Depression Cake Recipe

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Our Depression Cake is a sweet chocolate cake that contains no milk, eggs, or butter and is topped with an optional rich chocolate frosting. It uses simple ingredients and creates a moist cake with plenty of chocolatey flavor!

Bite of chocolate cake on a fork.

Depression Era Chocolate Cake Recipe

When times are tough, you’ve got to improvise. This is especially true when it comes to making food dollars and ingredients stretch in the kitchen.

This moist chocolate cake recipe is our version of a depression era classic. Dairy and eggs could be hard to come by, so home cooks used other ingredients to create family favorites. 

Much like our water pie recipe, this chocolate Depression cake lacks many ingredients normally found in a traditional cake recipe. 

With the use of a few substitute ingredients, this cake bakes up light, fluffy, and full of chocolate flavor.

And don’t forget the chocolate frosting! It puts this cake over the top!

What is depression cake?

Depression cake, sometimes referred to as Wacky Cake, is a type of cake that emerged during the Great Depression. 

It is made with ingredients like flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and vinegar which were more widely available during this time period. 

The cake does not require any eggs or dairy products and uses oil instead of butter for moisture. 

Depression cakes are often chocolate-flavored and are sometimes served with a creamy frosting or sweet glaze.

Chocolate cake with frosting next to a fork.

Does this chocolate depression cake taste like coffee?

This chocolate depression-era cake has only a hint of coffee flavor.

The coffee enhances the cocoa powder and provides moisture for the cake batter.

Is chocolate wacky cake vegan?

Yes, this chocolate wacky cake recipe is vegan. The base of the cake contains no animal products and primarily consists of ingredients like flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, vegetable oil, and vinegar. 

However, not all types of frosting are vegan-friendly, so it’s important to check the ingredients before selecting one to top the cake.

​Can you top this cake with something other than chocolate frosting?

Yes, there are several topping options other than chocolate frosting. Here are a few ideas:

Top down view of a chocolate cake in a pan.

Recipe Tips

  • When mixing the wet and dry ingredients, make sure you do not overmix. Otherwise, the cake becomes dense.
  • If you do not have brewed coffee on hand, dissolve instant coffee granules in hot water instead.
  • Let the cake cool completely before frosting it. If the cake is not cooled and set, it may crumble.

Storing and Freezing

Storing: Store leftover cake (without frosting) in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Cake with frosting should be refrigerated and discarded after 5 days.

Freezing: Since depression cake has a delicate texture, freezing must be done carefully. Freeze the cooled unfrosted cake on a sheet pan overnight until solid.

Then carefully wrap in plastic wrap and place it in a sealed freezer-safe bag for up to 2 months. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before frosting and slicing.

Bite taken out of a piece of chocolate cake.

Depression Cake Recipe

5 from 1 vote
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Author: Kimberly
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Cool Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings: 9 Servings


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cup freshly brewed coffee
  • cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Chocolate frosting, optional


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F, and spray an 8×8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup granulated sugar
    ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon salt
  • Stir in the coffee, oil, vinegar and vanilla just until combined then pour it into the prepared baking pan.
    1 ¼ cup freshly brewed coffee
    ⅓ cup vegetable oil
    1 tablespoon white vinegar
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.
  • Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.
  • Scroll up and see the post for tips, FAQs, and storage recommendations.


*The calories listed are an approximation based on the ingredients in the recipe card and a serving size of 1 slice of cake without frosting. Actual calories will vary.
*For more information, tips, and answers to frequently asked questions, please refer to the post.
*Photos courtesy of Karla Rae Photography.


Serving: 1slice | Calories: 267kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 192mg | Potassium: 129mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 22g | Calcium: 28mg | Iron: 2mg
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  1. Have been making this cake for years. Got it from King Arthur Flour. Considering the ingredients, one wonders how it is so decadent, even without frosting! I add a tablespoon of Espresso powder to the batter.

    1. Hi Barbara!

      These vintage recipes are some of my favorites! It is interesting how this one works so well considering some of the basic cake ingredients are missing. Have a great day! 🙂

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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