Everybody’s favorite Texas Sheet cake (aka Hoosier Cake)
My husband and his family grew up eating Texas Sheet Cake, but they never called it that because they didn’t KNOW that it had other names. It was always “John Hoosier” cake. It has been handed down through at least 4 generations in our family, possibly more; always referred to as John Hoosier cake. Who is John Hoosier you ask?
When this recipe was given to me by my mother-in-law I asked her the same question, and she had no idea! I always wondered about the name every time I made this classic Sunday dessert. But then I would get busy making it, eating it, and then the distractions of life would call my thoughts another way. I imagine one of my husband’s ancestors from Indiana brought the recipe to Southern Colorado with the re-settlement of Mormon Pioneers in the 1870s.
Hoosier Cake (Texas Sheet Cake) Origin
I expected to find some notable ‘John Hoosier’ from antiquities in my internet searching that did something or was something, that would cause a simple but delicious cake to forever bear his name. I could not find any notable ‘John Hoosier’ in history. However, the moniker ‘Hoosier’ is well known to local southern Indiana residents and is said to originate there in the mid to late 1800s. The term then, some would argue, was used for various simple folk from dock workers to backwoods-type immigrant settlers. Some think that it started when they would yell out “who’sh’ere?” So as not to shoot a friend or family member approaching in the forest :0)
As the years progressed into the early 1900s if you were called a Hoosier it was not a nice thing to say; more like saying you were a lazy redneck! Well now, hold on just a minute! I do recall Grandma Kreps referring to this cake as ‘a poor man’s cake’. So we’ve come to the answer to the question: the cake’s not named after a person, but rather it’s a label for a poor, backwoods redneck cake!
The history of chocolate cake in the U.S. is quite interesting. Cocoa powder and chocolate didn’t show up until the 1800s in America, and it wasn’t widely used in baking until the end of the 1800s. Early Chocolate cakes were given some pretty interesting monikers because of their reddish-black color. That’s where terms like “Devil’s food”, Hoosier, Black Joe Cake, Black John, Morganza, Oxblood cake came from. I recently came across a fascinating book called American Cake, by Ann Byrn. I would highly recommend picking up a copy to learn more about the history of cake in America!
The cake is made with buttermilk (sour milk), a traditional old-time family’s milk. After milking the cow the fresh milk was left to sit for a time so the cream could separate and be skimmed off for churning butter. The remaining milk usually had soured a bit. Nowadays you can purchase cultured buttermilk, in which bacteria are added to create the tart flavor.
When I received this recipe I was informed that there’s an easy substitute for buttermilk if you don’t have any handy. Adding 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to one cup of milk will curdle it and give a similar tartness. I made it using this method many times and the cake is wonderful! So moist and flavorful. Honestly, I’ve made this twice with store-bought buttermilk and it tasted so bland! The ‘substitute buttermilk’ wins hands down for my family as being the tastier cake, and I won’t make it any other way.
Here’s the recipe for you to enjoy, whatever name you may choose to call it, and may it become a family favorite for your go-to easy and delicious Sunday night dessert! Top off a hot slice of frosted cake with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Those old-timers may have been poor but they sure knew how to make the best of it! :0)Print
John Hoosier Cake
- Total Time: 50 minutes
- Yield: 16 1x
Easy and delicious tangy chocolate sheet cake.
- 1 cup milk
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 cubes (1 cup) salted butter or margarine
- 1 cup water
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, and 2 more for dusting your pan
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 and 2/3 cup sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 stick of salted butter or margarine
- 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 1 pound of powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup of chopped nuts (optional)
- Mix the vinegar into the milk to create your buttermilk substitute and let it sit as you continue with the recipe.
- Move the oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350. Grease a 15.5 by 10.5 by 1.5 inch rimed baking sheet with Crisco and dust the entire surface with cocoa powder, tapping out the excess.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat bring to boil the butter, water and cocoa, stirring occasionally and remove from heat when boiling.
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine and sift together the flour, sugar baking soda and salt. pour in the cocoa mixture and mix until combined. Add 2/3 cup buttermilk substitute, eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
- Pour into your prepared baking sheet, tapping the bottom gently on the counter top a few times to release any trapped bubbles. Bake for about 30 minutes.
- While the cake bakes, prepare the frosting by combining the butter or margarine, what’s left of your buttermilk substitute and 4 tablespoons of cocoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add to the bowl of a clean stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl). With the paddle attachment on medium low speed add in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium high for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl half way through. Pour over a very warm cake, spreading out evenly with a spatula or knife and serve.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Category: Dessert
- Cuisine: American
The Toppack says
Look so yummy. Thank you for your information
So delicious! This recipe tastes identical to my Grandmother! Loved it!!
This cake recipe is a treasured one among our family as well. I feel like it’s kinda a family heirloom of sorts. So cool to know that this recipe was being made by grandparents and even great-grandparents! I’m so glad you found the recipe helpful, Thanks for sharing :0)
J P Hooser says
Interesting. I grew up with this cake and have been looking for the recipe since I lost it. So, I searched for chocolate sheet cake and what do I find? A search for the origin of the name! And what makes that so interesting to me?
Sometime in the 1960s, a friend of my family asked for the recipe for this cake because… well, if you’ve tasted it, you know. She later submitted it to one of those church recipe collections. Not knowing what to call it, she named it for my father: John Hooser Cake. She gave us a copy of the book. I find the search for the origin of the name surreal and fun and it makes me wonder. But this? It’s definitely the cake I grew up with. Thanks!
Incredible that we have connected over this cake, I love it! My family would be so curious to see a picture of this church recipe cookbook or the cake recipe in it named for your father. Would that be possible? And did your father bake this cake for your family on a regular basis? I’m curious why the cake was named after your father. So cool! Also, I’m curious what part of the country was your father’s family living in in the 60’s? You can email a photo to Emily@GoldilocksKitchen.com.
Super yummy and easy to make! I had this for my birthday cake.
Thanks Shiloh for the feedback! Glad you enjoyed the cake :0)