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It’s baking season! If you’re looking to whip up a classically satisfying dessert that won’t break your brain in the process, look no further than the dark chocolate sheet cake.
Sheet cakes are the underdogs of cake-baking. Long associated with school lunch lines and church basements, they’re nowhere near as glamorous as the towering concoctions at a pro bakery. Based on one square slice, there’s little outward difference between a homemade sheet cake and one snagged from the grocery store in a hurry.
But this is where we need to look closer because a homemade sheet cake is a different, more delicious creature than a standard grocery store dessert. This dark chocolate cake recipe from Allrecipes is a great place to start, especially if you’ve been self-conscious about producing a “Great British Baking Show”-type stunner.
It might not have all the swoops and swirls of a fancy layer cake, but with the right touch, it’ll taste absolutely heavenly. Less stress for the baker, and more cake for dessert. It’s a win-win.
A couple of hours before you start cooking, take your butter out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature. The timing may vary depending on your kitchen’s microclimate — my kitchen is chilly, so sometimes I take out the butter the night before.
Just before you get going, bring two large eggs to room temp, too. Bon Appetit recommends making a cozy water bath and letting them sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
Next, as always, is the pan preparation. This recipe recommends using a 10-by-15-inch rimmed baking sheet, lined with parchment paper — a method I have not tried! I tend to use either a Pyrex baking dish or an old, rectangular baking tin I got at a garage sale.
No secrets here, just remember that it’s got to have a decently large rim so cake batter doesn’t spill over.
I like to use butter and a dusting of flour to grease my bakeware; some folks use a blast of cooking spray. Grab your fave and crank the oven to 350 degrees. Then make coffee — a cup for you and a cup for the recipe.
Time to get down to business. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
A note on the cocoa powder: This recipe suggests Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder, which is easy to find at almost any grocery store. If you’ve got a little extra cash on hand, however, it’s worth it to try one of the upscale brands, like Valrhona or Guittard.
Luxury cocoas often have a higher fat content, leading to a richer chocolate flavor in the final product. But don’t fret — Hershey’s Special Dark will also have delicious results. Just remember to buy the dark (not regular) Hershey’s. We’re making a dark chocolate cake here, right?
Dry ingredients combined, it’s time to cream the butter and sugars, then add in the eggs. The flour-and-cocoa mixture gets incorporated in a few additions, alternating with coffee and buttermilk. It may sound strange to brew up a cup of joe just to dump it in a cake batter, but it really deepens the chocolate flavor.
Once the batter for your dark chocolate cake comes together, get out that greased baking sheet from earlier. Pour the batter in, then gently smooth it with a spatula. Give the sheet a couple of solid raps on the counter to get an even distribution of batter. If a few bubbles pop up, you’re on the right track to an airy, luscious texture.
And now, the moment of truth: Pop the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. I like to quickly turn the cake around 180 degrees about halfway through the baking time to ensure an even bake.
When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with some moist crumbs, the cake is done. Don’t wait for the toothpick to come out totally clean, because by then you may have overbaked the cake. It’ll keep cooking for a few minutes after it comes out.
Cool that cake down, and in the meantime, you can whip up a homemade frosting — dark chocolate, of course. You’ll use the same cocoa powder as before, plus all the usual sugar and butter and such. One wrinkle: Instead of coffee, the frosting uses a teaspoon of espresso powder.
Now, this one can be a little tricky to track down, but most grocery stores will at least have Medaglia d’Oro on the shelf. In a pinch, I’ve used Starbucks’ Via instant coffee powder for my dark chocolate cake and it turned out fine.
When the cake is completely cool, spread the frosting on top and stand back to take in all the dark chocolate majesty. It’s a sight to behold: a humble sheet cake with glossy, deep brown frosting and complex, rich chocolate in every bite.
Don’t hold back! Cut yourself a square and enjoy — once the family gathers it won’t last for long!
Click here to see the full recipe and instructions for this delicious-looking dark chocolate cake.