Musical pairing – If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d Have Baked A Cake by Eileen Barton

This post is a labor of love, and by that I mean that I count myself very fortunate to have married into one of the best families ever – and that includes my cousins on the Green side:  Liz, Brenda, David and Andrea.  We don’t see each other very often even though we live relatively close, but Facebook has kept us connected – which is how I ended up with this recipe and the memories that come with it.

Several months ago a photo popped up on Facebook that was an old recipe – and as a food blogger, if there’s a recipe involved, my radar is up immediately.  It was hand-written on a recipe card with little side notes and a drawing of a whisk.  The recipe is for what the cousins call a ‘Cookie Sheet Cake.’  And upon further inspection, the recipe looks very similar to what’s known as a Texas Sheet cake – but apparently there are rules amongst the Green clan that Grandma Thiel’s (pronounced Teal) cake must never, ever, under any circumstance be called a Texas Sheet Cake . . .

But what really got me, were the memories that these now adults have of this particular cake – and with their permission, I’m sharing bits and pieces of the conversation here – much too long to include it all; but keep in mind, this exchange all happened over two or three days on a Facebook thread.

JIM (Brenda’s husband):  Hand-written by Aunt Nancy. I laugh at the whisk (‘use this tool’) every time I look at this

ANDREA:  ‘leave out chopped pecans or walnuts – kids hate them’ – That’s awesome!

LIZ:  Grandma Thiel made it at the lake every summer. Every visit. We lived on it! We could walk by the heater and pick up a piece. Very tasty. I think the recipe came off a can of Hershey cocoa, but I really don’t remember.

ANDREA:  It has just always been, and it was always at the lake, and at Thanksgiving, It is Marge’s signature dessert.

BRENDA:  Nancy wrote it out for granddaughters and granddaughters-in-law. Gina Favorite can’t make the icing right for some reason, btw, and wants a lesson. It’s a recipe that always makes ALL of us think of summers at the lake cottage. My children are not huge fans of it…. what is wrong with them?! I think the cinnamon in the cake batter is what makes it special and better than any other Texas Sheet Cake.

BRENDA:  Debra, seriously, it would take a lifetime to tell the stories…. Grandma & Grandpa Thiel bought the cottage in 1958, the year each of their daughters had their first child. . .

BRENDA:  So Debra, here are some facts from the conversation with Aunt Nancy, who is the one who wrote out the recipe and drew the picture of the whisk. She is Marge’s older daughter. Nancy thinks the recipe came from a relative, probably one of her aunts. There were a lot of Texas sheet cake recipes that came out around that time, but this one was the best, and it was made at the lake whenever company would come . . . ‘I knew you were comin’ so I baked a cake . . .’ (Nancy actually sang that to me on the phone last night.) Nancy said Grandma would add English walnuts to the icing if a special guest was coming, sometimes she would add pecans, sometimes no nuts because the kids didn’t like them. Nancy thinks the recipe is about 50 years old.

ANDREA:  You’ve made us experience the power of family with your blog.  I told Bren in an email it reminds me of the scene in the movie Ratatouille where the nasty food critic takes one bite of the “peasant dish”, is transported to his childhood, and has a tear in his eye, and melts, and becomes a child again. Which you have done to us, and that was a great gift.  And I’m crying too, so it’s cool . . .

I just loved watching the exchange between my cousins and was so moved when they agreed to let me share their stories with you.  I did some research and found a few facts about the recipe which is a version of the Texas Sheet Cake . . . sshhhhh . . . don’t tell the cousins . . .

The infamous cake has many names: Texas brownie cake, Texas brownies, Texas ranch cake, chocolate sheet cake and Texas sheath cake (folklore has it that at one point, the cake was renamed ‘sheath’ because with a Texas accent, ‘sheet’ sounded somewhat like ‘s**t’).  In fact, if you Google “Texas Sheet Cake” you’ll find several variations.

And to confuse us even more, food historians can’t quite land on where the recipe originated; FoodTimeline.org says Lady Bird Johnson sometimes gets the credit for the cake even though she was known for her love of lemon desserts.  Over at cdkitchen.com, there’s a version of the sheet cake called ‘Lady Bird Johnson’s Mexican Chocolate Cake’ – listed so because apparently she added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the cake batter.  But most food historians feel Lady Bird would have added the word “Texas” in the name so it’s unclear as to whether this is fact or urban legend.

No matter what you call it, the recipe is a winner – cinnamon, no cinnamon, nuts, no nuts – doesn’t matter, just make it and maybe some day a conversation like my cousins had, will be shared.

Do you have a family recipe that brings back childhood memories like this one?

Ever so slightly adapted from the Green Cousins & Allrecipes.com


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 cup butter
1 cup water
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

6 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)**


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10×15 inch pan.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat in the sour cream and eggs. Set aside. Melt the butter on low in a saucepan, add the water and 5 tablespoons cocoa. Bring mixture to a boil then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly, then stir cocoa mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing until blended.

3. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

4. For the icing: In a large saucepan, combine the milk, 5 tablespoons cocoa and 1/2 cup butter. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, mixing until blended. Spread frosting over warm cake.  Sprinkle with nuts if using.

**SMITH BITES NOTE: We topped ours with Salted Buttered Pecans – yes, totally gilding the lily!


  1. Michelle L

    How in the world did I miss this one?! I LOVE me a “Texas Sheet Cake”, although they are relatively new to me. There are no ties to Texas in my line. But about three years, maybe four years, ago I came across a recipe for a Texas Sheet Cake, and fell deeply in love. Your version sounds right our alley with our ties to Mexico (it’s the cinnamon that’ll do that). Naturally I’ll have to find some excuse to whip one of these delights up. Gee, 4th of July is still off a ways, but Mother’s Day isn’t too far off. Hmmmmm….me thinks I know what we’ll be havin’ for dessert! Thanks for sharing your family tales – makes it all the better.

  2. Just finished reading your blog and was delighted! Here’s what I remember about this amazing cake. My mom got the recipe from a late 60’s May or June edition of McCall’s or Ladies Home Journal magazine which was featuring an interview with Lady Bird Johnson about her Beautify America program and included this recipe. (I remember Lady Bird’s picture on the cover behind a field of bluebells. The cake is what she served the reporter.) Mom baked the cake for a 4th of July treat, keeping the magazine with the recipe because it was such a hit. This recipe, which I remember as Mexican Sheet Cake, became my choice of birthday cake when I was in high school and through out college. Mom passed away 10 years ago and my sister and I searched for the well worn magazine after her death but we think Dad might have thrown it out. Thanks for sharing your happy memories and the recipe!

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  5. Wow – that looks amazing. I have a recipe for a TX sheet cake but I think this one…takes the cake! I can’t wait to veganize and try it. Yummm….

  6. Great post…and the cake looks yummy:)

    Love it & you muchly!

  8. Thanks so much for bringing some of this! It was a hit at my birthday party last night! The cinnamon is such an interesting touch.

  9. Go Texas Chef Dennis – and the cake is fab! And by the way, I’ll be visiting Texas for the first time next year to attend the IACP conference in June!

  10. God Bless Texas!!!! makes me proud to be a Texan, with that beautiful cake….its just calling to me….
    thanks for such a great story with this recipe, and thank the clan for sharing granma’s recipe!
    all the best

  11. Kim, I’m gonna have to have the peanut brittle recipe!!

  12. Awww… what fun to see handwritten cards… and even better that they sparked a bunch of childhood memories for so many in your family! I could smash my face into one of these, easy.

    Something that reminds me of childhood memories is my mamma’s peanut brittle. So damn good it became the party favor for my wedding. Tastes like “home.” [K]

    P.S. LOVE today’s song selection, too. 😉

  13. Thank you for stopping by Kim – it was a fun post to write!

  14. Love the story about the cousins! Brought a tear to my eye, too! Thanks for sharing this touching story!

  15. Oh Rowdy ~ I cried like a baby as I witnessed the dialogue between the cousins unfold; just such sweet memories of a wonderful and funny family whom I just love to pieces! An no, nothing like a recipe to bring us all together!

  16. Debra-this is just so sweet and perfect. Love the handwritten recipe, and the exchange between the cousins. This reminds me of visiting my grandparent’s lake place in northern Wisconsin as a child. There’s just nothing like a family recipe as a touchstone for memories, is there?

  17. It’s really fun to see those hand-written recipe cards Isabelle – and the little side notes just crack me up! Texas Sheet Cake is a great recipe that will feed a crowd so bake one the next time you’re invited to a potluck or BBQ!

  18. These old family recipes are so awesome, especially when they’re still on an old stained and battered recipe card with comments scribbled in the margins (I laughed out loud when I read the comment about leaving out the nuts)
    I’d never heard of Texas Sheet Cake before this, but it sounds really delicious. Thanks for sharing this great recipe and all the wonderful memories!

  19. I love the stories behind the recipes which is one of the main reasons I blog – it’s the food that connects us in a way that nothing else does!

  20. Not only does the cake looks amazing but the story behind it is really heartwarming. Maybe because my family is quite attached with each other, too. Sometimes, I also look back and can’t imagine how many years have passed already but all of us still enjoys what we basically shared together when we were younger. And just like ‘the cousins’ we also have a nick for sweet stuff. And of course, baking has always been a bonding activity for all of us here. 🙂

  21. LOL Barbara – I guess you got me on that one! I have always known it as Texas Sheet Cake too – but the cousins on the other hand . . .

  22. And you called MY recipe decadent??? Hah!

    Love the background, love the family discussions. And I have always known it as Texas Sheet Cake, but mine never had cinnamon in it. I like it.

  23. So happy to see you here Monet – that Brian is such a sweetie, no? Thank you for your kind words and I hope to see you around here often!

  24. What a fabulous recipe…and blog! I found you through Brian at A Thought For Food, and I’m so glad that I did. I love Texas Sheet cake, and this version looks delicious!

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