Mouthwatering light, yet moist chocolate Depression cake. This delicious chocolate cake is dairy-free, egg-free, and easy enough for even the most beginner baker to make!
Why you'll love it
There is nothing better than an easy little snack cake that you can make on a weeknight and not feel too guilty about enjoying for breakfast along with my morning coffee.
This delicious cake fits all the marks and then some. You can fix up the cake in so many different ways to make it a little fancier, but it is also perfect just as it is.
Nothing is better than taking out this cake and smelling that sumptuous scent of chocolate wafting throughout the house.
- This is an easy recipe that is done in minutes
- It's the perfect nostalgic cake that has lasted the test of times since the Depression Era
- Can be customized in so many ways to suit any chocolate craving you have
What is Depression Cake?
No, this cake isn't the cake you make when you are feeling down. Well, it is, but it is more than that. This moist chocolate cake gets its name because it was invented during the Great Depression Era.
Resources were scarce, and no one had spare butter and eggs to bake their normal cakes. Still, they craved a little indulgence every so often, and used their creativity to create a cake using the staples they had available.
Despite the sparse ingredients in the cake, it is surprisingly packed with flavor. I believe this is because it allows you to fully enjoy the flavor of the chocolate without anything to distract from it.
Depression cake is also sometimes called Crazy Cake, Wacky Cake, or War Cake.
First, let's remind ourselves of what you will not find in a Depression cake: eggs, butter, milk. It is a simple cake known for its minimal, simple ingredients. So, what you do use matters. Let's review them and any potential substitutions.
- Flour - All-purpose flour is standard for this recipe, but as this is a cake about using what you have available, it does work with other types of flour.
- Cocoa powder - Since this is the main flavoring, I recommend using a high-quality cocoa powder. The leavening is baking soda, which means you need to use natural cocoa powder and not Dutch-processed cocoa powder.
- Oil - You should use a neutral oil that doesn't have any flavor. I recommend vegetable oil or canola oil.
- Sugar - This cake is traditionally made with granulated sugar and topped with powdered sugar. You could use brown sugar if it is all you have available.
- Baking soda - It is an important part of leavening the cake and giving the cake its signature tender crumb. Make sure you are using fresh baking soda.
- Salt - For the best results I recommend sea salt or kosher salt.
- Vinegar - This helps to activate the baking soda. I recommend white vinegar, but apple cider vinegar can also be used.
- Vanilla - To round out the flavor, add a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I recommend pure vanilla or vanilla bean paste.
- Water - The recipe typically uses hot water, but if you want to add more flavor, you can use leftover hot coffee.
If you want to stray from the traditional Wacky Cake, you can add in chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, or spices. You can also top the cake with frosting instead of powdered sugar.
Making the Cake
Making a Depression cake is probably one of the easiest things you can do. It is one cake I actually enjoy making with super messy kids. It's one I even let my baking-challenged sister handle all on her own.
- Preheat your oven. Grease and flour your square baking pan. I recommend lightly rubbing the pan with a bit of oil (or butter if you don't mind deviating from tradition) and using cocoa powder to coat the pan.
- Mix together the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
- Stir until there are little to no lumps.
- Pour the cake batter into the cake pan.
- Bake in your preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a crumb or two clinging to it.
- Remove from the oven, let the cake cool, and top with powdered sugar.
Traditionally, the cake is served with powdered sugar on top and nothing else. It lends itself to a lot of different variation though.
- Replace the cocoa powder with more flour and increase the vanilla extract to make a vanilla depression cake
- Top the cake with buttercream frosting for more flavor like chocolate frosting or peanut butter frosting. Strawberry frosting is also great!
- Add chocolate shavings, fresh fruit, or top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream
Yes, this cake is completely vegan if you make it as-is. You are welcome to make any additions you want, but to keep the cake vegan, you must use vegan add-ins.
I recommend keeping the cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days. The cake can be frozen. Wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then place in an airtight container. Freeze for up to a month.
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup cocoa powder
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup water
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8 x 8 square baking pan.
- Mix the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.
- Add in the vinegar, vanilla, oil, and water to the flour mixture and stir until there are just a couple of lumps left in the batter.
- Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread evenly to the edges.
- Bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with just a couple of crumbs stuck to it.
- Cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar