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?
TEXAS COOKIE SHEET CAKE
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
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!