Culinary Cory

Recipes + Essays

Chocolate Depression Wacky Cake

When the world came to a crashing halt in 2020, “depression” arrived in several shapes and sizes. This simple recipe dates back to the Depression era when rationing was a mainstay of the time. Much like in 2020 when food was rationed out of fear of leaving the house.

Devoid of eggs or dairy, this cake is perfect way to satisfy your vegan coworker at the next company potluck. Are office potlucks still a thing anymore? What this cake lacks in ingredients is made up in flavor. The chocolate in the sponge and the frosting are both profoundly rich. The crumb gets its lift from the volcanic reaction created by the baking soda and vinegar.

Chocolate Depression Wacky Cake

Serves 4 to 6 people


All-purpose flour – 1 ½ cups
Sugar – 1 cup
Unsweetened cocoa powder – ¼ cup
Salt – ½ teaspoon
Baking soda – 1 teaspoon
Water – 1 cup, room temperature
Vegetable oil – 1/3 cup
Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
White vinegar – 1 teaspoon

Don’t bother dusting off your mixer for this cake. A large mixing bowl, whisk and rubber spatula is all you need. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda to a large mixing bowl. I prefer one with a handle for easy pouring. Lightly whisk the dry ingredients together until combined. Create a well in the center for the wet ingredients.

Pour the water, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar into the well you created. I prefer to add the white vinegar last as the batter will start to foam when it reacts to the baking soda. Remember those science experiments with homemade volcanos as a kid? That same reaction is happening to your cake, giving it lift and lightness.

Gently whisk all the ingredients together for a few minutes until the batter is silky and free of lumps. The foaming with subside as you whisk.

Coat an 8X8 inch square baking pan with cooking spray. I have used glass and dark metal non-stick pans with this recipe. Both are equally fine. Of course, an 8-inch round pan will work as well. Use whatever you want. Really, I mean it.

Pour the batter into the coated pan and smooth until evenly level. This is where your spatula comes in handy. Scrape the bowl clean as you pour but leave a little for the cook taste. No eggs mean you can lick the bowl with abandon.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool slightly before adding the frosting.


Unsalted butter – 2 tablespoons
Unsweetened cocoa powder – ¼ cup
Powdered sugar – 1 cup, sifted preferred
Milk – 2 tablespoon, additional might be needed
Vanilla extract – ¼ teaspoon

Melt the butter in a small microwave safe glass or ceramic soup bowl. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture forms a paste.

Pour in the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract to the chocolate paste. Slowly and gently whisk until smooth. The frosting should be thick enough to hold its own but pourable instead of spreadable. You may need to add a drop or two of additional milk to reach the desired constancy.

Allow the frosting to waterfall over the slightly cooled cake, making sure to deliberately hit all four corners. Carefully glide your spatula over the frosting to spread it evenly across the cake.