Chocolate Depression Cake (egg-free, dairy-free)

$2.41 recipe / $0.27 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.87 from 74 votes
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Depression as in The Great Depression, not depression as in “this cake will cure your depression.” 😅Since a lot of us are experiencing ingredient shortages right now, I thought there was no better time to post this Chocolate Depression Cake (also known as Crazy Cake or Wacky Cake), which was also born out of a time when ingredients were in limited supply—The Great Depression. This unique cake is rich and chocolatey without using any eggs, milk, or butter. A cake without butter?? So “wacky,” I know.

A white casserole dish with chocolate cake, one slice on a white plate and a glass of milk near by.

How Do You Make Cake Without Eggs or Butter?

Butter usually serves to keep cake soft and tender by coating the flour molecules in fat and preventing them from developing a tough gluten matrix. In this recipe, butter is replaced with the cooking oil of your choice, which can achieve the safe effect, but with slightly less richness.

Eggs usually help leaven cakes by creating steam that puffs up the batter, then giving structure to the risen cake as the proteins firm up. In this cake, the eggs are replaced with a combination of vinegar and baking soda, which foams up quickly, making the cake light and fluffy. It’s almost like a giant version of my Chocolate Mug Cake, if you’ve ever tried that. Anne Byrn’s 1917 Apple Sauce Cake also uses a similar no-egg, no-butter style batter.

Is This the Best Chocolate Cake?

Haha, let’s be real, this cake doesn’t have butter. So while it’s probably not the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had, it’s a damn fine treat when your cabinets are bare. Not to mention it’s incredibly easy. Anyone can make this cake, and with very little cooking equipment or ingredients. For those two reasons alone, this is a good recipe to keep tucked in your back pocket (or your browser’s bookmarks). Also, it just happens to be vegan!

How to Serve Depression Cake

I made a super simple dairy-free chocolate icing to top my cake, but be aware that this type of dairy-free icing is super sweet because there is no fat to kind of mellow out the sweetness. If you’re not into super sweet icings, I suggest skipping the icing and just dusting your cake with powdered sugar after it cools (if you do it while the cake is still hot the powdered sugar will dissolve). Or, if you do have butter on hand, you can go with a more traditional chocolate buttercream frosting. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of an icing free slice of this cake would also be divine.

One slice of chocolate depression cake or "crazy cake" viewed from the side, a glass of milk in the background

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Chocolate Depression Cake (No Eggs, Butter, or Milk)

4.87 from 74 votes
This unique Chocolate Cake recipe, popularized during the great depression, is rich and chocolatey without the using any eggs, butter, or milk!
One slice of chocolate depression cake or "crazy cake" viewed from the side, a glass of milk in the background
Servings 9 1 slice each
Prep 15 mins
Cook 35 mins
Cooling Time 1 hr
Total 1 hr 50 mins

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour ($0.23)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar ($0.80)
  • 1/2 tsp salt ($0.02)
  • 1 tsp baking soda ($0.02)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder ($0.21)
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil* ($0.21)
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar** ($0.06)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract ($0.30)
  • 1 cup water ($0.00)

Chocolate Icing

  • 1.5 cups powdered sugar ($0.10)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder ($0.16)
  • 3 Tbsp water ($0.00)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract ($0.30)

Instructions 

Chocolate Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder until well combined.
  • Add 1 cup water to a liquid measuring cup, then add the vanilla extract and vinegar to the water.
  • Add the oil to the bowl of dry ingredients, followed by the water mixture. Stir until the chocolate cake batter is mostly smooth. Make sure no dry flour remains on the bottom of the bowl.
  • Pour the cake batter into an 8x8" or 9x9" baking dish. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake the cake for 35 minutes.

Chocolate Icing

  • If using the chocolate icing, let the cake cool for at least an hour after baking before adding the icing.
  • Wait until the cake is cool, then prepare the icing. Add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract to a bowl. Begin adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it forms a thick but pourable icing (about 3 Tbsp total). If you let the icing sit, it may begin to dry, but you can add a splash more water to make it moist again.
  • Pour the icing over the cooled cake and spread until the cake is evenly covered. Slice the cake into 9 pieces and serve.

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Notes

*Use any neutral cooking oil of your choice, like canola, vegetable, grapeseed, safflower, corn, or avocado oil.
**Any light vinegar will work, like white vinegar, rice vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 319.77kcalCarbohydrates: 59.44gProtein: 3.09gFat: 9.07gSodium: 272.58mgFiber: 2.71g
Read our full nutrition disclaimer here.
Have you tried this recipe?Mention @budgetbytes or tag #budgetbytes on Instagram!

Scroll down for the step by step photos!

Chocolate Icing being Poured over the baked chocolate cake

How to Make Chocolate Cake with No Butter, No Eggs, and No Milk – Step by Step Photos

Chocolate cake dry ingredients in a bowl with a whisk on the side

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl combine 1.5 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda, and ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder. Stir these ingredients together until they’re well combined.

Wet ingredients being poured into dry ingredients in the bowl

Measure 1 cup water in a liquid measuring cup, then add 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp vinegar (any light vinegar, like white vinegar, rice vinegar, or apple cider vinegar). Add ⅓ cup cooking oil and the water mixture to the dry ingredients.

Mixed cake batter in the bowl with a red spatula

Stir until a thick cake batter forms. A few lumps are okay, but make sure no dry flour remains on the bottom of the bowl.

Cake batter being spread into a square baking dish

Pour the cake batter into an 8×8 or 9×9 inch baking dish.

baked chocolate cake in the white square baking dish

Bake the cake in the fully preheated 350ºF oven for 35 minutes. If you plan to make the chocolate icing, cool the cake for at least an hour before making and adding the icing.

Finished chocolate icing dripping off a red spatula into the bowl

To make the icing, simply add 1.5 cups powdered sugar, ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa, and 1 tsp vanilla extract to a bowl. Starting with one tablespoon water, stir in water until it forms a thick icing (about 3 Tbsp total). The powdered sugar only needs a very small amount of liquid to melt into a thick icing. If you let the icing sit for a bit, it can dry out, but can be moistened again by stirring in another splash of water.

Chocolate icing being spread over the chocolate cake with a red spatula

Pour the prepared icing over the baked and cooled cake, then spread into an even layer. Cut the cake into nine equal pieces, then serve!

A piece of chocolate depression cake on a white plate with a fork and a glass of milk on the side

It’s also really good with a glass of milk or scoop of ice cream. ;)

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Comments

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  1. Nothing short of sorcery!
    Thinking it’s impossible to make decent cake without eggs and butter I decided to try this recipe mainly to quench my curiosity. Expecting it to be bland, strange and tasteless.
    I was oh so wrong, this is delightful!

    I did use cold coffee where it called for water though and next time I’m absolutely replacing the icing with a less sweet one as my teeth curled up and cried after this.

    The cake itself however is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had and will be made over and over.

  2. Just made this cake and the icing and it is a moist, simple, and tasty chocolate cake! I like that the recipe seems like you could easily alter it if you wanted to experiment with adding other things. I ended up adding about a tablespoon of peanut butter and a teaspoon of instant coffee to the icing and it was perfect! I will definitely make this one again!

  3. Followed the recipe to a tee: 35 minutes was not long enough, and the parts that were done were dry and crumbly. Let it bake a bit longer and had a slice after it cooled. Way too dry and pretty flavorless. A waste of ingredients.

  4. What a great recipe! Nothing fancy (in a good way), super quick to throw together, and tastes great. We are trying to use eggs & dairy less often, so this is a great recipe to have on hand. Thank you for sharing!

  5. I’d love to try this cake. I believe it’s the same cake my Mom made when I was a little girl. Can I use Almond flour in this recipe?

    1. Hi, Heidi! While this recipe may work with almond flour with some tweaking, we haven’t tested it and I don’t want to give you a definitive answer that would lead to unsuccessful results. Most cakes that use almond flour also use a ton of whipped egg whites to help them rise. If you are looking for a gluten-free alternative — a gluten-free all-purpose flour would probably be a safer 1:1 substitute in this particular recipe. ~Marion :)

  6. I grew up with this cake and continue to make it, in my 60s. It is my favourite chocolate cake! I love the rich denseness of it, and thank you for sharing the recipe. And it IS vegan, from an era way before vegan was a thing!

  7. If I made this the night before, do you think it would it dry out in the refrigerator? I’ve made it before and really enjoyed it, but only when it was eaten the same day. Thank you!

    1. Hi Laura, you can actually store this one at room temperature and it will be fine for about 3-4 days. :)

  8. This cake is my go to for chocolate, my sister loves it too!
    Step 2 for the cake does not size the 1 cup of water up or down with the servings adjustment.

    1. Hi, Priscilla! Thanks for catching that — you may see this from time to time on some of our older content! I have added the necessary codes to the recipe card in order to make those ingredients scale up properly. Glad to hear you love this recipe! ~Marion :)

  9. Let me say I love this cake, my whole family loves this cake. My husband requests this cake more than any other I make. So I was wondering if anyone has adapted minus the coco powder to make a vanilla cake to make for example a Pineapple upside down cake instead? Pineapple juice for water and just no coco powder. I’m want to test it just wanted advice before I do. :)

    1. I made this twice already because its so easy and fool proof to make.

      I replaced the water with coffee for a more chocolate-y taste.

    2. Hi Amber. I’ve used this recipe my whole life. You can make a white cake by replacing the cocoa with an equal amount of white flour. Enjoy!

  10. Cupboards are a bit bare this weekend (I get paid Tuesday, so it’s not too bad) and I was looking around for something sweet I could bake that didn’t require eggs, butter, or milk (3 things we’re out of). I wanted to make Chocolate Concrete aka Chocolate Shortcake, but I didn’t have the butter, so I kept looking. I stumbled upon your recipe, and it was perfect! The only substitutions I had to make were subbing the baking soda with baking powder and the vinegar with lemon juice. I couldn’t make the icing because I didn’t have any confectioners sugar, but the cake alone came out delicious! The family’s sweet tooth has been satisfied. Thank you!!!

  11. I had been looking for ages for this recipe as my mum used to bake it for us. I add about a tsp of cinnamon to it for a nice little kick.