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 53 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.

Recipe Video

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  • Samreen says:

    Hi Amanda,
    I am confused with the amount of flour! Is it 3 cups or 1.5 cups? In the video it shows 3 cups of flour.
    Thank you so much 🙂

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      I was using a 1/2 cup size measuring cup in the video.

  • Delores Rachal says:

    Well, Hapoy Birthday!! Mine is today! Enjoying your recipes!

  • Debra says:

    Hi Amanda:

    Cake seems interesting to make. I can’t wait to try. I would like to know if you know the calorie intake? This seems this might be good or a person on Weight Watchers.

    • Elizabeth Keeney says:

      Hi, Debra! I work with iambaker and am happy to help with questions. A rough estimate of calories for a piece of this cake (if cut into nine pieces) is about 340 calories. I hope this helps, and have a great day!

  • Roxanna E Sullivan says:

    Love this cake. So simple, easy and delicious. Love your recipes, your videos, everything you post. Question? I’ve never used Dutch process chocolate and can only purchase from the internet. Is it worth it and which brand would you recommend?

  • Roxanna E Sullivan says:

    Left an earlier comment and totally did not see the stars so I’m back, it’s great

  • Kathy Lucas says:

    Love this recipe and have made it for 40 years! Another great frosting if you like mint-once cake is done, remove from oven and lay peppermint patties (small ones) on top of cake. After about 5 minutes, spread evenly over top. Delicious!

  • Christina CandyFire says:

    I have my great grandma’s recipe for the depression era cake and it differs slightly. She used mayo/miracle whip in place of the eggs, oil, and vinegar. Her recipe included a chocolate frosting that is alot like candy! Depending on preference, it could be chewy or hard! My mama always likes it so that you have to saw thru it!

  • Cathy says:

    I made this tonight, the cake was delicious! I couldn’t get over how rich it tasted with no eggs. Mine came out crumbly though, it was moist-not burnt at all but lacked cohesiveness. What did I do wrong?

  • Natalia says:

    Made this cake for dessert tonight and it was sooo delicious! Is it 340 Calories including the frosting or just for the plain cake?

    • Elizabeth Keeney says:

      Hi, Natalia! I work with iambaker and am happy to help with questions. 340 calories is a rough estimate that includes the frosting. Have a great day!

  • Tracy says:

    This recipe has been a family favorite for decades . I am happy to pass this down to grandson who is 6 . Today he wanted to bake a cake for his mom and this fit the bill perfectly.
    When I was a kid we always had it frosted with a thin layer of chocolate mint . I gotta tell ya, a piece of that right outta the fridge (ya I said it, fridge!) Is a piece of heaven.
    Today will be sprinkles ! Red blue green and yellow and a few halloween ones from the cupboard.
    Ahhh this is how memories are made!

  • Carol Stebbins says:

    I was given this recipe by a neighbor and she called it a crazy cake. I tripled the recipe for a big birthday party and made a buttercream icing for it. I made it a few weeks ago for my son’s 40th birthday and it was a great hit.My son in law is a steward for a very influential family and I was very nervous to have him try it for the first time.He surprised me by loving it.They usually send me home with sweets I bring over but not that night!They kept it and finished it!❤️

  • Robin says:

    In the oven as I type this, can’t wait until it’s done

  • Kim says:

    This is a great recipe! We try to stay away from eggs and dairy so this is right up our alley. Wish I had found this sooner! Baked it in a 7×7 square pan, still came out right. Th crumb is soft but not gooey, so there is a textural difference versus cakes with eggs and dairy. But this is still a great cake and one to keep in your back pocket for last minute desserts. So quick to make! Thank you for this!

  • Cheryl D'Souza says:

    This is my go to recipe, for an eggless chocolate cake. Moist, light, chocolatey it got rave reviews from my friend with an egg allergy. I was skeptical about the recipe but tried it based on the many good Super glad I did. I vote this one better than even an egg version. Thank you so much!

  • Mary says:

    Can you substitute sugar free sugar in the cake?


    I’ve been making Depression Chocolate cake for 62 years, always looking for a good chocolate frosting. The recipe is fool-proof, I’ve not had vinegar on hand at times and have substituted dill pickle juice and pickled jalapeno juice with great results


    The cake was called ‘CRAZY CAKE’ in the ’50s because of the mixing method. No bowl or mixer just a greased 8″x*” baking pan. You put the flour in one portion the cocoa in another and the sugar in another. Shake the salt, baking soda, and vanilla over all, add the water, vinegar, and oil mix with a fork till all dry ingredients are moistened, and bake. I find it easier using a bowl especially if you triple the recipe as I do.


    By all means triple top rating ***** ***** *****

  • Jenny says:

    This cake is really good. You can make other flavors such as lemon and spice. Search online for Wacky Cakes.


    My Grandmother made the cake, but made a cooked frosting that hardened on the cake. Unfortunately she did not give out the recipe, so when she passed, no one has it. I would love to have a cooked frosting posted.

  • Mary Jane Searles says:

    The very best chocolate cake I have ever had! At 68, tasted many a chocolate cake. Even my partner loved it and he said, “you might convert mr from not being a chocolate fan’s

    And the frosting, to die for!!! Also the very best!


  • Melissa P says:

    My great grandmother, grandmother and mom all made this with Seven minute frosting. it’s cooked in a double boiler and cracks like you described. sorry I know this is an old post, I hope it’s what you are looking for.

  • Alexandria Hargrave says:

    I have been making this cake for about 50 years now. WE raised 5 children. I sometimes left out the cocoa to make a spice cake.
    A can of cherry pie filling stirred into the chocolate batter or used as a topping was also a favorite. Don’t know how to post photos on line.

  • Suman Kumar says:

    What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder

  • Barbara Pifer says:

    I use this exact recipe for my grandson with food allergies. Don’t remember where I got it. He loves it. We usually make cupcakes but he has requested a cake for his birthday next month