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, I also have a Lemon Crazy Cake – the lemon version of this!

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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.

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

Can You Use Coffee Instead of Water?

I love that you thought of this as it is one of my favorite additions to chocolate cakes. Yes! You can absolutely substitute a cup of brewed coffee for the water in this recipe.

Spreading Chocolate Frosting over Chocolate Depression Cake - Wacky Cake

Can a Different Frosting Be Used?

Absolutely! Many readers have used buttercream, peanut butter frosting, cookie dough frosting, salted caramel, and so many more. Although frosting isn’t needed, it can be fun to try different flavors!

Fork Taking Bite out of Chocolate Depression Cake - Wacky Cake

Can You Freeze 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 is 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.

More Chocolate Cakes

4.99 from 88 votes

Chocolate Depression Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
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!

Ingredients

CHOCOLATE CAKE

  • 1 ½ cups (187 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (29.5 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (237 g) water

FROSTING

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (125 g) confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk, or heavy cream

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

CHOCOLATE CAKE

  • In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk to combine.
  • Add vanilla, vinegar, oil, and water to the dry ingredients and stir using a spatula or whisk until ingredients are fully combined.
  • Pour batter into the prepared 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.

FROSTING

  • With a hand-held mixer, combine room temperature butter, cocoa, honey, vanilla, and confectioners sugar.
  • Turn mixer on low and let it combine ingredients for about 30 seconds.
  • 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.
  • Spread over cooled cake.

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Meet Amanda Rettke

Amanda Rettke is the creator of I Am Baker, and the bestselling author of Surprise Inside Cakes: Amazing Cakes for Every Occasion – With a Little Something Extra Inside.Over the course of her 15+ year blogging adventure, she has been featured in and collaborated with the Food Network, New York Times, LA Times, Country Living Magazine, People Magazine, Epicurious, Brides, Romantic Homes, life:beautiful, Publishers Weekly, The Daily Mail, Star Tribune, The Globe and Mail, DailyCandy, YumSugar, The Knot, The Kitchn, and Parade, to name a few.

Reader Comments

  1. EXCELLENT RECIPE…
    EXCELLENT INFORMATION…
    MY PARENTS WERE BORN IN 1921 & 1928 THEY GREW UP DURING THE DEPRESSION ERA AND MASON DAD SERVED IN WWII., SO THEY WERE SERVED THIS CAKE…

    SO HAPPY YOU SHARED IT WITH YOUR FOLLOWERS OF ALL AGES…UNLESS THEY ARE PICKY, MOST FOLKS WILL SIMPLY ENJOY THIS CAKE 👏👏♥️👏👏

    THANK YOU & GOD BLESS YOU 🙏

  2. I went vegan and my mom would bake me this cake. I moved crossed country and was having a hard time replicating her recipe. Finally found this and tastes exactly like hers!

  3. I love the recipe and it is perfect for my son and family who are vegan. It’s now their birthday cake recipe. I was wondering if you could leave out the cocoa to make a white cake or do you need the cocoa to flavour the ingredients??

  4. This is basically the cake we grew up with If you double the recipe and use warm water or leftover brewed coffee or add instant coffee crystals to the warm water, and we make it with a browned butter Penuche or what we call a he GC Caramel Frosting – everybody in our family makes it, and have been doing so for years taking it to school functions potlucks, family functions, birthday parties, and various work-related potlucks. 😁 It’s affectionately known in our family now as family favorite chocolate cake with caramel frosting! Everybody loves it and everybody wants the recipes! So much fun over the years. 🙂

  5. This is so good! I only had a 9×9 square pan. I baked for 20 minutes and it was perfect. I just topped mine with powered sugar. Great recipe. Btw, I love your book.

  6. I will be making this tomorrow. So simple yet chocolatey. I just actually wanted to comment on the video. Adorable! I can tell you and your daughter have a lot of fun in the kitchen together. Lots of nice memories. I was amused and impressed by her precision with measuring using a knife with the flour, and the baking powder! So Cute.

  7. I found this recipe years ago in a Betty Crocker cookbook. It was called Snacking Cake. Taught my daughters how to make it and it was their go to dessert cake for Sunday lunch.

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