Growing up I always associated Texas sheet cake with funerals. An old timer died, the family got together and someone on the family tree made a Texas sheet cake. It could be counted on and, for the most part, it was taken for granted. 

For those of you that don’t know, a Texas sheet cake is a simple chocolate cake baked in a sheet pan and covered in a heavenly, cooked chocolate frosting. Sometimes the distant relative would add toasted pecans if the price was right. 

No one ever told me it was just for funerals. My 10-year-old brain assumed, and I never questioned it.

Years went by and unbeknownst to me the “funeral cake” became my little brother’s favorite. I was floored when he asked for it for his birthday. I didn’t think it was possible to have a funeral cake as a birthday cake, but my mom obliged and made the boy his cake and many more “funeral cake” birthday cakes thereafter. It was she who clued me into the fact that anyone at anytime could enjoy a funeral cake. 

Aside from my brother’s blasphemous birthday cakes, the next funeral cake came at my grandfather’s funeral. I was an adult at this point and knew all too well that my funeral cake idea was nonsense, but there it was, all laid out in its pecan crusted glory. I felt it was a fine tribute and a much-needed relief. 

In the years since my childhood, I have been to many funerals. For those in my family, the funeral cake has always made an appearance and for some reason I felt comfort. Other memorials I’ve attended where cold fried chicken and yellow potato salad were served didn’t quite give me the closure I needed. 

When my father died in 2017, I never made my way to the food. I was too shocked to make sure there was a funeral cake and I regret it to this day. I can only hope that some distant relative made the cake with pecans – no matter the price. 

Recently a dear friend lost her mother. I sat idly by, hoping that I could help in some way. Then the text came. “Can you make a funeral cake for my mother’s memorial?” Can I? It would be an honor. I made the best Texas sheet cake recipe I had and added the nuts, heedless of the cost. I carefully wrapped it up and showed up early to place it on the table front and center. A fitting tribute to a woman who loved carbs and who felt like family. 

If you follow my column, then you know that I like cake and it’s not surprising to know that I also associate cake with closure. I’d like to leave you with the recipe for Funeral Cake (aka Texas Sheet cake) I hope you never need to use it.

For the cake

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

••• teaspoon salt

4 TBSP (heaping) cocoa powder

2 sticks of butter

1 cup boiling water

••• cup buttermilk

2 whole beaten eggs

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

For the icing

••• cup chopped pecans (even if they cost a lot)

1 ••• sticks of butter

4 TBSP (heaping) cocoa powder

6 TBSP milk 

1 tsp vanilla

1 lb. powdered sugar

1. Note: I use an 18×13 sheet cake pan. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. In a saucepan, melt butter. Add cocoa. Stir together. Add boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour over flour mixture and stir lightly to cool. 

2. In a measuring cup, pour the buttermilk and add beaten eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate mixture. Pour into sheet cake pan and bake at 350-degrees for 20 minutes.

3. While cake is baking, make the icing. Chop pecans finely. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add cocoa, stir to combine, then turn off heat. Add the milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Stir together. Add the pecans, stir together, and pour over warm cake.

4. Take to a funeral