foodFood & Drinkrecipes

Your New Go-To Chocolate Sheet Cake + Giveaway

by Kristina Gill

Sheet cakes remind me of those back-to-school days of summer when I was in elementary school, which seemed to creep closer and closer to the beginning of August each year I got older, shortening my summer break. The beginning of the school year, however, meant birthdays and birthdays meant cake — whether it came from the Kroger deli or someone’s mother made it. The cakes of my childhood were always piled high with frosting. I only ate the the frosting if it was dotted with sprinkles — or jimmies, as we called them — otherwise I scraped it off. The chocolate jimmies were the best.

This week’s recipe comes from baker Jessie Sheehan’s second book, The Vintage Baker. It’s for Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting, and I consider it the adult version of those childhood cakes I remember. It’s also the quintessential cake to ring in the new school year if you have kids — make it and become the baker whose cake everyone looks forward to! —Kristina

Image Above: Vintage interior art, permission granted to Chronicle Books by Kraft Heinz Foods Company

Why Jessie loves this recipe:  The Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting pays (sweet) tribute to the beloved cake-mix cakes of my childhood. Be it Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker, when I was little, my favorite cake always came from a box. I loved its springy crumb, its dark brown color (yes, cake isn’t — I mean wasn’t — CAKE, unless it is/was chocolate), its sweet, slightly chemically-induced taste, and if the vanilla frosting atop it came from a can, well then all was right in my 10-year-old world. This cake is my from-scratch version of all that, wherein the chocolate flavor comes from cocoa and espresso powders, and the rich, tender crumb comes from oil and egg yolks; funky chemicals need not apply. And with the blanket of billowy marshmallow-like frosting atop it, I like to think I’ve done Betty (and Duncan), and my 10-year-old self, proud.

For a chance to win a copy of The Vintage Baker, respond in the comments section below by September 12, 5PM EST to the following question: What food related event do you cherish most from your childhood? Was it the county fair (pie!)? Was it participating in a cake walk? Was it birthday parties? Summer vacation road trips? Let us know! We will announce the winner in the comments section, so be sure to check back!

About Jessie: Jessie Sheehan is a baker, food writer and recipe developer. She is the author of The Vintage Baker and the co-author of Icebox Cakes. She has contributed recipes/and or written for epicurious, Food52, Fine Cooking, TASTE, Little Sous, and Main Street Magazine, among others. She likes layer cakes with lots of frosting and cookies that are thick and chewy, and has a soft spot for chocolate pudding. She lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn with her husband and two boys, not far from her beloved Baked, the bakery where she got her start. She blogs at jessiesheehanbakes.com and can be found on Instagram at @jessiesheehanbakes. You can find her recipe for the “Old School” chocolate wafer icebox cake in our archives here.

Image above: Cover. All photography by Alice Gao.

Image above: Jessie Sheehan

Image above: Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting

Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting

Serves 16

Many of my booklets feature devil’s food cake with sea foam frosting. Popularity aside, I’d have jumped at the chance to make anything topped with sea foam frosting, as the name alone is so enticing. I took the Rich Devil’s Food Cake recipe from 11 Famous Recipes—Hershey’s Cocoa (1959) and turned it into a one-bowl chocolate cake—my favorite and super-easy to make. I used oil instead of shortening for moistness and added espresso powder to amp up the chocolate flavor. A generous sprinkling of sanding sugar in seaside colors enhances the beachy vibe.


  • Devil’s Food Cake
  • 1¾ cups [245 g] all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup [60 g] Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup [200 g] packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup [200 g] granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1¾ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup [120 ml] vegetable oil
  • 1 cup [240 ml] buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup [240 ml] boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp espresso powder
  • Sea Foam Frosting
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup plus 6 Tbsp [280 g] packed light brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp light corn syrup
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • Dash of table salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Blue and green sanding sugar for decorating



To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C]. Grease a 13-by-9- by-2-in [33-by-23-by-5-cm] pan with nonstick cooking spray or softened butter, line with parchment paper, and grease again.

Add the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on low speed until well combined.

In a small bowl, add the egg, egg yolks, vanilla, oil, and buttermilk and whisk until combined. With the mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Beat until incorporated, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and espresso powder and add to the batter in the mixer bowl. Mix again on medium speed for 30 seconds, until smooth. The batter will be quite thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 28 minutes, rotating at the halfway point. The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a moist crumb or two. Let cool completely in the pan. The cake can be made 1 day ahead and kept tightly wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter.


To make the frosting:

Place a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water over medium high heat. Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Add the egg whites, brown sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, salt, and 5 tablespoons [75 ml] water. Using an electric hand mixer, beat the egg white mixture on high speed until stiff and glossy, about 7 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan of hot water, add the vanilla, and continue beating for another 2 minutes.

Generously frost the cake and sprinkle the top with sanding sugar. The frosted cake is best served within a few hours. The frosting dries and loses its “foamy” fluffiness pretty quickly but the cake can be kept, lightly covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Reprinted from The Vintage Baker by Jessie Sheehan with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018

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  • This recipe is misleading – the white frosting in the pic is different than what this frosting yields with brown sugar and vanilla – so just beware – it also has a weird caramel-y taste (not in a good way) that’s not present for true marshmallow frosting.