Depression Cake

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This recipe for chocolate cake is from the time of the Great Depression hence the name Depression Cake, it’s a moist and light chocolate cake made without eggs or dairy.  Also known as crazy cake or wacky cake this chocolate cake is anything but, it’s just a simple chocolate cake recipe. 

Depression Cake?  Yep, that’s what I said. Most of us, myself included, would have thought the name for this cake came from the fact that it is a rich, moist chocolate cake. What’s better for depression than chocolate?

This is called “depression cake” because the recipe is from the time of the Great Depression era when things like eggs, milk, butter, and sugar were really expensive and scarce. The first time I enjoyed this cake, my friend, Julie, made it for my husband and me. She got the recipe from her Grandmother and told me it was her favorite.  It quickly became one of my favorites and everyone else I have shared it with, too!

Depression Cake

This depression era cake is made with the usual chocolate cake suspects like flour, sugar, and cocoa minus the typical rich ingredients like eggs and butter which were harder to come by in those days. Not to worry though it still has a great rich flavor and soft and fluffy texture worthy of a cold glass of milk or a cup of hot coffee. 

Chocolate Depression Cake

This chocolate cake is a cake with so many names. The most common name is  “Wacky Cake,” but it’s also been known as “Crazy Cake,”  “Dump Cake,” and “War Cake.”  Names like crazy and wacky come from the fact that most people would wonder just how on earth can you bake a cake without eggs?! But it is possible and it tastes great. 

Baking without eggs has become even more common these days due to the popularity of vegan diets and food allergies. Eggless cakes are made with things like applesauce, mashed bananas, and tofu, or in this Depression Cake, we rely on vinegar to do the “fizzy lifting.”

If you love this recipe for depression cake you are sure to love these too: The Best German Chocolate Cake, Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake, or this Chocolate Espresso Cake

Easy Chocolate Wacky Cake 

With just a few simple ingredients and a few minutes of prep, you can get this chocolate cake in the oven. Perfect for when you aren’t quite sure if there are any allergies amongst your guests, you are hosting a kid’s party or just to have on hand for an indulgent treat without spending much money. 

Ingredients for this wacky cake recipe

For complete ingredients and instructions scroll to the bottom of this post for the full printable recipe card. 

  • Sugar: Use granulated white sugar to sweeten this chocolate cake.
  • Flour: White all-purpose flour is used in this cake.
  • Cocoa: Choose unsweetened cocoa powder to add the chocolate flavor. 
  • Baking soda: Baking soda with the combination of white vinegar is what helps this cake rise. 
  • Salt: A touch of salt to bring out the flavor. 
  • Oil: Oil is used instead of butter as the fat in this recipe. Use a mild flavored oil like canola, grapeseed, or vegetable oil. 
  • Vanilla: Use real vanilla extract for the best flavor. 
  • White vinegar: White vinegar is required to give the cake the necessary fizz to rise. Not to worry though you won’t taste it. 
  • Cold water
  • Whipped cream: Top the cake with whipped cream, buttercream frosting, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Be sure to keep reading to find tips and tricks, substitutions, and answers to questions you may have about this easy vegan chocolate cake.  

How to make this depression era chocolate cake

It couldn’t be easier to make this recipe for depression cake. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients, and then pour into an UNGREASED 9×13 pan.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Top with fresh whipped cream, if desired.

Store leftovers of the cooled cake in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap for 3-4 days. In the freezer, this moist chocolate cake will keep for up to 3 months. 

Love it? Pin it!

If you love this depression cake make sure that you don’t lose it! Pin it to your favorite Pinterest recipe board before you go!

FAQs about depression cake

  1. Why is it called a depression cake? This cake is called depression cake because it is made without the use of expensive ingredients like butter and eggs. These items were difficult to find during the depression in the early 1900s when people were going through hard times, hence the name depression cake. 

  1. Why is it called crazy cake? This cake also got called crazy cake as people thought it was crazy that you could bake a cake without eggs or butter. 

  1. What unusual desserts became popular during the Great Depression? Poor Man’s Pudding was a popular French Canadian dessert that was made with sugar and maple syrup; Tomato Soup Cake is another made with tomatoes, cinnamon, and nutmeg and another version of a chocolate depression cake used mayonnaise instead of the usual butter and eggs. 

Substitutions

Remember that when it comes to making substitutions in recipes, you don’t need to be afraid to get creative and use ingredients that suit your personal taste and dietary preferences. Make it your own!

  • For a gluten-free depression cake use gluten-free flour on a 1-2 basis.  

  • Substitute the white vinegar for apple cider vinegar. 

  • A cup of coffee can be substituted for the water. 

Tips & Tricks

  • Mix in a touch of espresso for a deeper chocolate flavor.

  • Add some spice and stir in a touch of cinnamon. 

  • Top with depression cake frosting by combining powdered sugar with water or add some cocoa and make chocolate frosting or chocolate icing. You can also use your favorite frosting recipe if you have all the ingredients on hand. I especially love making peanut butter frosting with a touch of peanut butter, icing sugar, and some water. 

  • Turn the cake into cupcakes and bake in a muffin tray. Watch the bake time closely.

 

More Recipes to Love Next Time

If you are a baker like I am you may like this recipe for Funnel Cakes for a nice change of pace, this Sour Cream Coffee Cake for something more traditional, or this Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake for a truly indulgent treat. For fruity cakes, you should try this Cherry Filled Coffee Cake or this Strawberry Cake

You really can’t go wrong with this easy recipe for a simple cake. Dress up the top of the cake with some fancy icing, chocolate shavings, cut-up fruit, or a simple dusting of icing sugar. 

Let’s get to the recipe for this deliciously crazy, wacky, wartime, Depression Cake, shall we?

 
Michaela signature
 
 
4.43 from 73 votes
Print Recipe

Depression Cake

This recipe for chocolate cake is from the time of the Great Depression hence the name Depression Cake, it’s a moist and light chocolate cake made without eggs or dairy.  Also known as crazy cake or wacky cake this chocolate cake is anything but, it’s just a simple chocolate cake recipe. 
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time45 minutes
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chocolate cake, Depression Cake
Servings: 15 servings
Calories: 282kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 5 Tablespoons cocoa powder (heaping Tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 Tablespoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water
  • whipped cream for serving, if desired

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine ingredients and pour into an UNGREASED 9×13 pan.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Top with fresh whipped cream if desired.

Notes

Serve this cake plain as a "snack cake," top it with fresh whipped cream, or your favorite icing. It also pairs wonderfully with some fresh fruit. 
Freezes well.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 282kcal | Carbohydrates: 47g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0.04g | Sodium: 302mg | Potassium: 53mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 27g | Calcium: 6mg | Iron: 1mg

I first posted this recipe in June of 2012. It has been updated to improve user experience and reshared on April 2, 2024.

 
Side view of Depression Cake on a white plate
 

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49 Comments

  1. Hi there! This looks wonderful! What type of cocoa do you use – Dutch processed or natural? I think one of them would change the flavor?

    1. I just use Hershey’s cocoa. Just the stuff in the can. Nothing special! 🙂

    2. Sara— I don’t know the measurements for gluten free flour or if they are different than all purpose? I have never baked with it before.

    3. I used the same measurements for gf flour and it turned out just fine. I would encourage thorough mixing–when I poured it in the pan i noticed the oil and water was not as mixed, and I tried a little gentle stirring in the pan. It was 95% great, but one end had a gooeyness that was interesting. So mix well! 🙂

    4. Thank you so much for sharing how it turned out for you! This is sure to help others! 🙂

    1. Sara- I have never baked with gluten free flour? I would look at the manufacturer website to see if the measurements are the same as all purpose flour.

  2. This cake, I made for my kids when they were little. i was a poor working divorced mother and this cake didn require eggs or milk, so it was really cheap to make. Well, cheap before the price of cocoa skyrocketed.
    It is a delicious and oh so moist cake.
    This was way back in the 1970s when I was making this for my kids.
    Try it, you won be disappointed.

    1. We love this one! I agree– Cocoa is no longer cheap, but this one is still a favorite. Thanks for visiting! ????

  3. Hello! It looks good and simple! May I ask what does the white vinegar do? Im really interested to try this recipe but wonder if i can skip the vinegar as im not a fan of tt

    1. It’s what lets you replace the eggs. You can’t taste it AT ALL. I promise!

    1. Juanita- I don’t know the calorie count. I have used sparkrecipes.com to figure calories in the past, you could try that. You enter the ingredients, divide by how many potions to get the count. Hope this helps.

  4. I am 65 years old, and my mother made this cake for us as kids during our growing up years. I’ll bet she made it almost weekly. My husband likes it because its a dense cake.

  5. It looks like a delicious chocolate cake. I’ve never made a cake without eggs and with Vinegar. Definitely going to try this one.

  6. Thanks for explaining how the vinegar makes this cake so much better! It looks fabulous and I’m going to try this for my next special dinner.

  7. I am not much for baking dessert. I love to make bread, it is my passion. So, I have a limited cake recipe collection. My current go to is a cake mix with a can of Diet Coke, and into the oven. But, this sounds pretty good! I am going to try it. My family will be amazed with a change in cake from what I usually bake.Sara

    1. In some cases, self-rising flour can be substituted. Typically it’s used in things like pancakes, muffins or biscuits. Self-rising flour already contains the baking powder and salt, whereas all purpose flour doesn’t. So You will need to omit them if using this SRF. I cannot guarantee the outcome, but I think if you omit the salt and the baking powder, you might be okay? This article talks more about the differences in AP an SR flours: https://www.myrecipes.com/ingredients/how-to-substitute-self-rising-flour-all-purpose-flour

  8. Made this cake last week. Have been making it for 60 years. We called it Crazy Cake. Delicious.

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