Helping my sister make chocolate chip cookies a couple of weeks ago, my youngest brother was amazed that she didn’t use measuring cups to know how much sugar, flour and vanilla to add to the mix.

Every batch is a little different, but the cookies always taste just right. And while we learned how to make the cookies together as children, hers and mine don’t taste the same anymore. We’ve both developed our own ways of baking by feel to make the recipe unique.

Almost everyone who bakes frequently learns to adapt recipes and memorize them. Because I love to bake desserts, I’ve got many recipes I make by feel, including my dad’s favorite dessert — Texas sheet cake. He bakes it from memory as well, long ago adapting his own methods of mixing the basic ingredients on the recipe card.

When I bake him one for Father’s Day, I might use a little more cinnamon or a little less sugar, but when it’s finished, I know it will taste just right.


2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups sugar

2 sticks butter or margarine, in chunks

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup water

½ cup buttermilk (see note)

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Sift flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

Combine butter, cocoa and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the boiling mixture over the flour and sugar and mix well. Mix in buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, baking soda and cinnamon.

Pour into a greased 15-x-11-inch (jelly roll) pan. (I spray mine with cooking spray then coat with flour.) Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Note: Here’s an easy way to make buttermilk at home. Put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a ½ cup measuring cup and fill it with regular milk.


1 stick butter or margarine

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup milk

1 pound powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

While cake is baking, combine butter, cocoa and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in powdered sugar gradually. Add vanilla. Spread on cake while hot. Let cake cool about 30 minutes before serving. Top with ice cream or whipped cream for an added treat.

Contact M. Clare Haefner at or (254) 501-7551.

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