People Love This Famous Chocolate Cake Recipe From The Great Depression — And After Making It, I Can See Why

·5 min read

As someone who loves to bake, I often find myself scrolling through social media to find new recipes to try.

During one of my recent scrolls, I came across people on TikTok and Reddit making a chocolate cake recipe that apparently dates back to the Great Depression. Some people call it "Wacky cake" — and after learning more about it, it literally made me sit up, dramatically gasp, and further investigate.

a screenshot of a tiktok video
@eatwithreen / Via TikTok

The reason for my dramatic reaction is that this cake is made without milk, eggs, or butter — key ingredients in most baking recipes.

  @eatwithreen / Via TikTok
@eatwithreen / Via TikTok

Although it's popping up all over social media now, this chocolate cake isn't anything new. As mentioned, it first originated during the Great Depression — which explains why it omits the most expensive ingredients you typically need when making a cake.

a photo from the great depression of two men

For a brief history lesson, the Great Depression took place from 1929–1939. It was a time of economic hardship that impacted most of the world. Milk, eggs, and butter were all ingredients that were hard to come by during this time so people got creative and created a cake without them.

Fotosearch / Getty Images

Considering we're living during a time when inflation is up 6% from a year ago and the price of groceries continues to soar, it's fitting that people are once again following this recipe for an inexpensive treat.

Being the inquisitive little baker that I am, I immediately checked my cabinet to make sure I had the few ingredients required to make this cake so I could get to baking it.

cher from "clueless" dropping something into the oven
cher from "clueless" dropping something into the oven

Paramount Pictures

Here's how it all went down.

Note: Instead of trying to follow the TikTok videos, I did a quick Google search for Wacky Cake and followed this recipe from Southern Living instead.

First, I took out the ingredients:

a lineup of the ingredients

You'll also need some water (not pictured).

There is some wiggle room with these ingredients — such as substituting canola oil for coconut oil or vegetable oil and apple cider vinegar instead of regular white vinegar. This is based on personal preference.

However, the recipe must include baking soda and some sort of vinegar because supposedly the combo of these key ingredients is what helps the cake rise while baking and gives it its fluffy, moist texture. I used the exact ingredients listed in the recipe.

Fabiana Buontempo

STEP #1: After preheating your oven to 350ºF, sift all of your dry ingredients — flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking soda — into a ungreased baking pan. Once all ingredients have been added, mix them.

a side by side picture of sifting ingredients and the ingredients mixed together

One of the most interesting (and easiest!) parts of this recipe is the fact that you don't need a mixing bowl for the ingredients and you don't need to grease the pan beforehand. I felt like I was making a lot of baking sins during this step!

Fabiana Buontempo

STEP #2: Before adding in the wet ingredients, make one large well and two small wells — I created mine with the back of a spoon.

wells in dry ingredients in a pan
Fabiana Buontempo

From there, I poured the oil into the large one, then the vanilla extract and vinegar into the smaller ones.

the liquid ingredients in the different holes
Fabiana Buontempo

STEP #3: Next, I poured 1 cup of water over the entire mixture and stirred everything together with a fork.

the author pouring a cup of water over the cake mixture
Fabiana Buontempo

So far, so good!

the author using a fork to stir the cake mixture together
Fabiana Buontempo

STEP #4: Once the mixture was thoroughly mixed, I put it in my preheated oven for 25–30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick came out clean.

a cake ready to be baked in an oven
Fabiana Buontempo

After my timer went off, I let the cake cool before I dug in and took a bite.

a freshly baked chocolate cake

TBH, it looked like a sheet of brownies instead of a cake but either way I was eager to try it.

Fabiana Buontempo

The verdict? It was...not quite sweet or rich enough for me.

the author posing for a selfie with the cake
Fabiana Buontempo

When I think of a chocolate cake, I picture a super rich cake that will satisfy a sweet tooth, full of deep chocolate flavor. Unfortunately, this cake wasn't as sweet or chocolatey as I personally would have preferred or what I'm used to.

the author taking a bite of the cake

I also wanted it to taste richer — which didn't totally surprise me considering most cake recipes typically require a lot of butter.

Fabiana Buontempo

Sweetness and chocolatey flavors aside, the cake's texture was super impressive — it was spongy, moist, and very cake-like. Judging it just on its appearance, I thought it was going to be more on the dry side but I was pleasantly surprised.

the author holding up a square of the cake
Fabiana Buontempo

Also, this cake was probably the easiest and quickest dessert I've EVER baked. From start to finish — including measuring and mixing all the ingredients together right in the dish before popping it into the oven — took me about 15 minutes. So if baking usually intimidates you, this is a great recipe to try. True to its roots, it's also probably one of the most inexpensive cakes you'll ever make — and it just so happens to be vegan.

a corner of the cake missing from its pan

It was also nice to not have to use any eggs or milk — which I'm lowkey rationing right now since they're both expensive at the grocery store.

Overall, I did like this cake — it just wasn't as sweet as I would've wanted it to be but that's my personal preference. I would definitely make this cake again, but next time I would add in things like chocolate chips or even make a frosting to spread on top to make the cake a little sweeter. However, if you're someone who doesn't like overly sweet desserts the original recipe is probably for you.

The recipe I followed did include instructions for frosting but it included butter and milk. I purposely didn't create it since I was trying to stay true to the original Depression-era recipe (that didn't include any eggs, butter, or milk).

Either way, this cake did not go to waste as I happily ate it as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream on top which gave me that sweetness I was craving and just overall brought the cake to another level.

Fabiana Buontempo

If you feel inspired to make this cake too, let me know what you think of it in the comments below. Or if you have tried it before and have any creative modifications for it, feel free to share those as well! 👇