This Chocolate Depression Cake is impossibly rich and decadent, even though there are no eggs, milk, or butter in the recipe! It’s no wonder it’s earned the name “wacky cake!”
Chocolate Depression Cake
During college, I majored in history. Not because I wanted to become a teacher (which is the number one question people asked me), but because I find history fascinating!
While I still lived in West Virginia (where my family is from), I used to make weekly lunch dates with my grandparents. I couldn’t get enough of their tales of growing up in a different era. It’s hard to imagine what they went through during the Great Depression and just how tough they were as kids!
This Depression Cake would be a special treat during the days when my grandparents were children. Food itself was often limited, so there wasn’t often anything leftover for decadence like chocolate cake. However, sometimes there were still occasions that called for a treat!
Because of the limited ingredients available, home cooks learned to be quite ingenious with what they did have on hand. Depression Cake is so delicious that it is still a popular dessert today!
Love Chocolate? Try our thick and fluffy chocolate chip cookies too!
What is Depression Cake?
Depression Cake gets its name from the Great Depression. It is a type of cake that is usually made with little or no milk, sugar, butter or eggs because those ingredients were expensive or nearly impossible to find during that time period.
Depression cake is also known as “wacky cake” or “crazy cake” because it is made without ingredients that it would seem like are necessary for baking, but it works!
Another depression-era cake recipe is known as “Poor Man’s Cake” — it is our family’s oldest recipe and sweetened with raisins.
For your convenience in re-creating our Depression Cake Recipe at home, we’ve included shop-able ad links to some of the products and supplies used. Read our disclosure policy here.
What You Need to Make Wacky Cake
- All-purpose flour
- Unsweetened cocoa powder – This gives wacky cake its rich chocolate flavor.
- Oil – When baking, use an oil with a neutral flavor, such as vegetable oil, canola oil, or even coconut oil.
- Granulated sugar – You’ll notice that this depression cake recipe uses less sugar than many other chocolate cake recipes.
- Baking soda
- Vinegar – This helps the cake rise, when combined with baking soda.
- Vanilla extract
Kitchen Tools Used
- 8 x 11 inch baking pan – This one comes with a handy lid to keep your cake fresher!
- Wire whisk (or fork) to mix the cake ingredients
Tips for Making Depression Cake
The photos below show the three indentions, or “wells” that we made in our dry cake ingredients. Pour the vinegar and vanilla in the two wells on the sides and the oil in the middle well. Don’t worry too much about spilling over because it’s all going to be mixed together in the end!
Next, you’ll pour water over top of the entire cake and whisk everything together. That’s the beauty of this crazy cake recipe — you can’t really mess it up! You mix it all right in the pan!
Chocolate Depression Cake Recipe (Printable Copy)
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Chocolate Depression Cake (aka "Wacky Cake")
- 8x11 inch baking pan
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking Soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil or canola oil
- 1 cup water
- Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare an 8-inch square pan with butter or non-stick baking spray.
- Add the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt directly to the greased pan and carefully whisk to combine.
- Use a spoon to scoop out one large well or indention in the middle of the dry ingredients, as well as two small wells against the sides of the pan.
- Pour the vinegar and vanilla into the small wells on the sides and pour the oil in the big well. It's ok if the liquid ingredients spill over onto the rest of the cake.
- Pour the water over the top of the cake and whisk again to combine everything thoroughly.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Cool completely and frost with your favorite chocolate frosting.
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