A Christmas spin on Texas sheet cake, this cake is full of cocoa and mint and can be made days in advance. It's perfect for a crowd.
Jack has not slept the last several nights, and consequently most of our holiday plans have gone right out the window. There were loaves of freshly baked gingerbread to be delivered to friends and neighbors, homemade marshmallows to go to the cousins, and sugar cookies galore. I had dreams of strolling along College Avenue and staring into the twinkly windows of our favorite shops while sipping cocoa. But, as tired as we are, most nights I've been happy to get dinner on the table and maybe sneak in a shower. Maybe.
Most of my real parenting challenges over the past fifteen months have all stemmed from the same problem - trying to do too much. Being mindful of this is a constant practice, and most often the person I find it hardest to say "no" to is myself. The holidays, with all of their traditions, seem to bring this issue into focus. I find myself wondering what it means if I skip something rather than thinking about what I really feel up to doing. Is it really Christmas if I don't have eight different cookies for our cookie plate? Did I make it to enough holiday parties? It sounds ridiculous to say it out loud, but we get caught up in the pressures of making everything perfect and it's easy to overestimate what we actually want to do.
In an effort to enjoy the season as much as we can, despite the sleepless nights and an impossibly energetic toddler, Nate and I have been taking it one day at a time. We don't make too many plans in advance, and we end up automatically deleting a few things from our "to do" lists before we even try. If we feel like driving around to look at lights one evening, we'll go, and if I feel like making the cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, I will. There are always movies and plenty of cocoa for evenings at home and bacon and eggs in the fridge for a backup breakfast.
In the spirit of simplification, there is this cake. There's something very comforting about sheet cake. It makes no glamorous pretensions, and its main purpose in life is to serve a crowd. It's made for gathering and enjoying together. In the age of Instagram and overly styled desserts, I find that people always are a bit surprised and delighted when you pull out a sheet cake. This one is full of chocolate and mint and a cocoa fudge frosting. As a new parent, I love that it can be made a few days in advance, so you can throw it together whenever you find yourself with a few extra minutes. It's festive enough for dessert, but, not being overly sweet, it's also perfect for that afternoon cup of coffee or sharing at the office for a midmorning snack. Nate's coworkers are currently enjoying this one. Oh, and because I didn't feel like getting out the camera, I have my iPhone to thank for these photos. Simplify!
PEPPERMINT SHEET CAKE/ makes one 18x13" sheet cake, enough to feed a crowd
For the Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup coffee
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
For the Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
1/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup crushed peppermint candies (I used about 20 of the miniature candy canes)
Center an oven rack and preheat to 350F. Grease a standard half sheet pan (18x13") and line with parchment paper.
To make the cake, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the cocoa until fully incorporated, followed by the oil and coffee. Bring to a rolling boil fro 30 seconds, and then remove from heat and set aside to cool. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and both extracts. Pour the cocoa mixture into the bowl and stir until just combined. Add the egg mixture, and use a spatula to fold the ingredients into the batter. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and whisk in the cocoa. Bring to a rolling boil for 30 seconds, remove from heat, and add the milk and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Off heat, add the confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time. Do not skip the step of sifting the confectioners' sugar. It's way easier to sift it than to try to work out the lumps in the frosting. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, smooth the frosting evenly over the cake and set somewhere to cool, undisturbed, Moving the cake around while the frosting is setting will cause ripples and cracks in the top. After 5-10 minutes, you can sprinkle the crushed peppermint on top (the heat from the cake may cause the colors in the candy to run if you don't wait a few minutes).
Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. If you plan to make this in advance, wait until the day of serving to add the crushed peppermint.
Adapted from Julie Richardson's Vintage Cakes