If ever we need comfort, it’s now. Perhaps as unsettling as the onslaught of the pandemic and all that it has brought us is the partial opening of places — because now, we have even more questions than before. Should we stay home or is it safe to go out to eat? We want to support our favorite restaurants but is it crazy to do so? We made peace with grocery shopping as quickly as possible by wearing masks and mindfully staying six feet away from everyone else, but is it really OK to do more shopping now? When anxiety like this wears on me, I push back with chocolate. Really good, deep and dark, rich chocolate. So do others: When reading my Kitchen Comfort recipe makeover stories online, my friend Sally asked if I’d tackle a chocolate sheet cake — and this seems like exactly the right time. Plowing through my grandmother June’s recipe box, I found a very yellowed recipe card bearing chocolate cake recipe in her very neat printing, probably from the 1940s. It calls for bittersweet chocolate and buttermilk, which spells goodness to me. My pantry yielded Hershey’s Special Dark Baking Cocoa, so I went with that — to wonderful results. I subbed butter for the shortening her recipe advised and I used TX Whiskey instead of vanilla extract, just because we can use a little hooch right now. For the frosting, I modified a recipe from one of my church-lady cookbooks, using the dark cocoa and whiskey again, along with strong coffee, because I love gilding the lily. If you like the lighter effect of milk chocolate, by all means — just use regular cocoa. Finally, the traditional sheet cake is baked in a 13-inch x 18-inch sheet pan but I used a 9-inch by 13-inch pan for a little more depth. (If you’d rather use vanilla instead of whiskey in cake and frosting, that’s fine!)
Serves 8 to 10
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
½ cup dark cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons boiling water
2 teaspoons whiskey
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a baking pan (13- by 18-inch or 9- by 13-inch) and set aside.
In a bowl, cream together butter and eggs. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture, beating well. Add buttermilk and blend. In a cup, mix together baking soda and boiling water. Stir into batter and add whiskey. Pour into baking pan and bake 20 minutes for sheet pan or 30 minutes for deeper pan. Frost cake while it’s still warm.
DARK CHOCOLATE WHISKEY FROSTING
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
5 tablespoons dark cocoa
2 to 3 tablespoons strong coffee, cooled
1 tablespoon whiskey
1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans, optional
Mix together butter, powdered sugar and cocoa together in a bowl, then pour in just enough of the coffee to make mixture loose and easily spreadable. Add whiskey and pecans; stir. Spread over warm cake. Allow cake and frosting to cool before cutting. Pro tip: On hot, humid days, you may need to chill this in fridge for a couple of hours so the frosting will set properly.