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According to culinary team member Kate Bennert, Texas sheet cake—a thin, rich chocolate cake covered with warm chocolate-pecan icing and big enough to feed a crowd—came about when Texans tired of making its slightly more complicated cousin, German chocolate cake. Kate's version is just as easy to prepare as the original, but includes a surprising spicy kick, thanks to a dash of cayenne in both the batter and icing. We can't get enough of it!
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spread the pecans, which are for the icing, on a half sheet pan (13 x 8-inch baking pan) and toast in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside to cool, leaving the oven on.
For the cake, butter the bottom and sides of another half sheet pan (13 x 8-inch baking pan) and line with parchment paper. Butter the top of the parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, cayenne and salt and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the 2 sticks butter. Add the cocoa powder and stir. Add the boiling-hot coffee and stir the mixture a few times to combine. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and stir. Let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. (Tip: reserve the saucepan for the icing.)
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add the buttermilk, beaten eggs, baking soda, and vanilla and whisk together. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the cocoa mixture until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes, then transfer the pan to a rack.
While the cake is baking, finely chop the cooled toasted pecans.
For the icing, melt the butter in the reserved saucepan. Add the cocoa powder, stir, then remove from the heat. Add the cinnamon, cayenne, milk, vanilla and powdered sugar (a little at a time, if necessary) and stir until smooth. Stir in the bourbon and pecans, then pour the warm icing over the warm cake. Let cool completely in the pan before serving.