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Depression Cake

Depression as in The Great Depression, not depression as in “this cake will cure your depression.” 😅Since a lot of us are experiencing ingredient shortages right now, I thought there was no better time to post this Chocolate Depression Cake (also known as Crazy Cake or Wacky Cake), which was also born out of a time when ingredients were in limited supply—The Great Depression. This unique cake is rich and chocolatey without using any eggs, milk, or butter. A cake without butter?? So “wacky,” I know.

Butter usually serves to keep cake soft and tender by coating the flour molecules in fat and preventing them from developing a tough gluten matrix. In this recipe, butter is replaced with the cooking oil of your choice, which can achieve the safe effect, but with slightly less richness.

Eggs usually help leaven cakes by creating steam that puffs up the batter, then giving structure to the risen cake as the proteins firm up. In this cake, the eggs are replaced with a combination of vinegar and baking soda, which foams up quickly, making the cake light and fluffy. It’s almost like a giant version of my Chocolate Mug Cake, if you’ve ever tried that. Anne Byrn’s 1917 Apple Sauce Cake also uses a similar no-egg, no-butter style batter.


I made a super simple dairy-free chocolate icing to top my cake, but be aware that this type of dairy-free icing is super sweet because there is no fat to kind of mellow out the sweetness. If you’re not into super sweet icings, I suggest skipping the icing and just dusting your cake with powdered sugar after it cools (if you do it while the cake is still hot the powdered sugar will dissolve). Or, if you do have butter on hand, you can go with a more traditional chocolate buttercream frosting. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of an icing free slice of this cake would also be divine.


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1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water or hot coffee (for a richer flavor)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white vinegar


Begin by preheating your oven to 350°F (175°C). Prepare your baking pans by greasing two 9-inch round pans, lining 24 cupcake molds, or greasing a 13×9-inch baking dish.

Take a large mixing bowl and add in the cocoa powder. Carefully pour the hot water or coffee over the cocoa and let it stand for about 2 minutes, just enough time for the cocoa to dissolve and become a smooth mixture.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. This is your dry mix that will ensure an even rise in the cake.

Returning to the cocoa mixture, stir in the vegetable oil and vanilla extract, blending until they are well incorporated. Then add the granulated sugar and mix until everything is nicely combined.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Stir the batter continuously to prevent lumps from forming, until you have a smooth, homogenous cake batter.

The last ingredient is the white vinegar. Stir it in swiftly. This reacts with the baking soda to create bubbles, giving the cake its rise without eggs.

Quickly divide the batter between your prepared pans, smoothing out the top with a spatula.

Place the pans on the middle rack in your preheated oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. The cake is done when you can insert a toothpick into the center and it comes out clean without any wet batter.

Once baked, remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack. After they’ve cooled completely, you’re ready to frost them. A simple chocolate or vanilla frosting works well, or you can enjoy the cake just as it is.

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