Stuck inside and hankering for a slice of moist, luscious chocolate cake, like, right now?
I got you.
The origins of wacky cake—alternatively known as dump cake, Depression cake, crazy cake, Joe cake, and WWII cake—are murky, but it is likely that this egg-free, dairy-free treat was born out of the rationing of eggs, butter, and milk during the Depression and World War II. According to The Food Timeline, “Wacky cake is but one example of the tradition of ‘make do’ cakes that were popular during times of short supply.”
This cake uses pantry staples and one “exotic” ingredient (vanilla extract), and no specialized equipment: it only requires a whisk, two bowls, a baking pan, and measuring tools. This cake is such a snap to make that in the 1960s it was etiquette columnist Amy Vanderbilt’s dessert suggestion to first-time cooks for its economy and ease, writes Anne Byrn in American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes.
This was the first cake my daughter made all by herself at 6 years old, and it launched her baking journey. It also requires little cleanup, although it takes just a bit more if your tiny human prefers decorating with frosting and sprinkles, as mine does. The cake pictured above was frosted with a homemade American buttercream and decorated with nonpareils.
This wacky cake recipe is a mishmash of recipes found online and in books. This version has been tested by my daughter and me several times over the course of two years and it has never failed us. The cake can be served warm from the oven. Slice it into squares, or just grab hunks of it with your hands right out of the pan at 3 a.m. I won’t tell.
(Note: I prefer following this recipe by weight measurements, because they’re more precise. But for those without a kitchen scale, I’ve included the volume measurements as well.)
- 177g (1 ⅜ cups) all-purpose flour
- 200g (1 cup) sugar
- 21g (¼ cup) cocoa powder (Dutch process is best, but any cocoa will do)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp. vinegar (cider or white)
- 67g (⅓ cup) vegetable oil
- 235g (1 cup) cold water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease an 8" square pan.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda.
In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the vanilla, vinegar, vegetable oil, and water.
Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring until thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Wacky cake is perfectly perfect without adornment. A dusting of powdered sugar is more than enough, but if you prefer a simple chocolate icing: Combine 255g (1½ cups) semisweet chocolate chips and 113g (½ cup) half-and-half, then heat until the chips melt. Stir until smooth and pour over cooled cake.