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Depression-Era Chocolate Cake Recipe

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Slice of chocolate cake on blue plate.

I always have a hard time picking favorites, but there’s no doubt in my mind that chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is my absolute favorite, favorite dessert. And this Depression era chocolate cake recipe is one that I’ve made over and over again because I love the rich dark chocolate taste.

This recipe is one that I adapted from a recipe I found in an old Reminisce magazine several years ago. I’m not sure anymore what happened to the original recipe (maybe it’s hanging out somewhere with all of the other items I’ve lost track of through the years), but I know that it was one that had been submitted by one of the magazine’s readers, and it is a simple, old-fashioned recipe. I made some changes  and additions to the original recipe to suit my taste and to make it fit better into my real food lifestyle.

This Depression era chocolate cake does not call for any butter, milk, or eggs, allowing for those who did not have access to these ingredients or could not afford them to still have a cake for special occasions. This cake also would have been perfect for the winter season when access to butter, milk, and eggs would have been more limited, especially for those living in more rural areas.

In place of these ingredients, this cake uses water, oil, and a mix of baking soda and vinegar as the rising agent. During the time when this cake was created, the fat used could possibly have been something old-fashioned like lard, but newer vegetables oils were becoming increasingly popular in this era, so it’s probably more likely that the oil might have been soybean oil or cottonseed oil.

For my version of this cake, I choose to use coconut oil in place of the vegetable oil because I’m not a big fan of vegetable oils like canola or soybean oil. And even though they may not be the most authentic to the Depression period, I’ve also added some ginger and some coffee to the cake because I like the way that they enhance the chocolate flavor. And I’ve included my favorite recipe for a rich chocolate frosting because no cake is complete without a good frosting in my opinion! 

 

 

Depression Era Chocolate Cake Recipe:

This cake is a rich, fudgy kind of cake. It’s not one of those fluffy cakes with no substance that falls apart as soon as you put your fork in it. This cake is for the serious dark chocolate lovers out there!

(Update: For those of you who like recipe cards for saving and printing recipes, I’ve added one to this post if you scroll down to the bottom.)

Ingredients:

* I wouldn’t recommend using 100% einkorn flour for this cake because when I tried it as a layer cake it was so soft that it wasn’t stable enough to stack the layers, and the whole cake sunk and started falling apart. If you wanted to try using einkorn flour I would recommend either making the cake in a sheet pan rather than in two layers or using a blend of einkorn and all-purpose flour. 

* If it’s summer and your coconut oil is already melty, you can skip the step of melting it. It’s also a good idea to use room temperature or warm water because if you use cold water it might make the coconut oil clump. 

* The powdered ginger and coffee are optional. I like to add them just because they give the chocolate a little more “depth of flavor” as professional bakers like to say. You can’t taste either the ginger or coffee, but they enhance the chocolate flavor. And if you’ve ever tried making your own homemade vinegar, you could use that in place of the store bought apple cider vinegar too.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans or one 13 x 9 inch pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and ginger, stirring to mix well.
  3. Add melted and cooled coconut oil, vanilla, and warm water. (If using instant coffee, dissolve the coffee into the warm water first, making sure it’s fully dissolved.) Stir well to combine.
  4. Add coffee and apple cider vinegar, stirring well to make sure there are no lumps in the batter. The batter will foam up a bit as the baking soda reacts with the acid in the vinegar and the coffee.
  5. Pour batter into cake pans and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (If you use a 13 x 9 pan rather than two cake pans, the cake might take a bit longer to bake through.)

Note: Because this cake calls for apple cider vinegar and water, it would probably work well if you wanted to use the soaked-grain method and use whole wheat flour soaked in the acidic water. I haven’t tried this yet because I didn’t want to wait for the batter to soak overnight before baking my cake, but if I were to try this, I would mix the apple cider vinegar and water together and mix it with 2 1/2 cups of flour (I think the full 3 cups would make the batter a bit too thick for soaking.) Then, I would cover the bowl and let it soak for 12-24 hours, and then add the rest of the ingredients as directed above. If anybody gives this method a try, leave a comment below to let us all know how it turned out!

Rich Chocolate Icing

What’s a good cake without a good icing too, right? Well, this icing is rich and decadent and so delicious that I may or may not have eaten several spoonfuls of it while I was frosting my cake!

If you want your cake to be completely dairy-free you can use coconut oil for the frosting. Otherwise, you can use either butter or ghee.

Ingredients:

* If you don’t want to use refined sugar, you could make your own homemade powdered sugar using a whole cane sugar. For times when I don’t want to go through the extra work of making my own, though, I just buy regular confectioner’s sugar. (Balance is key, and a little bit of white, refined sugar once in a while isn’t the end of the world. ) I make sure I get cane sugar, though, because if the bag just says “sugar” there’s a good chance that it’s made from genetically modified sugar beets rather than cane sugar. Buying organic is your best bet of finding non-GMO sugar.

Directions:

  1. Combine powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add vanilla extract and butter, ghee, or coconut oil.
  3. Gradually add water, stirring well to combine until icing reaches the right consistency for spreading. (I just stirred mine by hand because I was too lazy to dig out my mixer and I didn’t want to have to wash the beaters afterward, but using a mixer is the best way to get a smooth icing without any little clumps of cocoa powder.)

Enjoy your pure chocolate heaven!

Slice of chocolate cake on blue plate.

Depression Era Chocolate Cake

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

This depression era chocolate cake recipe is made without eggs, milk, or butter, so it's a simple and delicious egg-free and dairy-free dessert (with a dairy-free option for the frosting.) This cake is rich and fudgy with a decadent dark chocolate flavor.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour (See notes below for more information about flour types.)
  • 2 cups cane sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 6-7 Tbs cocoa powder (I like to use 7 Tbs for a bit more dark chocolate flavor.)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups room temperature or warm water
  • 1 Tbs strong coffee (or 2 tsp of instant coffee powder dissolved in the 2 cups of warm water.)
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar 

Instructions

      1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans or one 13x9 inch pan.
      2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and ginger, stirring to blend well.
      3. Add melted and cooled coconut oil, vanilla, and warm water. (If using instant coffee, dissolve the coffee into the warm water first, making sure it's fully dissolved.) Stir well to combine.
      4. Add coffee and apple cider vinegar, stirring well to make sure there are no large lumps of flour in the batter (a few small lumps are normal.) The batter will foam up a little bit as the baking soda reacts with the acid in the vinegar and the coffee.
      5. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (If you use a 13x9 inch pan rather than two round pans, the cake might take a bit longer to bake through.)

Notes

I wouldn’t recommend using 100% einkorn flour for this cake because when I tried it as a layer cake it was so soft that it wasn’t stable enough to stack the layers, and the whole cake sunk and started falling apart. If you wanted to try using einkorn flour I would recommend either making the cake in a sheet pan rather than in two layers or using a blend of einkorn and all-purpose flour. 

If it’s summer and your coconut oil is already melty, you can skip the step of melting it. It’s also a good idea to use room temperature or warm water because if you use cold water it might make the coconut oil clump. 

The powdered ginger and coffee are optional. I like to add them just because they give the chocolate a little more “depth of flavor” as professional bakers like to say. You can’t taste either the ginger or coffee, but they enhance the chocolate flavor.

Description of Heritage Cooking Cookbook with picture of book cover with sliced loaf of bread and link to learn more.

 

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Slice of chocolate cake on a blue plate with baking tools in the background.

Other chocolate cake recipes to try:

Chocolate Espresso Cake (grain-free) by And Here We Are

Flourless Chocolate Rose Mini Cakes by Savory Lotus

Paleo German Chocolate Cake by Grok Grub

Grain-Free Chocolate Cake by Small Footprint Family

Grain-Free Chocolate Cupcakes by Honest Body

 

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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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Rachel

Sunday 15th of August 2021

I was trying to look for the calories. What would you say they were for the cake w/o frosting?

Lori Elliott

Monday 16th of August 2021

I'm sorry, but I don't have a calorie count for this recipe, so I wouldn't be able to tell you an exact number. If you had any calorie counts for another chocolate cake recipe that was made with oil rather than with butter, milk, and eggs, the calories would probably be fairly similar. I'm sorry that I can't help you more with that information.

Christina Fulmer

Monday 12th of July 2021

I'm VERY DISAPPOINTED with this recipe!!! I did EXACTLY as it said (word for word), and after the oven timer went off, I peaked inside and noticed that instead of seeing a cake, I was seeing what looked like a pool of boiling liquid mud! I left it in for an extra 15mn, and it still didn't bake; tried another 15mn and it still didn't bake!

Lori Elliott

Monday 12th of July 2021

I'm very sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience with this recipe! I've never had that happen with a cake recipe before with a mud-like texture after such a long time in the oven. Sometimes when I've made cakes in a 13x9 pan rather than in two smaller cake pans I've found that the center of the cake can sometimes take longer to bake, but the edges are usually starting to cook, though. I have no idea why there would have been a pool of boiling mud after close to an hour in the oven at 375 degrees. Unless there was a difference in altitude where you live that might have affected the oven temperature or baking time or something like that, I can't think of anything that would make sense for why you would have had that result from using this recipe. I don't know why that might have happened, but I'm sorry that this recipe didn't work for you.

Vegan Peanut Butter Banana Bread – Homemade – cook. eat. rinse. repeat.

Monday 12th of April 2021

[…] For those new to the ‘wacky’ cake phenomenon, I discovered this no-fail cake recipe from Our Heritage of Health as a Great Depression Era […]

Dianne Stansbury

Sunday 4th of April 2021

Love love love this cake! My husband has dairy allergies so this was a great surprise for him! I used the coconut oil- and it was delicious. As long as you measure appropriately it comes out perfectly! Will definitely make this again!

Lori Elliott

Monday 5th of April 2021

I'm so glad to hear that the recipe turned out well for you and that it worked for your husband's dairy allergy! Thanks for letting me know! :)

Amy

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

I found this recipe about a year ago and have been making it ever since. It’s officially THE chocolate cake in my house, the only chocolate cake we make anymore. It’s a perfectly dense and rich cake, but still firmly in the cake category!

We have a wheat allergy in my house, so I make it with a basic gluten free flour mix and it works beautifully! I have tried three different brands of GF flour blends in it now and they have all turned out perfectly.

Thanks for a spectacular vegan recipe that any non-vegan would never suspect!

Lori Elliott

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

I'm so glad to hear that you like the recipe, and that's great to know that gluten free flour works well with it too! I've had people ask about that, so it's good to hear from someone who has tried it that it worked well. Thanks for letting me know! :)

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