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

$2.41 recipe / $0.27 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.79 from 104 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)

4.79 from 104 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 minutes
Cook 35 minutes
Cooling Time 1 hour
Total 1 hour 50 minutes

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 8×8" or 9×9" 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.
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Video

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. This cake was delicious! And very easy to make. Inspired me to look at other depression era recipes. Thank you ❤️

  2. Some of my kids and grandkids are vegan – this cake is called Grandma’s yummy chocolate cake and they ring and say ‘coming for coffee – is there cake??’ Of course they mean this cake – it is so easy, always turns out perfectly! 5 *****

  3. this might be the worst cake i’ve ever baked, had to spit it out. not the authors fault, im sure their other recipes are lovely. i just don’t know why i expected a cake from the great depression to taste nice.

  4. Love this recipe. I added instant coffee to the liquid. Turned out delicious. I will add this cake into my vegan desserts. Thanks!