Nan’s Chocolate Cake with Richmond Frosting

20 minutes prep 40 minutes active cooking 1 hour total
Makes 8 - 12 servings

My mother Nan made this chocolate sheet cake for every birthday...

over a couple of generations in our family. Nan turned 97 this month and doesn’t bake as much as she used to, so my son Tom has taken on the mantle of making what we just call “the cake.”

Her old hand-written recipe calls it sour cream chocolate cake, but it’s basically a version of Texas sheet cake, a fluffy, moist cake that’s made using the classic boiling water technique. Cocoa powder blooms in the heat, and the leavening power of the baking powder gets a boost. Boiling water chocolate cakes stay moist longer, and any leftovers are good for days.

The frosting is a mystery. While you can find lots of recipes for Richmond frosting, none offer any explanation for the name. I’ve seen it in Amish cookbooks and some speculate that it may be a relic from wartime when sugar, especially the powdered sugar typically used for cake frosting, was in short supply. Maybe a cook in Virginia popularized the shiny dark frosting that also uses a boiling water technique. It doesn’t really matter; what does is that it’s delicious and, since it’s pourable while warm, the frosting self-levels after it’s scraped out of the saucepan onto the sheet cake.

We always leave the cake in the pan, typically Nan’s well-used, slightly dented aluminum 9 by 13 inch cake pan. She’s even got an ancient, cracked plastic cover for both transporting the cake on a car seat and storing any leftovers. The fluffy cake with the soft, dense frosting is intensely rich, so at our house we won’t eat it without a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

What You'll Need


For the shopping list

  • 3 1/2 cups, divided sugar
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup + 4 1/2 tablespoons, divided butter
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 cups, divided water 1/2 cup of
  • full-fat Greek-style yogurt*
  • 2 teaspoons, divided vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
  • *the original called for sour cream, so substitute if you like, but we’ve used yogurt for years

From our shop

Out of stock

1/2 + 1/8 teaspoons, divided  Kosher Sea Salt
$9.00– Gossen Island - Norway
2  Eggs - Farm Fresh
$8.50– Cloverdale - Oregon


From the kitchen

  • 1 - 9" x 13" Cake Pan
  • 3 Mixing Bowls
  • 2 Small Saucepan
  • Measuring Cups
  • Measuring Spoons

What you'll have to do

The Cake Step 1

Heat your oven to 350F. Mix the 2 cups sugar, 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda in a large bowl.

Step 2

In a small saucepan, bring the 1 cup butter, 1 cup water, and 3 tablespoons cocoa powder to a boil. Stir well, remove from the heat and let cool. Combine with the flour mixture.

Step 3

In a separate bowl, combine the 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 eggs. Stir into flour mixture.

Step 4

Pour the batter into a buttered & floured 9 inch by 13 inch cake pan. Bake at 350F for 20-30 min or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes.

Richmond Frosting Step 1

Mix together the 1 1/2 cups sugar, 4 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.

Step 2

In a small saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups water and 3oz chocolate, stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted.

Step 3

Add the sugar and cornstarch mix and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in 4 1/2 tablespoons butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Let cool for 10 minutes, then gently pour over the cake. Cool for at least an hour before serving.

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