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Depression-Era Chocolate Cake Recipe

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Depression-era chocolate cake (no eggs, milk, or butter) |

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.

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 much more limited.

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 🙂


* 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.


  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.


* 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.


  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 🙂



depression era choco cake pin rs

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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Sunday 17th of January 2021

Ebony Delight is my name for this Great depression cake. Thanks for the recipe.

Vegetarian Chocolate Banana Rum Cake – Homemade | cook. eat. rinse. repeat.

Monday 14th of December 2020

[…] chocolate cake, five-spiced cake…the possibilities are endless! My basic recipe comes from Our Heritage of Health but as usual I’ve tweaked it to make it my […]


Wednesday 4th of November 2020

I do not know why it turned out horrible. I feel even more depressed :/ I wonder what went wrong

Lori Elliott

Wednesday 4th of November 2020

I'm very sorry to hear that it turned out badly for you! :( Was it the taste or the texture that didn't work well?

Kimberly Alexander

Tuesday 3rd of November 2020

I tried reading through all the comments to but there are a bunch so this might be a repeat question... I made a trail run of this cake and found that I can taste the baking soda. Could I decrease it or should I increase the vinegar? Everything else was perfect rose beautifully and didn't fall.

Lori Elliott

Tuesday 3rd of November 2020

Hmmm... you could try to decrease the baking soda, but I wouldn't decrease it by too much or it probably won't rise and might end up being a flat cake. I've never noticed a baking soda taste myself personally, so I'm afraid I don't have much more of a recommendation to give for that other than maybe making sure that the baking soda is really well mixed in with the flour or maybe even sifted first to make sure there aren't any lumps that might be giving you a stronger taste of it.


Saturday 31st of October 2020

I've made this many times. Great recipe and delicious. My family loves it. I'm going to attempt baking this in mini bundt pans today. Fingers-crossed!

Lori Elliott

Saturday 31st of October 2020

I'm so glad to hear that your family likes the recipe, and that's a great idea to try it in mini bundt pans! So far I've only ever made it as a layer cake, but I'm sure that with a shorter bake time it would work fine for mini bundts or for cupcakes too.

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