A funeral cake is served during the reception held after the service. While some areas have a traditional recipe, others now look to fancy, decorated options that honor their deceased loved one.
Funeral Cake Traditions
Numerous versions of what is called a "funeral cake" are out there that vary regionally and by social and cultural groups, but several stand out from the rest. You may have been served one at a repast after a funeral.
European Funeral Cake History
Europeans in Norway, Sweden, and the Yorkshire area can boast the beginnings of what are called "funeral cakes"; they are small round biscuit-like cakes that are wrapped up and taken home by mourners at a funeral. They were often stamped with decorative designs, and the paper wrapping may have a Bible verse or other saying on it in memory of the deceased. These cake recipes may have a light spice flavor from caraway seeds or perhaps nutmeg.
Traditional German Funeral Cake
Zuckerkuchen, or Butterkuchen, is a sugary, buttery cake traditionally served at both weddings and funerals in Germany. Instead of frosting, almonds are added to the top of this cake, although some Butterkuchen recipes are topped with streusel.
Texas or Southern Funeral Cake
In the U.S., Texas or Southern funeral cake is a large chocolate sheet cake, often topped with a fudgy frosting (or sometimes caramel), along with pecans or walnuts. It's also referred to as Texas sheet cake. It may include buttermilk as an ingredient and is made in a large sheet or jelly roll pan. It's somewhat similar to a German chocolate cake and bakers all have their own spin on it.
Easy Texas Funeral Sheet Cake Recipe
Whip up an easy Texas funeral sheet cake, which is the perfect sheet cake size for serving a crowd, the next time you are called upon to help with a funeral reception meal.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes*
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup cocoa
- 1/2 cup buttermilk**
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-1/4 teaspoon vanilla
*Note: If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use it but omit the 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
**Note: If you don't have buttermilk, you can use a buttermilk substitute instead. However, it may yield a slightly different taste and texture.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 4 to 6 tablespoons milk, more if needed
- Dash of salt, to taste
- 1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease a 10x15 pan.
- Mix the all-purpose flour, white sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Remember to omit the salt if you are using salted butter later in the recipe. Set the mixture aside.
- Over medium-high heat on the stove, bring the water, butter, and cocoa just to a rolling boil, stirring constantly to make it smooth and keep it from burning.
- Remove promptly from heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
- Pour the heated mixture the over flour, sugar, and salt, taking care not to splash yourself in the process.
- Stir slowly and carefully so the hot liquids continue to cool, then switch to using your beater.
- Beat until the batter is smooth.
- If the batter is still slightly warm, you may want to temper your eggs before moving to the next step, just to be safe. To temper your eggs:
- Add a little bit of the warm mixture to the beaten eggs.
- Whisk quickly to combine.
- Move on to the next step.
- Add the buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute), beaten/tempered eggs, baking soda, and vanilla to the batter.
- Stir to combine until batter is smooth.
- Pour the batter into prepared pan.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until you test and your knife comes out clean (or with a light crumb) and cake is done.
- Combine butter, sugar, cocoa, and 4 tablespoons milk in a bowl, beating until smooth.
- Add more milk until you reach the desired consistency.
- If the frosting is too sweet, add a dash of salt.
- Frost once the cake has cooled but is still slightly warm and then sprinkle nuts of your choice over the top.
- Allow the cake to finish cooling and then slice and serve.
Funeral Cake Sayings and Designs
While simply decorated or frosted cakes are the easiest when baking for a large reception, you may want to personalize the message or design.
Phrases and Quotes
If you want a modern, decorated sheet cake of any flavor, consider including short in loving memory quotes on it:
- Always remembered, never forgotten
- In our hearts forever
- Go in God's grace
- In loving memory of Name of Deceased
- "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4
- Name of Deceased is heaven's angel
- May you rest in peace
A positive funeral quote may also be appropriate when the reception is on the casual side or has a less solemn tone.
Sheet cake decorations should, generally, be simple. At a religious reception, crosses, doves, and angel wings may be appropriate. Otherwise, simple florals and flourish motifs are good choices. Some people prefer to have their cakes scored for easy, even slicing and each slice might feature a rosebud or other small embellishment. If you're serving cake at a celebration of life or a more casual reception, you may find a more decorative design, such as an edible image of the deceased loved one or fondant figurine, makes a lovely tribute.
Other Cakes to Serve at Funerals
Bakers and families may have their own special funeral cake recipes that are traditionally served in their church, social circle, or family. Beyond those special traditional recipes, classic cakes that are easy and can serve a crowd are good options to serve at funerals. These might include:
- Vanilla pound cakes
- Bundt cakes in chocolate or seasonal flavors
- Crumb cakes
- Poke cakes that are often made from a box mix and then "doctored" by poking holes and pouring a filling into it
- Coffee cakes, especially appropriate for a morning funeral reception
- Angel food cakes with or without whipped topping and berries
Serving Dessert Cakes at Funeral Receptions
When serving cake for dessert at a funeral reception, you want to make it easy for mourners to get a slice. For a casual buffet, have cakes pre-sliced and provide serving utensils. At a more formal reception, have slices plated prior to putting them out. No matter what flavor or kind of cake is served, guests will appreciate the comforting dessert.