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Chocolate sheet cake a favorite for future fetes

This spring will forever be remembered as the one when all birthdays were canceled.

Celebrating with immediate family only, my household marked first my birthday, followed by my older son’s, my husband’s, then finally my younger son’s this past week. We tried to make these milestones still special, but one problem with only including five or six people in the party is an excess of cake.

We each dutifully ate our symbolic slices, then tried to polish off the remaining cake in a few days. By the time the most recent birthday rolled around, we resorted to cupcakes — from a boxed mix — to freeze individually for future fetes.

Now that gatherings are becoming more expansive, I’ll look forward to the day when an entire cake can be appreciated by a complement of friends and family. Chocolate, of course, is a mainstay, one my sons likely will request year in and year out. So this sheet cake recipe warrants keeping on hand.

Recipe testers for the Los Angeles Times trace the cake’s origins to a family vacation on the Oregon coast, which endears it to me after months of longing for parental comforts in my hometown.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

For the cake:

Nonstick baking spray

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

For the frosting:

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-by-2 1/2-inch metal baking pan with baking spray.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate with 1 cup water over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, sour cream, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Pour chocolate mixture into sour cream mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour liquid ingredients over dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, for 40 to 45 minutes.

While cake bakes, make frosting: In a large bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add the butter and beat with a hand mixer on low speed until evenly combined and clumpy. With mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the cream and vanilla and beat, starting on low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high, until fluffy and spreadable, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove cake from oven, transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Scrape frosting onto cake and use a small offset spatula or table knife to spread it evenly over top before serving from pan.

Make ahead: Cooled cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days. Frosting can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Return frosting to room temperature before beating again and using.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Tribune News Service photo