An almost-but-not-quite-toothachingly-sweet cake, rich with cocoa and butter and laid out in a jellyroll pan.

It was the cake my mother made for family reunions; the cake she took to potlucks; the cake she baked for barbecues and to fete me when I’d come home from college.

Texas chocolate cake was a fixture of my childhood. My brother and I would eat slabs of it for dessert, for snacks — sometimes even for breakfast. We liked to eat the icing first; the icing was the star of the cake. When no one was watching, we’d scrape thick, crystallized chunks of it from the sides of the pan and stuff them in our mouths.

Yet somewhere along the path from child to adult, Texas chocolate cake fell out of favor. Cake stopped gracing every dinner table. Cake became special-occasion food. And special occasions called for something more stately (layer cakes) or unique (yeasted cakes) than a thin layer of flour, sugar and chocolate encased in a jellyroll pan.

Texas chocolate cake became a memory. But a few years ago, during a visit home, I found my mother’s old recipe. I copied it down and made it for a neighborhood potluck.

“Oh my gosh,” the hostess gushed when I came in bearing my jellyroll pan. “I haven’t had that cake since I was a kid!”

I make Texas chocolate cake quite a bit now. It’s my go-to dessert for neighborhood cookouts; for Memorial Day barbecues; for nights when I want a sweet ending to dinner but have just 20 minutes to spare.

It’s the taste of my childhood. Which I now bestow on my sons.

Texas Chocolate Cake

This is my mother’s recipe. I have no idea where she got it. She made the cake with salted oleo. I use unsalted butter and add a half-teaspoon of Morton’s salt to the dry ingredients.

If you want a less-caloric cake, Cooking Light magazine published a version a few years ago that cuts the amount of sugar and butter and adds cinnamon to the mix. I made that a few times but have returned to the original. Some things — like childhood memories — should be tamper-free.

For the cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon soda

For the icing:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Coat a jellyroll pan with nonstick spray, and set it aside. (Make sure your pan has sides that are at least 1 inch high.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, oil, cocoa and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then add the mixture to your dry ingredients. Whisk well.

Add the milk, eggs, vanilla and soda to the batter. Stir gently until everything is combined and the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Smooth the top.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

While the cake bakes, make the icing:

Combine the butter, cocoa and milk in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.

Using a wooden spoon, beat in the powdered sugar, vanilla and salt. Pour the icing over the cake as soon as you remove the cake from the oven. Let the cake sit until the icing is cool and hardened before digging in.