I am a big Texas sheet cake fan from way back. It's a large-format chocolate cake with a fudgy glaze-like frosting and is basically everything I want in dessert: It's tasty enough to please a crowd, it can be made with minimal fuss, and it's as great for a special occasion as it is for any given Tuesday.
Because I love the easy assembly and epic nature of the cake just as much as I love its flavor profile (chocolate on chocolate!), I was drawn to develop a vanilla version, with a strawberry-flavored glaze. And what a version it is. Fluffy white cake, with a tender melt-in-your-mouth crumb, is assembled in a single bowl, baked in less than 20 minutes and topped, while still warm, with a simple glaze flavored with freeze-dried strawberries.
I'd love to share an extensive list of tips and tricks for making this fabulous berry-glazed pink cake, but it really is a breeze to make with nary a pitfall. So instead, I will list its attributes, as one would in a love letter, as there are many.
One-bowl cakes are the best cakes
A one-bowl cake is not only the easiest and fastest way to assemble a cake, but it is also the method that those of us who abhor doing dishes turn to the most.
Here, I turn the traditional cake mixing technique on its head in the name of one-bowl baking. The recipe calls for mixing together the wet ingredients before the dry, whisking the leaveners and salt right into them and then folding the flour in last. By assembling the cake in this manner, you avoid the need for an extra bowl in which to whisk together your dry ingredients. And because the flour is folded in on its own, as opposed to with your other dry ingredients, you don't have to worry about evenly distributing your baking powder and salt. They already are!
Instead, you can focus on gently mixing in the flour, until just a streak or two remains, producing a cake with the lightest and airiest of textures.
Extra yolks are a secret ingredient
This recipe calls for 2 eggs and 2 yolks. We could use 4 whole eggs, but the 2 whites will provide plenty of structure for the cake's diminutive stature. The extra yolks give the cake a particularly velvety texture, as well as a rich flavor and an extra tender crumb.
A splash of almond extract adds depth of flavor
Although it packs a punch, almond extract doesn't necessarily give your dessert a nutty, almond flavor. Instead, it heightens the flavors already present. Here, almond extract makes the cake taste more complexly of vanilla, deepening the flavor in a nostalgic way.
A shallow pan results in a perfect cake-to-frosting ratio
Like the Texas sheet cake, this vanilla-strawberry number is baked in a half-sheet pan, a large, shallow pan that's 13-by-18-inches. Once baked, the cake is maybe a tad over an inch in height, and once topped with a tangy pink glaze, each slice provides nothing short of the perfect ratio of cake-to-frosting. A sheet cake baked in a traditional 9-by-13-inch pan is sometimes so tall that a single bite is often more cake than topping; a half sheet pan makes such a tragedy an impossibility (thank you very much).
A boiled butter/milk/sugar glaze is wonderfully fudgy in texture
The glaze here, like in a traditional Texas sheet cake, is assembled by boiling butter and evaporated milk and then whisking in confectioners' sugar. In the traditional cake, cocoa powder is boiled along with the butter mixture, but here I've substituted freeze-dried strawberries for a slightly tart twist. But whether it's made with cocoa or something fruity, the magic of this glaze is in the fudgy texture that boiling the milk and butter produces. It thickens when whisked with the sugar and once poured over the cake and left to set, forms a crisp top with a toothsome middle. The contrast of the glaze's soft, almost chewiness with the fluffy, light cake is what makes this cake so special.
Glazing a cake while warm means less waiting (you're welcome)
Many cakes want you to wait until they cool to room temperature before you frost them. Here, upon removing this cake from the oven, you quickly assemble the glaze and spread it over the still-warm cake a few minutes later. This not only makes for an extra soft, moist layer where the warm cake hits the warm glaze, but also means that you'll be eating cake stat, as this thin cutie cools down quickly.
Freeze-dried fruit is the easiest way to flavor the glaze
Although flavoring the glaze with real fruit sounds great, doing so would require reducing the fruit to concentrate the flavor and remove moisture. Freeze-dried fruit, on the other hand, can be ground to provide a potent flavor and wonderful color And while you can sift the pink powder to remove any errant fruity chunks that your grinder misses, I love the way the bits speckle the cake.
This easy vanilla party cake is sure to become your new favorite treat. If you are already yanking bowls - or rather one bowl - from the cupboard and assembling your ingredients, then my love letter to it has achieved its goal.
Vanilla Sheet Cake with Strawberry Glaze
24 servings (makes one 13-by-18-inch cake)
Active time: 45 minutes. Total time: 1 hour
This fluffy, thin vanilla cake, topped with the tangiest of fruit glazes, is the dessert you did not realize your repertoire was missing. Not only is it easy to assemble without any special equipment, but it is glazed while warm, so the time between craving cake and eating it is exponentially reduced. The cake is large as you bake it in a half-sheet pan, but its single layer allows you to easily cut modest servings, and it freezes beautifully.
The glaze calls for freeze-dried strawberries, but you can make it with blueberries or mangoes, too.
Storage note: Cover the cake and store it on the counter for about 3 days; to freeze, wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 1 month.
Where to buy: Freeze-dried strawberry powder (see Notes) can be found at specialty baking shops or online.
Note: Use a spice or coffee grinder to process dried strawberries to a fine powder. Don't worry about larger pieces that escape the blades. Just add them into the glaze for the prettiest of speckled tops. Or, if you prefer, you can buy freeze-dried strawberry powder at specialty baking shops or online.
FOR THE CAKE
Cooking spray, for greasing the baking sheet (may use softened unsalted butter)
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) granulated sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces/226 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 2/3 cups (380 grams) well-shaken buttermilk (whole or low-fat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
FOR THE GLAZE
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup (80 grams) evaporated milk (may also use whole milk)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3 cups (360 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup (14 grams) freeze-dried strawberries, finely ground into a powder (see Notes)
Make the cake: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-18-by-1-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts until combined. Whisk in the eggs and yolks, one at a time, then whisk in the buttermilk until combined. Sprinkle the baking powder, baking soda and salt over the bowl, one at a time, whisking after each. Gently fold in the flour just until the last streak disappears.
Scrape the batter into the prepared baking sheet and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan front to back halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool.
Make the glaze and finish the cake: While the cake is baking, gather the glaze ingredients: In a small saucepan, combine the butter, milk and salt; place the confectioners' sugar in a large bowl.
Once the cake is cooling, set the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture just comes to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the confectioners' sugar, whisking to combine. Whisk in the vanilla, followed by the strawberry powder, until incorporated.
Pour the warm glaze over the hot cake, and use an offset spatula to spread the glaze to the edges. Let cool completely before slicing and serving from the pan.
Nutritional information per serving (about 3-inch square) Calories: 319; Fat: 15 g; Saturated Fat: 9 g; Cholesterol: 69 mg; Sodium: 186 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 31 g; Protein: 4 g