Chocolate Sheath Cake

“The Ardmore, Oklahoma YWCA Favorite Recipes Cookbook” (1965) calls this yummy chocolate cake “Sheath Cake,” which is where my mom found the recipe for what came to be a frequent weeknight dessert for our family – something that she could whip up in less than an hour, and serve warm, with or without ice cream on the side.

Similar recipes for this cake call it a “Sheet Cake,” or “Texas Sheet Cake,” both of which are fine by me, but since “Sheath Cake” is what my mom and grandmother Mary called it, I’m going to stick with tradition, and keep on calling it that, even though I can certainly see how it makes much more sense to call the cake a sheet cake, since the pan used is a sheet pan.

Anyway, I made this cake the other day for a friend’s birthday party, and since I was still in the mood for chocolate (still, apres my Melt extravaganza), I decided to make one for me, too. My pal Deb was so in love with this cake, she begged me to share the recipe, which I was planning to do anyway.

I opened my cabinet and remembered that I had already bought some powdered sugar needed for the icing.

But then, when I opened it up, I saw that it was not powdered sugar at all, as it clearly states on the front — sucre en poudre — but simply a finer granulated sugar.

So I put on my rainboots, because naturally, it was raining, and went down the block to the Franprix, and picked up another box of powdered sugar, squeezing it first to make sure it had that “give” that, you know, a box of powdered sugar has. And when I saw the picture of the girl on the front happily pouring this sugar on her cherries, I knew that it was the right sugar to buy.

But when I got home and opened the box, I saw that once again, I had been fooled. I put on my rainboots, my jacket and hat, and went back to the Franprix.

Then, I found it – sucre glace (sugar ice in fancy Frenchspeak) – hidden among the boxes and bags of what was absolutely NOT powdered sugar. I gave it a shake or two to make sure it would pour and wasn’t all globbed up because of the humidity from the persistent rain, grabbed two, and headed back home.

Now, finally, I could make my cake.

Here’s the recipe.

Sheath Cake

Preheat oven to 200C/350F
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar

1 stick butter
½ cup Crisco
1 cup water (I use ¾ cup strong coffee + ¼ cup water instead)
4 tablespoons cocoa

½ cup buttermilk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla


1 stick butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
6 tablespoons milk
1 box powdered sugar (appx 3 ¾ cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Grease and flour a 16 X 11 pan.

My mom says that the easiest thing to do is to measure out what you need for the icing at the same time that you’re measuring the chocolate mixture for the cake, and I’ve done it this way, and she’s right.

First, go ahead and sift the flour and sugar into a large bowl. You’ll not be using a mixer for this recipe; it’s all done by hand.

Now, measure out the butter, Crisco, water, and cocoa and put into one saucepan, and measure out all of the ingredients for the icing, too, and put them in another saucepan and set aside.

Turn on the heat to low and stir until all of the ingredients are melted and mixture is glossy. This won’t take long – five minutes, tops.

Pour the chocolate into the flour-sugar mixture in the bowl and stir until blended. Be careful not to overmix.

Now, add buttermilk, eggs, soda, cinnamon, and vanilla, Mix, and pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until cake comes back when you touch it.

Make icing as you take the cake from the oven. The idea is to pour the hot icing over the warm cake so it penetrates the cake, which ends up being a brownie-like, iced cake.

The best part? The corner, where the icing naturally falls into like a French rain gutter!