Home Desserts Chocolate Depression Cake (Wacky Cake)

Chocolate Depression Cake (Wacky Cake)

I know that chocolate depression cake doesn’t have the most joyful name. But one bite is enough to make you swoon.

It’s super chocolatey, crazy-moist, and incredibly rich.

All that without eggs and milk? It sounds impossible, but it’s true. Let’s dive in!

Chocolate Depression Cake (Wacky Cake): Sliced chocolate cake with buttercream and sprinkles
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Chocolate Depression Cake – No Milk, Eggs or Butter

Depression cake, also known as wacky cake, is an age-old dessert that goes way back into the Great Depression (hence the name). 

Common pantry ingredients such as egg and milk were hard to come by during that time. But not even a war can stop people from having dessert! 

The love for sweets spurred them to come up with this chocolate cake recipe.

With basic ingredients that did not include dairy, people could make this cake any time a craving struck—pure genius.

Chocolate Depression Cake with buttercream frosting spread on a cooling rack.


This cake has a simple ingredients list but delivers delicious results! You’ll find the complete list, with amounts, at the bottom of the post.

  • Flour – The base of the cake. All-purpose flour is fine, but use cake flour for an even softer cake.
  • Sugar Granulated sugar, raw sugar, or coconut sugar all work. You can adjust the amount to suit your taste, but do not go below 3/4 cup, as it will make the cake dry.
  • Baking Soda – The leavening agent. Test it by adding it and vinegar to a bowl to ensure it’s still potent. It should fizz upon contact. 
  • Unsweetened Cocoa Powder It’s what makes the cake super chocolatey! Use natural cocoa powder for a lighter cake or Dutch-processed for a darker one.
  • Vegetable Oil Adding oil makes any cake seriously rich and moist.
  • Distilled White Vinegar It reacts with the baking soda, causing the cake to rise. Apple cider vinegar works, too.
  • Water Cake recipes need liquid to saturate the dry ingredients. Most recipes will call for milk, but since milk was scarce during the Great Depression, water is used instead. 

Why Use Vinegar in a Cake?

If you’ve ever made any vegan cake recipes, you’ve likely added plenty of vinegar to cake batter.

It’s used in many standard cake recipes, too.

Here’s why:

  1. A cake relies on the combination of alkali and acid for it to rise. The chemical reaction between the two releases carbon dioxide, which then lifts the batter. Since dairy was scarce during the Great Depression, people depended on vinegar.
  2. The vinegar softens the protein in the flour, which makes the cake extra fluffy and moist. If you’re concerned that the cake will taste sour, don’t worry! You only use two tablespoons for this recipe, so you won’t taste the vinegar.
Chocolate Depression Cake (Wacky Cake) with buttercream frosting and colorful sprinkles on top.

How to Make Chocolate Depression Cake

Here are the steps to follow to make this classic dessert:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×13-inch cake pan with oil or butter.

2. Sift together the dry ingredients. That’s the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder.

3. Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl or measuring jug. Then, pour it over the dry and stir well with a fork until combined.

4. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean or with a few dry crumbs.

5. Let the cake cool in the pan. Frost it with the desired icing, and enjoy.

How to Turn Wacky Cake Into Cupcakes 

If you’re headed to a party, turn this cake into cupcakes for individual servings.

  1. Pour the prepared batter into a lined muffin tin. Fill each cup 3/4 full.
  2. Bake them for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. They should pass the toothpick test.

One batch of the recipe makes 24 cupcakes. But you may need extra frosting to give them a tall, frosted finish.

Chocolate Depression Cake (Wacky Cake) with spread of buttercream frosting on top and sprinkles.

Tips for the Best Cake

Follow these simple tips and tricks for the very best depression cake:

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  • Give it some oomph. Enhance the flavor of chocolate by using coffee instead of water. Don’t worry, you won’t taste the coffee at all.
  • Keep it cold. The colder the water (or coffee), the better! Cold liquid slows down the reaction between the baking soda and vinegar. This is great because you want it to happen while the batter is in the oven, not right after mixing the ingredients. 
  • Be prepared. Ensure the oven is preheated and the cake pan is greased before combining the wet and dry ingredients. That way, you can get it right in the oven.
Depression cake sliced into bars.

How to Serve Depression Cake

This cake is so delicious and moist, you really don’t need frosting. But it does add an additional level of sweetness!

Here are some frosting suggestions:

Buttercream frosting. Add a tablespoon of cocoa powder to make it chocolate-flavored. Sprinkle with sprinkles for a colorful presentation.

Cream cheese frosting. Have you tried cream cheese and chocolate together? It’s awesome!

Chocolate ganache. Chocolate plus even more chocolate equals love. You can even make ganache with coconut milk to keep it dairy-free.

Caramel or dulce de leche. An ooey-gooey, sweet, and salty frosting never disappoints. 

Powdered sugar. Simple but elegant.

Serve it on its own as a snack, or top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for an incredible dessert.

Note: this cake is dairy-free, but the frosting recipe that goes along with it is not.

Closeup of a slice of depression cake topped with butter cream frosting and sprinkles.

How to Store

If you have leftover chocolate cake, follow these tips to keep it fresh:

To Store: Allow the cake to cool. Store it in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or in the fridge for 10.

To Freeze: Before freezing, be sure the cake is completely cooled. Double wrap it in plastic wrap and aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn. It will keep for up to 3 months.

Be sure to freeze it without the frosting for best results.

To Thaw: Let the cake soften on the counter for 30 minutes. Remove the wrappings and continue to thaw for 2 to 3 hours.

More Easy Cake Recipes to Try

Granny Cake
Do Nothing Cake
Heaven on Earth Cake
Earthquake Cake
Crack Cake

Depression Cake (Wacky Cake)

Course: DessertCuisine: American


Prep time


Cooking time





I know that chocolate depression cake doesn’t have the most joyful name. But one bite is enough to make you swoon.


  • For the Cake:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 2 cups cold water

  • For the Chocolate Frosting:
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 3 cups powdered sugar

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9×13-inch cake pan with oil or butter.
  • In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder.
  • In a separate bowl or measuring jug, measure the oil, vinegar, vanilla, and cold water. Mix well.
  • Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until smooth.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs. Let the cake cool completely.
  • While the cake cools, make the frosting.
  • In a medium bowl, blend the cocoa powder and softened butter until smooth.
  • Gradually add the powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amounts of extra milk if needed to thin the frosting.
  • Stir in the vanilla extract.
  • Once the cake is completely cooled, spread the frosting evenly over it.
  • Serve and enjoy!


  • Use room temperature ingredients for the cake batter for better mixing.
  • Sift the dry ingredients twice for a lighter cake texture.


  • Calories: 324kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 50g
  • Protein: 2g
  • Fat: 15g
  • Saturated Fat: 6g
  • Cholesterol: 14mg
  • Sodium: 308mg
  • Potassium: 107mg
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugar: 42g
  • Calcium: 16mg
  • Iron: 1mg
Depression Cake

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author avatar
Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

8 thoughts on “Chocolate Depression Cake (Wacky Cake)”

    • Your recipes sound and look so great. I can’t bake any more because of my hands (arthritis) but I am looking forward to my Granddaughter coming and helping me make them.
      Thank you

  1. Hi Kim,
    Look forward to receiving your recipe for Depression Cake. I love to cook but prefer simple recipes, so this is right up my alley. Thanking you in advance.
    Lynne West 🙂

  2. I am not a fan of chocolate cake but this cake is AMAZING!! Easy to make and super moist! I am actually making it again because it was such a hit!

    • Hi Nina!
      Yes, you can use melted butter instead of oil.
      Use 1 cup of melted butter for the best taste and texture (the rest stays the same)


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