Food News

Sweet Summer Birthday Cakes (and a Texas Sheet Cake Recipe)

Jennifer Reed is a pastry chef based in South Florida and owner of the Sugar Monkey. Every week,

she'll share her insights about life, local food, and the people who

cook it.

Summer birthdays are kind of a drag. Yeah, you could take your cupcakes to school on the last day. But so could four other kids who also had summer birthdays. And a birthday party? No way. My birthday parties consisted of my aunt, my grandma and grandpa, my mom, and myself. I don't even recall my brother being there. It was summer, and he was having real fun, not pseudo-party fun. The actual celebration part lasted only about ten minutes. Like the family was getting together and then -- "Oh shit, we have to light the candles and open the Barbie clothes so we can finish talking."

The party for me was all about the cake. My dad was the original

cake boss. When we were little, he would make ladybug-shaped cakes and monkey-shaped cakes -- really fun cakes. But as I got older and my

palette became more refined, I developed a taste for cherry chip and

funfetti cakes. I loved the color of the cakes. I loved the fact that

you could go to the store and pick out the cake mix and then a frosting to

go with it. Cake in the colors of the Care Bears -- ingenious! 

My mother wanted nothing to do with my rainbow-hued

mixes. She would let me have them on the condition that I make my own

birthday cake. Hell yeah, at least I knew that part of my party

would be rockin'! I would wake up early on the morning of my birthday

to start my cake. Soon the kitchen would be filled with the "scent" of

cherries. At this point, I had already licked the beaters and tested out

my frosting on some graham crackers. It was my birthday, and I had free

reign in the kitchen. By the afternoon, my beautiful

rainbow-chip-covered cake was sitting on the counter, topped in sugar

letters, tempting me to eat it. 

Later that

evening, my family would sing to me and let me blow out the candles. I

would cut one slice of cake for myself. Then my mother would bring in

her birthday cake from the week before and the adults would eat that

one. Her cake was (and still is) Texas Sheet Cake -- dark chocolate cake

with boiled chocolate frosting made from scratch -- not picked off grocery

store shelves. None of us ever imagined I would end up where I am,

shuddering at the thought of boxed mixes and preservatives. I was home

last month for my nephew's eighth-grade graduation. There was a

reception after with cake and ice cream. I ate the cherry chip cake

with the fluffy white icing. I would never make it for myself again,

but it sure takes me back!

Below is the recipe

for my mom's birthday cake. She says it's best made the day before you

are going to eat it. It's sad since I am a professional baker, but I've made the cake for her

only once.  The honor has been passed on to my

sister-in-law, who lives much closer. And whose sons love those cherry

and funfetti cakes just as much as I do.


Sheet Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar

1/4 cups butter -- my mom uses 1 stick of butter and 1/2 cup crisco


1/2 T cocoa powder

1 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk

t baking soda

1 t vanilla
2 each eggs
1 t


Preheat oven to 375℉. Butter flour a

10x14(or 15)x1 cake pan. Mix the sugar and flour together in a bowl.

Combine the butter, cocoa powder, and water in a saucepan and bring to a

boil, stirring constantly. Add to the flour/sugar mixture and whisk

in. Combine the buttermilk, soda, vanilla, eggs, and salt. Whisk into

the previous mix until the ingredients are combined. Bake for

approximately 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes

out clean.

When the cake is almost done baking,

start to make the icing. The cake should be iced while it is still


1 stick butter
1/3 cup milk

1/2 T cocoa

1 box confectioner's sugar
1 t vanilla


the butter, milk, and cocoa to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove

from the heat and stir in the confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Pour

over the cake while both are still warm.

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Jennifer Reed