Texas sheet cake is one of the easiest, most delicious chocolate cakes you’ll ever make! In this bake off, we tested 9 Texas sheet cake recipes in search of the best.
This post is sponsored by Imperial Sugar! I’ve used Imperial Sugar for years and I am thrilled to be partnering with them. Thank you for supporting the partners that keep the bake offs coming!
If you’ve never had Texas sheet cake, you’re in for a treat! This Southern-inspired cake is traditionally made as a chocolate-on-chocolate cake baked in a large sheet pan. It gets frosted with a chocolate fudge icing and served directly from the pan for a brilliantly easy cake perfect for parties, potlucks, or just chocolate lovers. While you can serve Texas sheet cake with or without pecans on top, most Texans will tell you that pecans are not optional.
In this bake off, we tested 9 popular recipes in search of the best so let’s dive in!
- 41 total tasters
- All cakes were baked in 13×18 sheet pan
- Tasters tasted the cakes the same day they were baked
- Each taster ranked each cake on a scale from 0-10 for flavor, texture and overall as a whole
- Gold Medal Flour
- Hershey’s natural cocoa powder
- Valrhona Dutch-process cocoa powder
- HEB butter
- Crisco shortening
- Daisy sour cream
- Hellman’s mayo
- Dr Pepper
- Adam’s vanilla extract
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated, brown and powdered sugar
PARTNER NOTE: I’m delighted to be partnering with Imperial Sugar on this bake off as I’ve consistently used their consistent, high-quality pure cane sugar products throughout my bake offs. Imperial Sugar is non-GMO verified, allergen free and gluten-free!
For more sweet inspiration, you can visit Imperial Sugar to find more than 4,000 expert-tested recipes, free downloadable vintage cookbooks, sugar scrubs and bath products at the Sugar Spa, and lots of helpful guides on their blog. You can also check out their Pinterest, You Tube, Instagram for even more recipe inspiration!
As always, I always recommend reading through the entire blog post to understand the profile of each recipe and decide which sounds best to you. My favorites in this bake off weren’t necessarily the top-rated recipes (see bottom of the post for my picks). There are always a ton of taster preferences that can affect the rankings–such as a preference for or against pecans. In this bake off, more tasters seemed to prefer pecans over a plain cake.
As another example, one taster who felt strongly about the inclusion of cinnamon in Texas sheet cake noted that the winner was “the epitome of my childhood Christmases. Without cinnamon, it’s just a chocolate sheet cake, yawn.”
Lastly, please always take the results with a grain of salt as any issues could be my own baker error rather than the fault of the recipe. I do truly believe all of these recipes are worth trying and would be delicious standalone!
You’ll notice that this chart only shows 8 recipes; unfortunately major baker’s error occurred with Eat the Love so I removed those scores and will cover my standalone review of the cake below!
The main fats in this bake off were butter, shortening, oil. As expected, the cakes made with oil (Made Everyday, Southern Living, Grammy’s and Eat the Love) were generally more moist than the all-butter cakes. While all-butter is more traditional, if I were to make a Texas sheet cake, I’d happily use an all-oil or oil + butter combination for a more moist cake. I don’t think you lose out on flavor with an all-oil cake since the cocoa overpowers most of the butter flavor. Only one recipe (Recipe Critic) used a combination of butter and shortening, which resulted in a very bland cake. I can’t think of a reason I’d use shortening in a cake unless I was short on other ingredients.
Buttermilk, sour cream and mayo were the three main types of dairy used in these cakes. Buttermilk is the most traditional and was used in all recipes except for The Food Charlatan, Eat the Love and Budget Bytes, which used sour cream. Surprisingly, the use of sour cream didn’t necessarily correlate with a more moist cake as I’ve found in other bake offs. The oil/butter usage had a much clearer correlation to moisture, so my hypothesis is that it doesn’t make too much of a difference whether you use buttermilk, sour cream or mayo. I’d recommend using full-fat buttermilk, sour cream and mayo for maximum fat content (and thus tenderness).
Sugar vs. brown sugar
Several cakes used a combination of brown and white sugar (Southern Living, Eat the Love, Food Charlatan, Budget Bytes, Bravetart) instead of all granulated sugar, which is more traditional. While subtle, using a mix of brown and white is a simple way to add a touch more flavor complexity and moisture.
Eggs vs. egg yolks
Texas sheet cake is meant to be a very simple cake–it’s fitting that only one recipe went to the trouble of adding additional egg yolks (Eat the Love). In this case, I don’t think the added richness and moisture is really worth it. Although the extra yolks contributed to a slightly more tender texture, I think the work of separating eggs takes away from the charm of a simple Texas sheet cake and doesn’t add enough texturally to make it worth it.
Only two recipes called for hot coffee instead of water (Eat the Love and Budget Bytes). While I generally like the flavor enhancement that coffee lends to chocolate, I found the coffee flavor overwhelming in Budget Bytes’ recipe (though most tasters enjoyed it). I think the flavor was more well-masked in Eat the Love’s dark chocolate-focused recipe. Overall, I’d use water for a more traditional Texas sheet cake recipe, but if you love the flavor of coffee–give it a try!
Pecans are a personal preference, but most Texans feel strongly that it’s not Texas sheet cake without pecans. Personally, I agree and suggest that the pecans should be toasted and chopped for optimal flavor and texture. But it’s your cake–go plain if you wish! Or if you want something quite different–try mixing marshmallows into the fudge icing!
Same as pecans, this is a personal preference. Personally, I don’t love chocolate and cinnamon together, but others think that cinnamon is the hallmark of a Texas sheet cake. Adding just 1/4 tsp of cinnamon to the batter is enough to give just a touch of spice without overwhelming the cake.
Most icings consist of butter, cocoa, milk and powdered sugar melted together into a fudgy, sugary consistency that can be tooth-achingly sweet. The best way to cut down on sweetness includes: reducing the powdered sugar, adding a pinch of salt and adding cream cheese (per Grammy’s cake) which helps smooth out the batter and add body. For a smooth and shiny more ganache-like icing, both Eat the Love and Budget Bytes add cream. Eat the Love also adds a tiny bit of corn syrup for a slightly gooier, very shiny icing.
A jelly roll (12×17″) or half sheet pan (13×18″) are the most common sizes for making a Texas sheet cake. However, some people choose to bake it in a 9×13 pan for a thicker cake. Some even bake cakes in a very large round cake pan which is not traditional, but still delicious.
You can easily cut any recipe in half and bake it in a quarter sheet pan (9×12″) or a 9×13 pan. You will likely be able to shave off some baking time given the smaller batch–keep an eye on it while baking and remove it from the oven when the center is set and springs back when poked.
Yes! Although Texas sheet cake is best eaten the day it’s made, you can bake the cake a day ahead and wrap it, refrigerated, until ready to ice and serve.
You can store Texas sheet cake at room temperature for 1-2 days. Leftovers can also be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.
Analysis of the Best Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake
Eat the Love: an untraditionally dark chocolatey cake with a complex ganache-like icing
Irvin’s oil and butter-based recipe is nearly identical to the recipes by King Arthur and America’s Test Kitchen. After careful consideration, I decided to test Irvin’s recipe since he uses a few more flavor enhancers (coffee instead of water, a portion of brown sugar, and subs sour cream for the buttermilk). Instead of King Arthur’s chocolate glaze, he uses a typical melted butter/cocoa icing enhanced with cream and corn syrup.
Unfortunately, I am almost positive I forgot the oil when baking this cake as the crumb was SO dry compared to others In the tasting. However, after remaking this cake properly, I’m happy to say that the cake was quite moist with a deeply dark chocolate flavor. It’s almost mushy-soft out of the oven with a tender crumb and a deliciously dark, untraditional ganache-like icing. This was probably the least sweet, most chocolate-forward icing of the group. This crumb did seem to dry out quite quickly once cut, I’d recommend serving this the day it’s made. Overall, this is an untraditional cake perfect for dark chocolate lovers.
Pioneer Woman: a lightly chocolate-y, somewhat bland chocolate cake with pecans mixed into a sugary glaze
Ree’s recipe was by far the most requested for this bake off. It’s also a highly replicated recipe across the internet with many following the simple formula of 1 cup butter, 1 cup water, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups flour and 1/4 cup cocoa. Like many traditional recipes, Ree’s recipe uses buttermilk. Her fudge frosting melts together butter, cocoa, powdered sugar and milk. In an unusual move, this is the only recipe that has toasted, chopped pecans folded into the fudge icing instead of sprinkled on top.
I was excited to try this iconic recipe but my expectations fell flat once I dug in. The cake texture is delightfully soft and fluffy, but the flavor is quite bland with a one note sweetness. There’s only 1/4 tsp of salt in the cake which I suspect could play a role in the lack of flavor. I liked the texture of the fudge-coated pecan pieces on top, but I was missing the toasty crunch that you get when pecans are sprinkled on top–just a personal preference. Overall, this is a solid cake that is popular for a reason, but I think there are much tastier options among the ones we tested.
- I loved the cake itself — the texture and flavor of chocolate was on point and not too sweet. Having the pecans folded into the frosting also added another depth of flavor which I really enjoyed.
- The chopped pecans folded throughout the frosting made all the difference, I thought it really added a depth of flavor and balance that other cakes lacked.
- I was conflicted rating this because I loved the flavor of the icing it tastes specifically dark chocolatey which I enjoy. However, I found the cake bland. However, the texture of the icing was too gritty
- Good texture but the flavor was very lacking. With my eyes closed I wouldn’t know there was chocolate in it.
- Too much frosting and WAY too sweet. Overall lacks depth and flavor
- I liked the springy / spongy texture, flavor is too sweet for me though. Tastes almost vegetable oily
Made Everyday: an achingly sweet, marshmallow-studded frosting with a delightfully moist, dark cake
I chose Dana’s recipe mostly because I wanted to test a plain oil-based cake, though I nearly disqualified it because of the marshmallows in the frosting. This was interesting because it uses half the fat of most cakes (1/2 cup vs. 1 cup) without any other high-fat ingredients like sour cream or mayo. With just boiling water, buttermilk and eggs as the main moistening ingredients, this cake also had a much higher proportion of cocoa compared to others–3/4 cup vs. the typical 1/4 cup. Besides the marshmallows, the frosting was also notable for its use of a whopping 32 oz of powdered sugar (DOUBLE the amount of most!) and inclusion of buttermilk.
Ultimately, I (and most tasters) LOVED this cake! It’s incredibly moist, dark and rich. Admittedly, it’s probably closer to a regular chocolate cake than a Texas sheet cake (which is generally less rich and dark), but it’s a delicious cake base! Unfortunately, the frosting was so tooth-achingly sweet that most gave this a lower overall rating. I surprisingly liked the soft pops of marshmallow in the icing more than expected. I’d happily make and eat this cake again, but I’d halve the amount of sugar and buttermilk in the icing. For a more traditional cake, I’d pair this cake with almost any other icing (maybe Grammy’s, Pioneer Woman or Recipe Critic). If you love marshmallows, this is the cake of your dreams!
- I love marshmallows and sheet cake and this married them both together beautifully. incredibly moist cake, beautiful to look at. Would eat an entire pan. Not fair to compare to the others because they have no chance of stacking up
- I wasn’t sure if I was going to love or hate this one, but thankfully it knocked it out of the park. Great moist, gooey texture with a bomb flavor to go along with it making it the total package. I feel like it took the best elements of Texas sheet cake, s’mores, and moon pies.
- Overall cake was very moist and had great texture but the sweetness of the frosting really overpowered any chocolate flavor that could come through.
- Nice moist cake. Marshmallows are texturally fun but the added sweetness is too much for me.
- This is WAY TOO sweet. It would be fun as a s’mores cake, but you could only have a couple of bites. It isn’t what people expect if you hear Texas sheet cake.
Food Charlatan: a decadently dark cake with a smooth glaze and slightly drier cake texture
Karen’s cake is similar to our benchmark recipe of Pioneer Woman but doubles the cocoa powder, uses sour cream instead of buttermilk and doubles the salt. Her icing also differs from Pioneer Woman in that she includes sour cream and uses almost half the amount of butter. She also lists finely chopped pecans as optional (so I didn’t include them).
This cake had a beautiful dark color and rich-looking crumb, but I found the texture a little drier than others. I think the texture is actually fairly close to what Texas sheet cake should be, though the flavor feels darker than the light chocolate flavor that’s more typical. Although I was excited at the prospect of the nut-free cakes, I actually missed the crunch and nutty flavor. The sugary frosting that crusted over nicely and though I couldn’t detect the sour cream, it probably helped balance the sweetness somewhat. Overall, I think this cake would be a crowdpleaser if served alone, but it didn’t stand out when tasted in the group.
- Good fluffy texture and love that it’s almost a dark chocolate flavor. Crumblier than [Grammy’s]. Frosting has a stronger chocolate flavor and good consistency
- Feels like a brownie/chocolate cake had a baby. Frosting is less grainy which I liked!
- The cake itself was a little on the dry side but I actually really enjoyed the milk chocolate flavor in the frosting. Overall a really solid “bake sale” cake.
- This was one of the drier cakes, and 1 of 3 with no pecans on top. Without the foil of toasted pecans, the cocoa powder was the loudest component. This sample simultaneously had a rich flavor profile without being particularly memorable. This recipe tasted like icing more than frosting.
- Sturdy, flavorful; first time around I said it wasn’t too sweet but when I went back, I wrote “SO SWEET :(“ cake with a less sweet frosting would be better
- Felt sort of one-dimensional. There was a tanginess that we liked, but the texture wasn’t as moist and satisfying as [Grammy’s]. We also prefer nuts in the icing.
Southern Living: a moist dark chocolate cake with sugary frosting balanced by toasted pecan shards
Southern Living’s recipe is the only other oil-based cake besides Made Everyday. This recipe stood out for its use of Dr. Pepper (1 can’s worth in the frosting and an additional 3 tablespoons in the frosting). It’s again similar to the Pioneer Woman formula, but uses 1 cup of oil instead of butter, 1.5 cups Dr. Pepper instead of water, double the cocoa and uses half white, half brown sugar. This was the only cake to omit cocoa from the icing–instead, it relies on unsweetened chocolate melted with butter.
This was one of my favorite cakes! With the extra 1/2 cup of liquid in the cake, this reminded me of Made Everyday in how sweet, moist and dark the cake layer was. I also loved the distribution and flavor of the chopped, toasted pecans over the top of the cake. Although the pecans made it harder to zero in on the frosting alone, I wouldn’t bother sourcing unsweetened chocolate for the icing in the future as it felt indistinguishable to the cocoa-based icings. The distribution of pecans definitely helped make this one of the less tooth-achingly sweet cakes. Some marked this down for the pecans and thin frosting ratio, but I thought this cake was perfection and would happily make it again.
- This was so good. The nuttiness of the topping was very pronounced in a toasted and delicious way. The texture of the cake and icing were ideal. Not overly sweet. Our overall favorite.
- Love the toasted pecans, helps keep it from being too sweet. Cake is just as moist and plush as [Grammy’s]
- My favorite. Like the texture and nice strong chocolate flavor. Frosting was good consistency and chopped pecan cut through sweetness
- While I am a hardcore believer that Texas sheet cake should have cinnamon in it, this one was the top contender despite no cinnamon. 10/10 with cinnamon. The cake was moist and held together well, the nuts added a nice texture contrast, and the frosting had a great flavor without being cloying.
- The cake was super moist and tasty but the whole group thought the icing was too thick and very very sweet.
- Moist but I don’t love the large pecan chunks. It was lacking in flavor and I wish frosting layer has been thicker.
Recipe Critic: a light and fluffy, somewhat bland cake topped with a flavorful chocolate icing
Recipe Critic was the only recipe to use half butter, half shortening in the cake. Besides the shortening, this recipe is nearly identical to Pioneer Woman–it just uses slightly less cocoa and doubles the amount of salt. The frosting is also quite similar. The main differences? One cup less powdered sugar, slightly more milk, cocoa, less butter and a dash of salt. Toasted nuts are also sprinkled on top instead of mixed in.
While this cake had a beautifully light and fluffy texture, I thought it tasted incredibly bland–as in, it tasted almost flavorless. But the frosting was quite flavorful and is the main reason why I think this cake was ranked so high. While I don’t think the shortening-based cake is worth trying, I’d happily use this frosting on another Texas sheet cake. This had one of the lowest ratios of powdered sugar and still remained incredibly flavorful!
- I thought the icing on this one was super tasty, some caramel or brown sugary notes. The cake texture was very good but not better than [Grammy’s]. This one was my favorite. I think the flavor was such a good balance of chocolatey but not overpowering, but I do wish there were pecans on top.
- This recipe somehow had a much richer, fuller taste; like chocolate buttercream from favorite birthday cakes growing up. A good balance between cocoa powder and butter, perhaps? Missing pecan flavoring since this was one of the three “naked” recipes. Texture was spongey to touch but also a little sticky, which felt like a good balance. Overall similar to [Food Charlatan], but ranked higher due to superior texture and the buttercream-like frosting.
- Perfect texture, flavor was good but maybe not strong enough. Frosting to cake ratio is perfect.
- So fluffy! I feel like it was a lighter chocolate flavor but that was fine since the frosting wasn’t as aggressive as some of the others.
- The cake had a really nice texture but was so bland. The frosting saved it even though it was sweeter than I prefer and I like it when it sets/crusts, this one was on the softer side. Definitely better cakes in this bake off.
Grammy’s Texas sheet cake: the epitome of tradition – a nostalgic soft and moist light chocolate cake with a sweet but balanced fudge frosting
This recipe comes to us courtesy of “Grammy” (friend of the blog, Alissa Minshew’s grandma)! Alissa kindly transcribed this recipe for us via the phone with her grandma. While we later found out there were some errors in the memory-based re-telling, it’s still an interesting recipe for many reasons!
This cake uses a combination of butter and oil with “2 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder” (I translated this into 1/4 cup). With buttermilk, white sugar and water, this is also very similar to Pioneer Woman but differs in its use of cream cheese in the icing. (Grammy adds this to make the icing smoother.)
While similar in appearance to Pioneer Woman, this cake had an edge texturally with its soft, moist texture thanks to the oil. It somehow feels simple and homey in its light sweetness and chocolate level. The fudge icing crusts over beautifully and is quite sweet–I’d never be able to detect the cream cheese–but not unbearably so. Note that Grammy does usually chop the pecans, which I think would’ve enhance the flavor and texture of the cake during the tasting.
Funnily enough, when Alissa did the tasting, she couldn’t pick Grammy’s cake out of the line up–turns out she thinks the recipe got mixed up in translation! Still, more than one taster noted this cake tasted exactly like their grandma used to make. So if you’re looking for a moist, homey taste of nostalgia–this cake is it! This was another of my favorites.
- Very moist, good vanilla flavor, nice fudge frosting. This is what I think of when I think of Texas sheet cake. Reminds me of childhood. This was my favorite and I will be making it!
- There’s a distinct hot chocolate taste–not the cocoa powder taste of every other recipe – a distinctly soft, milky flavor. It’s steeped in nostalgia. The cake is especially moist (sticky to the touch). A lot of other recipes had a soft or spongey texture, but this one was distinctly moist. Close tie between this more traditional recipe and [Made Everyday] which clearly is an oddball. If I wanted somebody to taste and learn about Texas sheet cake, I’d point them to this recipe.
- Love the toasted pecans, cake is very soft and plush and the perfect light chocolate flavor. Frosting is nice and crusty but not too sweet
- Tastes like the processed cakes of childhood in the best way. Like the salty flavor from the pecan to cut the sweetness and give a different texture but a bit too sweet overall, icing is a little gritty and too sweet
- Light, airy. Love the pecans, but not a lot of chocolate flavor. Cake feels a little too moist and soft; frosting to cake ratio also feels a bit too high.
- This cake flavor was good but not very chocolatey. I think the texture was a little too mushy for me, lacked a little structure and could use a little less frosting.
Budget Bytes: a fluffy, coffee-spiked dark chocolate cake with a thin, sweet layer of ganache-like icing
Monti’s recipe is another that riffs on the Pioneer Woman formula. Water gets swapped for coffee, Monti adds both brown and white sugar, baking soda, and swaps the buttermilk for mayo. Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Monti uses the same amount of butter she browns it (which typically adds flavor but reduces moisture). Interestingly, the icing uses slightly more butter than Pioneer Woman (2 sticks!!) but a cup less of powered sugar and adds heavy cream.
As you might expect, this cake had a similarly fluffy, airy, slightly drier texture to Pioneer Woman. However, this cake was absolutely bursting with coffee flavor. While I found this cake a little dry, it does pair well with the thin, flavorful layer of icing. This cake definitely had a large flavor edge over Pioneer Woman with the caramelized notes from the brown butter and deep coffee notes. This wouldn’t be considered a traditional Texas sheet cake, but it would be a great cake for coffee lovers!
- This is what Texas sheet cake should be. Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose. Sheer perfection. The crumb was light and the flavor was chocolate-y but not too sweet
- Very well balanced in flavor and texture. I liked the ganache-y frosting!
- I don’t know what’s in this frosting (more butter? Salt?) but it destroys most of the other samples when it comes to flavor. There is a hint of salt to cut the sweetness and a flavorful richness. If this cake had nuts, it would compete for the top spot.
- I can smell the brown butter and while I taste it, I get a more coffee forward cake. The cake was soft but slightly dry which I suspect was the brown butter. Salt level is great. Frosting was on the sweeter side but it set nicely and complemented the cake well.
- Very moist and chocolatey. Not exactly what I think of when I think of Texas sheet cake, but a very good chocolate cake. Didn’t love the coffee flavor but loved the texture.
- This flavor was very rich and made our mouths feel a bit dry, kind of chalky. Felt too coffee heavy.
Bravetart: a fluffy, slightly crumbly cake with a sticky dark chocolate icing
This should surprise approximately no one–Stella Park’s cake was one of the most unusual. Her all-butter cake uses more butter than most (2.5 sticks), all brown sugar and eliminates any water/coffee for all buttermilk as the only liquid. She also double the amount of eggs and adds both cinnamon and optional malted milk powder for flavor (the latter helps with flavor if you can’t find a high-fat natural cocoa powder). The glaze uses a higher ratio of milk than any other icing and gets poured on while the cake is hot, letting it soak into the cake.
This cake definitely stood apart from others with the immediate note of cinnamon in the soft, slightly crumbly but melt-in-your-mouth cake. Flavor-wise, this cake felt like a more complex, dark chocolate-forward cake that wasn’t too sweet like many others. I loved the crunch of the chopped pecans on top that balanced the cake very well. While the crumbly texture of this cake wouldn’t make it my top pick to make again, this earned top marks from other tasters for its bold, less sweet flavor and balance of textures.
- Well balanced and my favorite of the 9 samples. Good balance of fluff and dense/fudgy. I like that you get other flavors other than just sugar.
- The cinnamon really stands out compared to the others! Pleasant texture. I think the flavor of the pecans is really strong in this one and it plays with the dark chocolate flavor and the cinnamon well.
- Tender texture that I loved with a bold, but much less sweet-forward flavor.
- This is a good sticky chocolate cake, but maybe too many nuts. It has more of a bitter chocolate flavor which I like, but miss the graininess of typical Texas sheet cake.
- Also really good, my new favorite icing but compared to [Budget Bytes] I didn’t like the cake itself as much (kind of crumbly) and didn’t like the texture of the nuts (although I did like the flavor).
- Pecans were a bit large for me and cake had a slightly mealy texture.
Recommendations of the Best Texas Sheet Cake
Erika’s picks: Southern Living, Grammy’s, Made Everyday
Most crowd-pleasing: Bravetart
Most nostalgic: Grammy’s, Pioneer Woman
Best for dark chocolate lovers: Bravetart, Eat the Love, Budget Bytes
Best for coffee lovers: Budget Bytes
Best for marshmallow lovers: Made Everyday
Easiest to make: Pioneer Woman
If you enjoyed this bake off, you may also enjoy these other cake bake offs: