One Sheet Cake, Four Ways

This summer I found myself in need of cake, and lots of it, and a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa became my go-to cake for a crowd. Listed as serving 20-24 people, I found that this cake easily serves 30 or so (and our family and friends are not shy about dessert). I made this cake four times over the past two months, most recently for Laurel’s color party (shown; click all images to enlarge). Here are execution and variation tips, and photo examples.

A big sheet cake may seem intimidating, but this recipe is easy to knock together if you have a standing mixer, and it will feed more people for the same effort as making a 9-inch layer cake. You will need the following items (in addition to ingredients), all of which should be available from a party store that sells cake decorating supplies:

  • 12 x 18 cake pan
  • cooling rack large enough to accommodate the 12 x 18 sheet
  • cake board and box (highly recommended for easy fridge storage and potential transport; get the smallest size possible, around 14 x 20, otherwise you may have trouble getting the box into your fridge)
  • frosting bag and a big star shaped piping tip (needed for all 3 variations)
  • long cake icing spatula
  • food coloring or colored sprinkles

The Cake

I originally found this cake recipe via a Flag Cake feature in Martha Stewart magazine from 2001. I’m not sure whether Martha and the Contessa had a falling out, but the original recipe no longer is on Martha’s site (but an adaptation under Martha’s name is…hmmm). The recipe now on the Barefoot Contessa site is the same, with three exceptions: 1) she leaves out the zest of one lemon; 2) she uses 6 extra large eggs instead 6 large eggs; and 3) she reduces the sour cream from 1¼ cup to 1 cup. It won’t matter whether you go with 6 extra large eggs vs. 6 large eggs + the extra ¼ cup sour cream (it’s basically liquid equivalence) but I would definitely suggest adding back the zest of one lemon (mix it in at the step where you beat together the wet ingredients). People loved the sour cream/lemon flavor of the cake.

Version #1: Flag Cake

I first made the flag cake, which was easy to put together and absolutely gorgeous. The only problem was that I did not have the cooling rack, cake board, or box (plus I was somewhat concerned about my ability to flip the cake out of the pan) so I left the cake in the pan and just pulled it out of the oven 5 minutes earlier (so the edges wouldn’t burn). Our friends didn't complain.


Version #2: Flower Cake

I next made this cake for a baby shower I hosted; again, the cake was incredibly easy and beautiful. I piped the entire cake, which I find to be the easiest and prettiest way to frost a cake because you don’t have to worry about uneven areas or crumbs breaking through. Piping does use more frosting though, and I just had enough frosting to cover the whole thing. Next time I would add an additional 1/3 or 1/2 to the frosting recipe to provide some breathing room.

I used a dozen small Gerber’s (selected because they are pretty and since the blooms are big) to make a crown at the center of the cake (shown). The circle of flowers was about 6 inches across. I first pressed a bowl of that width lightly on top of the cake to create a guide. Then I cut the Gerber stems short (about 3-4 inches), wrapped a little plastic wrap around each exposed stem end (paranoia...), and formed the outside ring first, then angled the next round of flowers up for the second layer, finishing with just one or two on the top - covering all gaps with the petal placement. People went CRAZY over this cake at the shower.


Version #3: Star Cake

The next two times I made this cake were for kid’s birthdays; the first as a gift to some friends who were throwing a giant first birthday party and were fretting the baked goods angle, and then for Laurel’s color party. I wasn’t sure how I was going to decorate other than that I wanted to ice flat (i.e., not pipe) and probably use food coloring, so I doubled the frosting recipe in both cases to give me plenty of margin for error. I needed this for the first cake; I ended up being horrible at free hand lettering and kept having to scrape off and dump frosting. I finally just iced the cake flat, piped the borders, and piped a star monogram. It looked simple and cute, and the kids all wanted pieces that had part of the yellow star on it.


Version #3: Rainbow Cake

For Laurel’s color cake I had thought of piping the rainbow (because this is the easiest decorating technique for me) but by late the night before the party I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to change tips that many times. Luckily, I had picked up a container of Wilton’s nonpareil sprinkles (one container with 6 compartments, each with a different rainbow color). I flat iced the cake, shook out the sprinkles into rainbow form, and finished by piping the borders to cover up the ends of the rainbow. The kids went berserk over this cake and, again, all wanted pieces that had rainbow colors on it (except for Laurel, whose primary objective was a piece with edging = maximum frosting).


*One final note: turning the cake out was actually very easy. The first time I was nervous about the cake sticking and breaking in half so I buttered the pan, lined the bottom of the cake pan with wax paper (or use parchment), then buttered and floured the pan. (Once you turn the cake out, peel off the wax or parchment). The second time I actually was out of wax paper so I just buttered and floured heavily to prevent sticking and it worked fine.

Enjoy this fabulous cake! And make sure you add back the lemon zest!


Cake images by Christine Koh; featured photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash