I love sheet cakes, both the making and eating of them. They’re simple to prepare, feed a crowd, and remind me of my childhood: my mom baked them for birthday parties, family gatherings, or just because. And as people are now turning to their trusty sheet pans for everything from salads, to soups, to all kinds of no-fuss dinners, I think it's high time for a resurgence of sheet cakes, too.
Recently, as I was making sandwiches for my kids’ lunch—peanut butter and jelly for my son, cream cheese and jam for my daughter—a thought came to me. Why had I never split the difference, with a peanut butter and cream cheese sandwich? And with baking on the brain (we’d been watching The Great British Baking Show as a family), this thought soon became, why not try a peanut butter sheet cake with cream cheese frosting? Or, better yet, chocolate cream cheese frosting? I was spurred on by the show’s hosts: "On your marks, get set, bake!"
Except, the "get ready" part wasn’t so easy. In all my cookbooks, I didn’t find one peanut butter cake, sheet cake or otherwise. Then I turned to Google, and thought I’d hit a recipe goldmine—so many peanut butter sheet cakes! But I soon realized that all of the recipes were virtually the same, down to the ingredient amounts: they called for whisking fat (butter, or sometimes a combo of butter and vegetable oil) with boiling water and peanut butter, adding the butter mixture to the dry ingredients, and folding in eggs and buttermilk. The pictured cakes were thin, with similarly thin layers of frosting—akin to a Texas sheet cake. I like that style of cake, but the peanut butter sheet cake I was dreaming of was thick and fluffy and piled high with thick, swooshy frosting.
So I turned to Stella Parks and her Gingerbread Sheet Cake. The cake pictured in her recipe was gorgeously tall (double the height of the others I’d seen!), and as soon as I looked at the ingredients and method, I understood why. She calls for whipping the eggs and sugar until thick and fluffy to fully aerate the batter, then drizzling in melted fat. After that, she says to mix in a full cup of buttermilk at the end, to add moisture (without thinning the batter), boost the cake’s tenderness, and aid its rise.
I used Parks’ technique to create my peanut butter sheet cake, and it worked like a charm. This was exactly the cake I was hoping for: tall and moist, rich and tender-crumbed, and so full of peanut butter flavor. For the chocolate cream cheese frosting, I opted for cocoa powder over melted chocolate, to get a deep, rich, chocolaty flavor and light, fluffy texture. To decorate the cake, I like to go heavy on the sprinkles, because what don't sprinkles make better?
My daughter’s review of the cake was all I needed to hear. In her best Paul Hollywood impression, she said, “Mommy, that’s a good bake.”
For the sheet cake
- 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) vegetable or other neutral-flavored oil
- 2/3 cup (170 grams) creamy peanut butter, either all-natural (well-stirred) or conventional (like Jif or Skippy)
- 3/4 cup (160 grams) light brown sugar (packed)
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large eggs, straight from the fridge
- 2 cups (240 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (225 grams) buttermilk
- 1 handful sprinkles (optional)
For the frosting
- 1 cup (8 ounces; 226 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup (57 grams; 1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (43 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 cups (340 grams) powdered sugar
Do you like your sheet cakes thick and fluffy, wish swooshy frosting, or Texas-style with a dainty glaze? Share your sheet cake tips in the comments!