Recipe: Texas Layer Cake

I vividly remember the first time I experienced the glories of Texas Sheet Cake. I was just a little girl with an insatiable sweet tooth, and the giant chocolate cake -- with its moist crumb and sweet pecan frosting -- seemed a revelation. I couldn't get enough of it into my grubby little hands (hey, some things never change)!
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Fast forward twenty years. I rarely need an excuse to make this Southern staple. In fact I made it just a couple of weeks ago for my mother's birthday, per her request.

While planning this year's Thanksgiving menu, I wanted to bake a beautiful layer cake in addition to the plethora of pies that usually grace our table. I'm a chocolate girl all the way, so it dawned on me, why not transform the lowly sheet cake of my youth into a beautiful swan?

And beautiful swan it is! The not-too-sweet cake layers are drenched in a buttery chocolate ganache, then topped with a nutty praline topping. Not only is it stunning, it's delicious. I have a feeling this cake will be making an appearance at my holidays for many years to come.

Do you make desserts besides pies for your holiday celebrations?

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Texas Layer Cake
Serves 12 to 16

For the cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon Kahlua liquor (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

For the ganache
12 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the frosting
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Kahlua (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1 cup chopped pecans

For the cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small saucepan combine butter, cocoa powder, and water over low heat, stirring frequently, and cook until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sour cream, eggs, baking soda, and Kahlua and beat until smooth. Add melted chocolate mixture to sour cream mixture and mix until combined. Add dry ingredients to the bowl and continue beating until blended.

Coat 3 (9-inch) round cakepans with shortening (tip: this works better than cooking spray and butter) and lightly flour the pan. Divide cake batter evenly into pans (the weighing method works best).

Bake for 20 - 23 minutes -- moving the pans around halfway through cooking -- until cake is set. Allow cake to cool in pans, approximately 30 minutes. Remove cake from pans (I flip the cake pan over, using my hand to support the cake layer, while gently tapping until the cake slips out). Cool the cakes completely on wire racks.

Spread 1/2 cup chocolate ganache between each cake layer (excluding the top) and spread remaining ganache on the sides of the cake.

Pour chocolate frosting slowly over the top of cake, gently spreading to edges.

For the ganache
Microwave chocolate and whipping cream in a glass bowl at MEDIUM (50% power) for 2 to 3 minutes or until melted and stir until smooth. Gradually add butter, cube by cube, whisking constantly. Cool, stirring often, until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

For the frosting
In a medium saucepan, combine butter, cocoa, and milk and cook over low heat until butter is completely melted. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil (it may look separated, but that's okay). Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, Kahlua, and chopped pecans. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth and sugar dissolves. Immediately pour over the cake while still warm.

Related: Cranberry and Chocolate: Decadent Thanksgiving Desserts

(Images: Nealey Dozier)

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Dessert, Recipe

Nealey Dozier is a former wedding planner turned chef, culinary instructor, recipe developer, and food writer. She is based in Atlanta. You can find more of her Southern adventures in eating and entertaining at www.dixiecaviar.com.

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