Chocolate Depression Cake {Wacky Cake}

filed under: Cakes · Chocolate Cakes · Dessert on March 30, 2020

This Chocolate Depression Cake is a moist cake made without any milk, eggs, or butter. It is topped with a creamy chocolate frosting for the ‘icing’ on the cake! For another delectable treat, try my Dark Chocolate Cake with Buttermilk Pecan Frosting.


Chocolate Depression Cake on White PLate with Fork

Chocolate Depression Cake

Depression Cake, also known as Wacky Cake or War Cake (among other names), originated in the Great Depression. It is a cake made without milk, eggs, or butter. These were all ingredients that were hard to come by during the Great Depression and at wartime. But, just because times are hard doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a sweet treat or dessert once in a while.

This Chocolate Depression Cake is still full of chocolate flavor and delicious! Plus, I did add a chocolate frosting that takes only about a minute to get together. The frosting does include butter and milk, but it’s just an added bonus to the cake.

Overhead of Chocolate Depression Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate Depression Cake with Chocolate Frosting Recipe

Again, this recipe does include a chocolate frosting recipe. But, feel free to just make the cake if you are keeping dairy out of your diet. Either way, the results are both yummy options!

Chocolate Cake Ingredients (full recipe below)

Frosting Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Honey
  • Vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Whole milk

Pouring Chocolate Depression Cake Batter into Pan

How to Make Chocolate Depression Cake

With just a few simple ingredients and one bowl, you can be ready to bake a chocolate cake and have it ready in about 30 minutes! In addition, while the cake is baking you could be making a sweet chocolate frosting to go on the cake. Both are a pretty ‘sweet’ deal if you ask me. So, preheat the oven to 350°F and get out a large bowl.

To make the chocolate cake, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda, whisking them all together. Next, add the wet ingredients–the vanilla, vinegar, oil, and water–to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Stir it all together with the whisk or a spatula. Pour the cake batter into the greased 8×8-inch baking pan. Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes. You will know the cake is done when an inserted toothpick comes out with a few crumbs on it, but not wet batter. While the cake is baking, make the chocolate frosting.


Spreading Chocolate Frosting over Chocolate Depression Cake - Wacky Cake

How to Make the Chocolate Frosting

This Chocolate Frosting would not be considered a ‘depression frosting’ since I do use butter and milk in the recipe. But, if you have those around, I encourage you to try it. It comes together in about a minute and is the perfect complement to the chocolate cake. It’s actually a frosting I have used on my brownies recipe and knew it would have the same added bonus to the flavor of the cake. It’s soft, but ‘crusts’ ever so slightly after sitting out.  The texture and consistency are natural and pure.

Fork Taking Bite out of Chocolate Depression Cake - Wacky Cake

Can You Freeze This Chocolate Depression Cake?

You can certainly freeze the cake, but I do recommend waiting until it thaws to add the chocolate frosting.

This chocolate cake will freeze well if it placed in the freezer the same day you make it. Make sure that it is completely cool before preparing it for the freezer.

Here is what I do:

Allow the cake to cool in the pan fully. Place a layer of plastic on top of the cake and then place a cutting board or cooling rack on top. Flip the cake over. Wrap the plastic up over the edges of the cake and then add another large piece and wrap it again as tightly as possible without crushing the cake. Make sure that none of the cake is exposed in the freezer as this can cause freezer burn. Now wrap it in a layer of foil. Label and date the cake. The cake will freeze well for 1 month and should be fine for up to 3 months.

To thaw the cake, remove it from the freezer and set it on the counter. After about 30 minutes, remove the foil and remove the bottom piece of plastic wrap. Place on a serving platter and flip the cake over so that it is now right-side up. It should thaw completely after 2-3 hours at room temperature. Prepare your chocolate frosting and serve!

Close up of Chocolate Depression Cake with Chocolate Frosting Dripping

Can Depression Cake be Made as Cupcakes?

Yes! Pour the cake batter into a lined muffin tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350°F, checking with a toothpick for doneness. The toothpick should come out clean, but some crumbs (not wet batter) are okay.

Looking for More Chocolate Desserts?

Chocolate Cherry Brownies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ooey Gooey Cake

Easy Sourdough Brownies

Mocha Brownies

5 from 22 votes
Chocolate Depression Cake with Chocolate Frosting
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
35 mins
Total Time
40 mins

With just a few simple ingredients and one bowl, you can be ready to bake a chocolate cake and have it ready in about 30 minutes!

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Chocolate Depression Cake, chocolate frosting
Servings: 9
Calories: 340 kcal
Author: Amanda
  • 1 1/2 cups (187g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (29.5g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (237g) water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (125g) confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk, or heavy cream
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk to combine.

  2. Add vanilla, vinegar, oil, and water to the dry ingredients and stir using a spatula or whisk until ingredients are fully combined.

  3. Pour into a prepared (greased or parchment-lined) 8x8-inch pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. When an inserted toothpick is removed with a few crumbs (not clean!) the cake is done. Let it cool while you prepare the frosting.

  1. With a hand-held mixer, combine room temperature butter, cocoa, honey, vanilla, and confectioners sugar.

  2. Turn mixer on low and let it combine ingredients for about 30 seconds.

  3. Slowly add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until you reach desired consistency. You may not need all 3 tablespoons, you may need 1 more, it can vary from season to season and kitchen to kitchen.

  4. Spread over cooled cake.

Recipe Video

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  • Shoppu says:

    Can i use plain vinegar

    • Elizabeth Keeney says:

      Hi! I work for iambaker and am happy to help with questions.
      Hi, Shoppu! We used plain white vinegar in our recipe, so yes you can. Have a great day!

  • Holly says:

    Can you omit cocoa and make it vanilla cake? My kids want both lol

    • Elizabeth Keeney says:

      Hi, Holly! I work with iambaker and am happy to help with questions. You could leave out the cocoa for a vanilla cake. We have not tried it, so please let us know how it turns out! Have a great day!

  • SunE says:

    Ok I think I forgot to put the sugar in! I just realized. My apologies! No wonder! Ok five stars and disregard the above comments from SunE. User error!

  • Wendy Fortney says:

    Hi, I’ve been making Wacky cake for over fifty years. It was the first cake my mother taught me to make as it’s unusual (we make it in a 13×9 pan and make three holes for the oil, vinegar and vanilla) and easy. I made this version as it was handy and looked similar to mom’s recipe however it didn’t have the lightness and tang that I remember. Looking over mom’s recipe card I see that we used 2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar not just 1 tsp. that your recipe calls for. I think if you try it with more vinegar and only cook it for 25 minutes, you’d be surprised at the difference.

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Great idea Wendy! I will definitely try that. I trust your mom! <3

  • Dawn says:

    I made this cake and it’s very good! So nice and moist and SO easy! Love it! Only two pieces left! 😮 Be careful when making the frosting and adding the milk. You don’t want to get it too thin.

  • Kim s says:

    Can you use a 9×9 pan?

    • Amanda Rettke says:


  • Mari says:

    Since the cake has no milk, do you have a frosting with no milk?

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      You can do a 7-minute frosting or something fun!

  • Ginnie says:

    This is the wacky cake that I made with my Grandmother everytime I visited. And we used a 9×13 pan made holes in the flour mixture and yes we used 2 tblsp. Of the vinegar . Best ever. We never frosted it. Was good enough.

  • Lisa says:

    I made this cake and it was wonderful. So moist. I messed up when I made the icing by putting in all the ingredients at one time. Should have read the directions but it turned out fine. First time I made a completely homemade cake w/icing and it was great!

  • Kathy Salm says:

    My husband who is not a dessert eater reluctantly tried the cake. He told me never to make it again since he can’t stop eating it! Guess you would say that is a great win. First time I have ever put honey in a frosting recipe,may try it on other cake recipes. Initially I made it because it made a small cake which was ideal for two people.

  • Andrea says:

    Made this doubled the recipe and made a layer cake. Turned out amazing, my husband loved his quarantine BDay cake.😁🎂

  • Rachel W. Robbins says:

    Years ago, a friend gave me a recipe for a cake that is almost exactly the same as the one you just shared. I’ve made it more times than I can possibly remember & everyone ALWAYS loves it! I’ve even served it to “company” but it’s a family favorite for our Sunday night dinners. It is the best & so easy, especially for someone who’s just starting to bake. Thanks for sharing!

  • J. T. says:

    We make this cake often when we want something sweet. Only with no icing. I just don’t care for icing on any cake.

  • Dee says:

    On the tv segment you made the cake directly in the pan instead of in a bowl. Did you grease the pan prior to making the cake in it? Many thanks, Dee

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Yes I did spray it with non-stick spray first. The method I used on TV was the “original” method, the one grandma taught, it’s just another way. Both methods for mixing the ingredients work well. 🙂 You can use an 8×8 or 9×9 pan, you can use most pans it will just depend on how thick you want the cake to be. If you use anything bigger than a 9×9 the baking time will decrease.

  • Dee says:

    Oops, one more question. Recipe says use 8 x 8 pan but another reader asked if you used 9 x 9 Pam and you responded yes. Which is correct?

  • Kim K says:

    This is also super delicious if you use dark cocoa powder instead of regular cocoa powder. Same for the frosting. Yum!

  • Rebecca Johnson says:

    This cake is so easy . It was a big hit in my house. Also it’s nice just to bake a small cake.

  • Arlene Hernandez says:

    Loved this cake recipe I love baking and have been using a family recipe but I really like this Chocolate Depression cake recipe


  • Martha Ann says:

    So easy and so good!

  • Winifred Curtis says:

    Love this cake! I substituted Cassava flour for the AP flour & it was still moist and yummy!
    I’ll be making this again!

  • Diana Foster says:

    The video shows using 3 cups of flour but recipe say 1 1/2 cup. Which is correct?

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Nope, I used a 1/2 cup measuring cup in the video. Both the video and recipe card are correct.

  • Diana says:

    Thank you for clarifying but the text in the video clearly reads “3 cups flour”.

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Ah! I see. That was done by an editor, I didn’t see that. My apologies.

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