet cake is on Jd’s menu for Chicken Noodle Fest so I look for his recipe as I make a shopping list.
It’s Friday, so Jd’s working till noon and I’m home. When I can’t locate the recipe, I email him. He responds: “Hm. It may be loose, on a piece of paper, just floating in my recipe bin, or the favorite recipes book, or somewhere. I may have to find it when I get home.” This is déjà vu; the last time he wanted to make this dessert, he couldn’t find his previous recipe, so he purposely got it from his Mom. I’m hoping he can find it, and, after he searches fruitlessly around for a while and is on the verge of giving up in favor of using an alternative cake-like brownie recipe, he actually does. He spied the word “Texas” on a corner, peeking out of a stack of loose papers in a pile on the bookshelf where his cookbooks used to be. He feels victorious. I silently wonder if there isn’t a more efficient system.
When I look at the recipe, I notice it calls for a 10″ by 15″ sheet pan. Although I have more baking gadgets than I could possibly need, I don’t own a pan of this size. Don’t worry, Jd reassures me. He always uses one of our 12″ x 16″ cookie sheets instead. I am doubtful. Does he size-up the recipe? Does he adjust the baking time? Is he sure? He’s very sure, he has made this recipe with this pan, multiple times. Okay, fine—off to the store.
At Thriftway, things go pretty smoothly. A small glitch when he asks if we need peanut butter and I remind him we got a two-pack at Costco last week. He laughs that he could forget such a thing in only a week. But then he gets snippy when in the soup aisle I remind him that we also bought a “flat” of chicken noodle soup. “Why do you assume I would forget that?” he complains. Why indeed? While I am in the produce section, Jd also gets mildly admonished by the Pepsi Corp. stockperson who catches him cheating on the iTunes contest. She has watched him tilt the bottle to sneak a look at the cap to see if he has a winner. He feels no shame.
Home again—time for Jd to cook. I try to prepare myself for the impending combination of Jd in the kitchen with a pound of powdered sugar. I feel like I do a pretty good job of not hovering, but as I’m folding laundry he comes to me holding one of our cookie sheets. You saw it coming, I’m sure. He has realized that, in fact, he has in the past used the smaller size, which we no longer have. He makes store trip number two to get a pan as the batter sits ready on the counter.
As the cake bakes, he makes the glaze on the stovetop. The recipe says to glaze the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, but when the timer beeps, Jd finds that the cake has risen alarmingly into a dome, rather than remaining flat. I tell him that it should fall as it cools. Be patient. However, wanting to follow the recipe exactly, Jd proceeds to pour hot chocolate glaze onto the convex surface of the hot cake. Gravity exerts its influence, of course, and soon Jd has a sheet pan surrounded by several inches of gooey icing-covered counter. He laughs. I need to leave the kitchen.
Finally, he is done. The remaining glaze has been spread onto the cake, which has flattened somewhat. Wanting to sample his creation, Jd cuts a small piece from the corner. “Hm. It’s not quite right,” he says, “I can’t serve that.” Optimistically, he tastes a piece from the opposite corner of the pan. Still, there is something not quite right. He surmises that what he tastes is the buttermilk. But he has made this recipe before, and it always has buttermilk in it. “The only thing that I could have possibly done wrong is put in a tablespoon of baking powder instead of a teaspoon.” A-ha! I ask if it’s bitter. “I think that’s the buttermilk,” he answers. I sample the cake myself. The strange dome-like phenomena is now explained; the cake tastes characteristically alkaline. Too much baking powder, alright. Jd makes store trip number three: more powdered sugar and buttermilk. Cake #1 goes into the trash. The ants will feast tonight.
While Cake #2 is happening, I go to work on this story. As I make my way to the computer, Jd asks me hopefully if perhaps the omission of the cinnamon could have caused the abnormal rising and taste—he’s not sure he added the cinnamon the first time. I assure him that the cinnamon is completely optional; cinnamon, or lack thereof, is not the cause of his problems.
All sounds like it’s going well from the kitchen, until Jd, obviously pleased with himself, comes in to tell me that he forgot to get more buttermilk at the store (trip #3). “But,” he crows, “there was just barely enough left from the first one!”
I hope you all enjoy the Texas Sheet Cake. It has been a labour of love.
Updated: 13 March 2004