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

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Frosting Recipe

This frosting is NOT dairy-free, but it does have one ingredient that always makes for the best TASTING as well as best LOOKING frosting! And that is honey. No, it doesn’t taste like honey, but the honey certainly adds a magical element that other frostings don’t have. Even if you don’t make the cake, try the frosting on brownies, ice cream, cookies, or even a spoon!

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 a 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

4.99 from 55 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
  • cups (187g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • ¼ cup (29.5g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 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.

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  • Judith Spads says:

    One recipe calls for vinegar and the other does not! Is that omitted by mistake or is it really needed!

    • Elizabeth Keeney says:

      Hi, Judith! I work with iambaker and am happy to help with questions. Vinegar is needed in the Chocolate Depression Cake recipe, as written. Have a great day!

  • Debbie White says:

    This cake is delicious! The icing is so creamy! Can’t wait to make it again!!! So easy!

  • Charlotte Loughner says:

    I am definitely going to make this cake. It looks fantastic.

  • Christine says:

    Whacky cake ! A blast from the past for me, I grew up making this cake! It was the first cake I ever made, so good! Thanks for the memories ♥️❤️💕

  • Janice Carter says:

    Ilove Depression Cake,and I really love the dish that this one is cooked in!

  • Eileen Weber says:

    at first I thought this was going to be my Moms( Poor Man’s cake )made with Mayo, and topped with Peanut butter icing. I am going to print and try this one also. It looks delicious.

  • Marisol Sanchez says:

    Hi! No eggs for this recipe?

    • Elizabeth Keeney says:

      Hi, Marisol! I work with iambaker and am happy to help with questions. Nope, no milk, eggs, or butter in this recipe. It is based on cakes made during the Great Depression when those ingredients were hard to come by. I hope this helps, and have a wonderful day!

  • Ariana says:

    This recipe is a crowd pleaser in my house. My question is, has anyone tried to make these into cupcakes? If so, about how long did you bake them and how did they turn out?

  • Thea King says:

    Easy and DELICIOUS!

  • Katherine says:

    This is the first wacky cake recipe I’ve found with metric conversions. What is the conversion of the oil to metric please?

  • LORRAINE says:

    It was very good I made it today.

  • marg says:

    awesome cake, can i omit the chocolate and make it just white. and yes vinegar is needed in the depression cake, my mom told me so.

  • Jeanne Kuckhahn says:

    My mom used to make this cake for us but put 7 minute icing on it..

  • Ruth M says:

    Just curious, how do you think it would be if I added 1 C brewed coffee in place of the water???

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      I think it would be great!

  • Candice Gable says:

    just curious what can i use to replace the vinegar? I don’t have any and don’t want to go to the store to buy any

  • I Am Baker Logo

    Brand new recipes that people find kinda acceptable.