Derby Sheet Cake

We might be watching reruns of old Kentucky Derby races today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the traditions of this day.  There is nothing that speaks to me more than this decadent Derby Sheet cake.  It’s got all of the flavors that makes me think Southern:  it’s rich in buttermilk and brown sugar, the buttercream is enhanced with browned butter and Bourbon, it’s topped with candied walnuts and then drizzled with chocolate.

Derby Sheet Cake
Derby Sheet Cake

The cake is so moist and so rich, you won’t just serve it for a Kentucky Derby party.  It’ll be on the short list for all future parties!

Derby Sheet Cake

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Derby Sheet Cake

Makes: 12 slices

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Bake Time: 24 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour & 30 minutes


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup salted butter, melted and cooled completely
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup whole buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half or heavy cream, plus additional if necessary
  • 2 tbsp bourbon
  • 1 & 1/2 cups walnut halves and pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 15- x 10-inch jelly roll pan with baking spray.

Whisk together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together butter, water, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add butter mixture to flour mixture; stir just until combined. (Some small lumps may remain.) Stir in chocolate chips just until incorporated. Spread batter in prepared jelly roll pan. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs, 20-24 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack, about 45 minutes.

Prepare the Frosting:

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high until butter starts to foam, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until butter turns a light amber color and starts to smell nutty. Remove from heat, and pour into the bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer. Cool butter to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Add powdered sugar, half-and-half, and bourbon. Beat on high speed, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as necessary, until fluffy and well blended. If too thick for spreading, add one additional tablespoon of half-and-half at a time to reach desired consistency. Set aside.

Prepare the Candied Walnuts:

Line a plate or baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat a medium-size nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add walnuts, sugar, and butter; cook, stirring constantly, until butter melts. Continue to cook, stirring often, until sugar melts and turns amber and walnuts are well coated, 5 to 6 minutes. Working quickly, spread walnut mixture on parchment-lined plate, using a spatula or fork to separate mixture into small pieces before sugar hardens. Let stand until sugar hardens and nuts are cool enough to handle, 5 to 7 minutes.

Assemble the Derby Cake:

Spread frosting evenly over the cooled cake, and sprinkle evenly with candied walnuts. Place the chocolate chips in a glass measuring cup, and microwave on HIGH in 15-second intervals until melted and smooth. Let stand until cool but still pourable, about 5 minutes. Transfer melted chocolate to a piping bag, and pipe in a decorative pattern over top of cake.

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