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

$2.41 recipe / $0.27 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.92 from 67 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)

4.92 from 67 votes
This unique Chocolate Cake recipe, popularized during the great depression, is rich and chocolatey without the using any eggs, butter, or milk!
Author: Beth - Budget Bytes
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.

See how we calculate recipe costs here.

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
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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  1. We are in Florida waiting on Hurricane Ian. Came across this recipe thought I would try it before the power goes out. I used coffee instead of water. I did not frost it but had it with whipped cream. It was delicious. Don’t let the fact it contains no dairy put you off.  Give it a try you will not be disappointed. 

  2. Thank you for sharing this. My daughter has an egg allergy, so this recipe is much appreciated! If using butter instead of oil, how much butter? (Dumb question, but the only baking I do is brownie mix!)

  3. I love this recipe. One quibble – don’t have any idea where you got your cost estimates, but even using the most expensive C&H cane sugar from my local store I can’t make a cup of sugar come to more then $0.38.

    1. HI Marissa, we have not tested this recipe in a cupcake pan, so we can’t answer that question. However, if you do decide to try it, remember to reduce the cooking time, as the smaller volume of batter in a muffin tin will cook way faster. XOXO -Monti

  4. Where has this recipe been all my life?? So easy, moist and delicious. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Haven’t made this cake (yet) but I just wanted to say that every single photo in this recipe is gorgeous!

    1. Hi C, I just replied to your email. :) This recipe has been around for at least 100 years, predating Serious Eats or the internet itself. I made sure to talk about the origins of this recipe in the blog post so it would be clear to readers that I did not invent the recipe. You’ll find this exact recipe on thousands of websites because it’s been a staple in households for generations.

  6. My new favorite cake!! I substituted a few ingredients to amp the flavor and nutrition–turned out great!
    Substitutions: 3/4 cup each whole wheat pastry flour and all purpose, brewed coffee for the water, 1/4 cup beet puree plus 1 T avocado oil for the 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup sugar plus 1/3 cup stevia for the cup of sugar, 2t vanilla instead of one, used dark cocoa and added 1/2 t allspice (nice with the beet), also added 1 t of baking powder. Moist and flavorful–doesn’t need frosting if you ask me. Thanks for the recipe.

    [My email address is a valid address but I no longer send or receive with it. The US government’s Intelligence Community is collecting all such data & they will manipulate it when they choose– they are operating under secret law and/or secret interpretation of law & will continue to abuse their power until the American people discover & challenge their unconstitutional actions.]

  7. I was never able to make a cake (from a box or from scratch) that didn’t taste as if it came out of King Tut’s tomb. Until this cake. I am not exaggerating, this cake is phenomenal! I’ve made it several times and it has never been dry or tasteless. This cake’s a sure thing. I have made it with and without frosting and it’s great either way. My son is now thrilled at the prospect he’ll actually get a birthday cake this year. Poor kid has spent the past 14 years getting a birthday pie due to my inability to make him a proper cake. Thank you for a terrific cake recipe!

  8. Hi Beth and everybody!
    I made this cake on for myself on my birthday in February 2021, and I’ve never forgotten it. I absolutely loved it, it was so delicious!
    I’m wanting to surprise my boyfriend by making a cake for Valentine’s day, but I’ve never made a two-tiered cake before (I’ve been watching soo many tutorials on youtube about that!). I was wondering, I know this might be a silly question, but would this recipe work for a layer cake with two layers, do you think??
    Thank you so much for your time and guidance!

    1. Hi Caroline! I have zero experience with making layered cakes, unfortunately, but I don’t know why it wouldn’t work! You might try Googling something like “what cake works for layered cakes” to see if there are any general criteria that makes a cake good for layering. The only thing that sticks out to me is that you may want to line the baking dish or do a butter coating with a light flour dusting just to make sure the cake comes out easily in one piece.

  9. Can you make the cake up the day before and then do the icing the next day? Or if you do the icing the day before spread it, will it get too hard if not served right away?

    1. You could bake the cake the day before, if you’d like. I don’t suggest making the icing ahead of time, though, as it will dry out like you suspected. You could always stir a bit more water into it if you do make it the day before, but that’s about the same amount of effort as just making it fresh. :)