It’s also known as War Cake, Depression Cake and Wacky Cake. The history of this cake goes back approximately 100 years, and has almost as many names and versions. Most people cite its origins around WWI during the time of rationing. This particular version of recipe below was more typical during the Great Depression, when substitutions were necessary to replace ingredients more expensive than most people could afford.
OK, you might be thinking, why should I care about this?
Well, this cake’s long history makes it naturally free of 7 out of 8 of the most common food allergens (obviously, excepting wheat), so it’s perfect for school treats or to give someone you love who might have an egg or milk allergy a taste of honest to goodness real chocolate cake. Having no eggs, butter and milk also makes it vegan! Because you’re not dealing with a risk of salmonella, and there’s no electric mixer, this recipe is friendly for kids to make and everyone can lick the raw batter. It’s traditionally mixed with a fork in, and served out of, it’s own baking pan, making it minimal equipment and easy clean-up. Hey you poor college students dealing with a tiny dorm kitchen: I’m talking to you. 😉 If you use fair-trade cocoa powder and organic ingredients, it’s also satisfying to your inner hippie.
All of that makes the cake pretty amazing. The fact that it’s moist, sweet and dense almost like a delicious brownie, made with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, and that people would never guess that you’re feeding them a cake with no eggs and shortening, upgrades this cake, in my opinion, to AWESOME.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups brown sugar (white granulated will also work just fine in a pinch)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup dutch-process cocoa powder or cacao powder
- 3/4 cup light olive oil (or vegetable oil)
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups cold water
- For the one-pan recipe method: Put all of the dry ingredients in your 9 x 13 pan, and sift them together well with a fork. Make three wells of increasing size for the vanilla, vinegar, and oil. Pour the water over the top of everything, and stir very well with a fork, making sure to take extra care to mix the corners and edges. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.
- For layer or cupcakes: Follow the same instructions above in a mixing bowl, and either grease/flour your 9 x 13 pan (if you need to stay vegan, stick to a vegan shortening for this), or pour into cupcake tins lined with a paper liner (~20-24 cupcakes) for ease of serving and reduced baking time (same temperature, ~20-25 minutes).
- Do not use a mixer! Do it by hand.
Cool your cake or cupcakes before attempting to frost. Top you cake simply with icing sugar, or you can use my vegan Chocolate Frosting recipe, or my subsequent formula where it’s just a mixture of icing sugar, cocoa powder and oil (no soy milk at all). Remember that when making homemade frosting, overly warm temperatures will keep your frosting from stiffening up properly. If this is a problem, just add more icing sugar and cocoa powder.