Made without eggs, milk, or butter, Depression Cake was a staple dessert during the Great Depression. Cocoa powder adds a rich, chocolate-y flavor, and we add a little extra indulgence to ours with a creamy chocolate frosting fit for a special occasion!
What’s in this Depression Cake Recipe?
Take a look through your pantry, and you should have all the ingredients you need for this chocolate depression cake recipe!
- All-Purpose Flour: Gives the cake structure.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar sweetens the cake, while powdered sugar sweetens the frosting without making it gritty.
- Cocoa Powder: Adds rich chocolatey flavor to the cake and the frosting.
- Baking Soda: Helps the cake rise in the oven.
- Kosher Salt: Enhances the chocolate flavor of the cake.
- Water: Adds moisture to the cake.
- Vegetable Oil: Adds moisture to the cake and helps make it tender.
- White Vinegar: Activates the baking soda, causing the cake to become moist and tender.
- Vanilla Extract: Enhances the sweetness of the frosting and the cake.
- Salted Butter: Creates a creamy base for the frosting
- Milk: Helps thin the frosting to the right consistency for spreading.
Pro Tip: For even more chocolatey flavor, swap the water for brewed coffee!
Variations on Chocolate Depression Cake
This chocolate cake is a deliciously simple treat, but you can jazz it up just about any way you like. Try adding some orange extract or zest for a citrus twist. Or stir in some peppermint extract and crushed candy canes for a holiday take.
Fold in some canned cherries, frozen raspberries, peanut butter, or shredded coconut to enhance this cake even more!
Depression cake gets its name from the Great Depression, when ingredients like milk, butter, and eggs were rationed and difficult to obtain.
While you can use any unsweetened cocoa powder you prefer, I like to use natural cocoa powder here because the baking soda helps to neutralize the acidity of natural cocoa powder, letting its rich flavor shine.
White vinegar helps activate the baking soda to create a tall rise on the cake. It also tenderizes the cake, creating a moist, fluffy texture.
If your cake is a bit flat, that’s most likely because you didn’t add enough baking soda. Also, be sure to check the expiration date on your baking soda! If it’s expired, it just won’t do the trick.
A dry cake can be caused by 2 things. You may have measured the ingredients incorrectly, or you might have overmixed the batter. It’s important to spoon and level your ingredients if you’re not using a scale, and it’s important to have a light hand when mixing the batter.
How to Store
Store leftover depression cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Enjoy at room temperature.
How to Freeze
Freeze depression cake whole or cut into individual slices tightly wrapped in 2 layers of plastic wrap and 1 layer of aluminum foil for up to 1 month. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before enjoying.
Top this frugal cake with rainbow sprinkles and serve it up with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream and a bit of hot fudge sauce. Feeling extra fancy? Try making my favorite chocolate cream cheese frosting for a little extra pizzazz.
Depression Cake Recipe
For the Cake
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour 180 grams
- 1 cup granulated sugar 200 grams
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder 21 grams
- ½ teaspoon baking soda 3 grams
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup water 227 grams, or coffee
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil 67 grams, or canola oil
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar 14 grams
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 8 grams
For the Cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch square pan.
- Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large mixing bowl.1½ cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Stir in the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract.1 cup water, ⅓ cup vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow the cake to cool completely.
For the Frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter until it's softened. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add in the sugar and cocoa powder. Mix in the milk and vanilla.5 tablespoons salted butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ¼ cup milk, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Turn the speed to medium-high and mix for 2-3 minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy.
- Spread the frosting over the cake and top it with some sprinkles.Rainbow sprinkles
- Measure the flour using the spoon-and-level method to avoid a dense, dry cake.
- Take care not to overmix the cake batter; otherwise, the cake will turn out chewy.