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Depression-Era Wacky Cake Recipe (No Dairy or Eggs)

I am a mom of two who loves to try and share simple, money-saving repair advice for families!

This chocolate cake is dairy-free and vegan, as it uses no milk, butter, or eggs.

This chocolate cake is dairy-free and vegan, as it uses no milk, butter, or eggs.

What Is Wacky Cake?

What in the world is this cake recipe missing? You can't tell by looking at the pictures (or by tasting it), but this cake recipe has no eggs, milk, or butter in the ingredients. Where did this crazy cake recipe come from?

During the Great Depression, eggs, milk, and butter were expensive. Families tried to stretch their dollar by finding creative ways to make desserts and other meals without these basic ingredients. The Wacky Cake recipe has many variations, as families experimented and made their own changes to the basic recipe.

This cake recipe is made directly in the baking pan, which means there is almost no mess to clean up. This recipe is wonderful for people who:

  • Have a vegan diet
  • Prefer dairy-free recipes
  • Have an egg allergy
  • Want a fast, easy dessert recipe

This recipe comes from my husband's side of the family, out of a handwritten, Depression-era cookbook. Sybil Nellie Landtiser was born in Putnam, Missouri, in 1889 and raised four children through the Great Depression in Iowa.

Cook's Tips

All wacky cakes use vinegar and baking soda as the leavening agent. The cake won't rise without these ingredients. To ensure the best rise, mix this cake quickly and get it into the oven immediately. Do not mix with an electric mixer, but simply use a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

30 min

35 min

8x8-inch chocolate cake


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 tablespoons melted vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup boiling water


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Add the dry ingredients to a square glass baking pan (8x8-inch or 9x9-inch). The dry ingredients include the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.
  3. Use a whisk and thoroughly combine the dry ingredients. Make three holes in the top of the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the melted shortening to one hole, the vinegar to another hole, and the vanilla to the third hole.
  5. Pour the boiling water into the baking pan and mix the batter together with a wooden spoon.
  6. Once the batter has come together and is thoroughly mixed, place the cake in the oven as quickly as possible.
  7. Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed.
A dairy-free frosting complements the Wacky Cake. Traditional butter and milk may be used to make a butter cream frosting, if desired.

A dairy-free frosting complements the Wacky Cake. Traditional butter and milk may be used to make a butter cream frosting, if desired.

Chocolate Frosting for Wacky Cake

A dairy-free frosting recipe is perfect for topping Wacky Cake. The soy margarine and soy milk may be replaced with regular butter and milk for those who prefer a traditional buttercream frosting for their cake.


  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup soy margarine
  • 1/4 cup soy milk or almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and mix until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Spread the frosting on top of the cooled cake.

Depression-Era Money-Saving Recipe Tips

Wacky Cake is not the only recipe from the Great Depression that saves money—try these other recipe alterations to stretch your dollar!

  • When making scrambled eggs, crack the eggs into a small bowl. Add a little bit of water to the eggs: about 1/2 cup for a dozen eggs, 1/4 cup for six eggs. Whisk the eggs and water together, then cook the scrambled eggs in a pan. You will get very fluffy eggs this way, with greater volume.
  • Another egg-stretching recipe calls for the use of cornmeal: add 1/4 cup cornmeal and 1/4 cup water to two eggs in a bowl. Whisk until thoroughly combined, then cook in a pan.
  • Place a bay leaf in your flour and other grain storage containers. The bay leaf will keep the bugs away. On a similar note, sprinkled bay leaf in a cupboard will deter insects.
  • Heat a lemon or orange before squeezing it for juice: A warm piece of fruit will yield more juice than a cold piece of fruit.
  • Store lemons in cold water to keep them for a longer period of time.