Yes, indeed, the baking of this cake was inspired by Tina Fey’s now infamous sheetcaking bit on SNL’s Weekend Update. I have talked many times in the past about baking as a form of therapy. That has proved especially true in the days since Charlottesville and really, since November. I thoroughly enjoyed Tina’s witty response to that series of horrific events. I have read many interesting responses to her skit that make many good points. My personal view is to take that skit in the context of what it is, which is comedy. I don’t think Tina is literally advocating that we ignore Nazis in favor of eating cake. I think her point about letting them scream into the void is well taken, particularly in regards to internet comment sections. But then again, maybe it is my own privilege that allows me to receive it that way. I have no intention of staying home and shutting up in the face of this hatred, before or since. No, ma’am.

In any case, these past several months have been exhausting. Staying informed, engaged, taking action, but also taking care of myself emotionally and physically has been a delicate balancing act that I’m still figuring out day by day. And I only fall into one of the groups currently at risk (women). I recognize that these times are far more trying for countless others much more targeted than me. Still, sometimes holing up at home with my kids and baking something delicious is what my soul needs to be ready to face the world again.

This sheet cake is just the right amount of everything for therapy-style baking. It is slightly more involved than the most basic of cake batters, and includes soothing steps such as folding in whipped egg whites, shaving chocolate, spreading frosting. But, it’s low maintenance enough that you don’t have to fuss with smoothly frosting sides of a layer cake and little hands can even do the frosting themselves. The cake itself is not to be missed – it is dense, tender, and very chocolatey. The frosting is simple but the chocolate shavings give it a special touch. Enjoy in whatever way you need, whether that be as a celebration cake, a “Tuesday chocolate craving” cake, a “replenish your soul before going back out into the world” cake, or even a “feed the resistance” cake. Choose your own adventure.


For the cake: 

  • ½ cup (50 grams) cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (175 grams) boiling water
  • ¼ cup (60 grams) sour cream
  • ¾ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ cups (184 grams) cake flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 large eggs, whites and yolks separated, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (60 grams) packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup (170 grams) canola or grapeseed oil
  • ¼ cup (60 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup (10o grams) chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting: 

  • 1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (3 sticks plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, shaved finely


  • 01

    Heat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with butter, and dust well with cocoa powder. (Alternatively, line the pan with parchment paper.)

  • 02

    Place the cocoa powder in a bowl. Pour the boiling water over the top. Whisk together until smooth. Add in the sour cream and salt and whisk until incorporated. Set aside.

  • 03

    In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

  • 04

    Place the egg whites in the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-low speed until the mixture becomes foamy, then increase to medium-high and whisk, gradually adding the granulated sugar. Continue to whip until soft peaks form. Transfer the egg white mixture to a medium bowl and set aside. Replace the mixer bowl and add the paddle attachment to the mixer.

  • 05

    In the now empty mixer bowl, combine the egg yolks and brown sugar. Mix on medium-high speed until combined. With the mixer running, drizzle in the oil in a slow steady stream to emulsify. Add in the cocoa-sour cream mixture and mix just until incorporated. Add in the dry ingredients and with the mixer on low speed, mix just until incorporated and no dry streaks remain.

  • 06

    Fold the whipped egg whites into the batter in three additions, working gently to avoid deflating the whites. Add the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract to the bowl and fold in just until evenly combined.

  • 07

    Spread the batter in an even layer in the prepared baking pan. Bake, rotating the pan about halfway through the baking time, until the cake is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 30 minutes total. Let cool in the pan 15-20 minutes before turning out to cool completely. Transfer to a serving platter.

  • 08

    To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod (if using) into the bowl and add in the salt.  Continue to beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.  Mix in the heavy cream and vanilla on low speed just until incorporated.  Increase the mixer speed and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4-5 minutes. Once the frosting has reached the desired texture, gently fold in the chocolate shavings with a spatula.

  • 09

    Frost the cooled cake as desired.