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Depression Chocolate Cake

By on March 30, 2009

chocolate batter
photo by fooey

DEAR SARA: When I was young, my mother used to bake Depression Chocolate Cake. Mom remembers making it, but not the amounts or the exact ingredients. It was my grandma’s recipe and didn’t have any eggs or butter. Instead, it used vinegar and baking soda to rise. I think the ingredients were baking soda, vinegar, flour, cocoa, salt and oil. It may have originally been from the “Great Canadian Cookbook.” I loved that book. It gave instructions on how to butcher a cow or chicken and then cook it, from farmyard to the table. But back to cake, do you have this recipe? I remember the cake being chocolate-y and moist and very delicious! A great cake for hard times. — Kitty, Canada

DEAR KITTY: Try this chocolate-cake recipe. Maybe fellow readers will share their Depression Cake recipes, too. If I get a wide variety, I’ll feature them in an upcoming column.

Chocolate Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups cold water

Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt in ungreased 9-by-13-inch pan. Make three depressions. Into one, pour the oil; into the second, pour the vinegar; into the third, pour the vanilla. Pour the cold water over all, and mix very well with a fork until completely combined. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour (test with toothpick). Also makes awesome cupcakes! Just mix it all up in a bowl, and make about 26 cupcakes. Bake 20 minutes. — Cathy, Idaho

DEAR SARA: Do you have a recipe for do-it-yourself granite cleaner? I’d like to stop paying $5 per bottle for the commercial stuff. I’ve read that vinegar will eat into the stone, so I can’t use my regular all-purpose cleaner, and haven’t been able to find anything online. — Sage, Connecticut

DEAR SAGE: I’d use a microfiber cloth and warm water or Dawn dish liquid mixed with warm water on a sponge or dish cloth. Rinse the cloth with water, wring it out, and wipe the counters. Then dry with a soft cotton/flannel cloth. But don’t use excessive soap or you’ll get buildup. Wipe up spills as soon as possible, too. I’d stick with your recommended granite cleaner, and alternate for occasional cleaning.

DEAR SARA: Do you know whether yeast will stay active longer than the expiration date if stored in the deep freezer? — Erika, Florida

DEAR ERIKA: Yes, it will last past the expiration date if frozen. I forgot I had yeast in the freezer, and it was still good after a couple of years. Some yeast is dead before the expiration date, so proof it before using it. Use a 1-cup glass liquid measuring cup. Place 1/2 cup warm water (around 110 F and not higher than 115 F) and 1 teaspoon sugar into the measuring cup. Mix to dissolve sugar. Add 2-1/4 teaspoons yeast. Stir lightly to mix. Wait for a few minutes (up to 10 minutes). The mixture should be up to the 1/2-cup line and foaming/bubbling if the yeast is active.


  1. Judith Faye Fontenot

    4/19/2009 at 7:41 pm

    Great Depression Cake

    2 cups sugar
    2 cups strong coffee
    1/2 cup shortening
    2 cups raisins
    1 apple, peeled,cored,and finely chopped
    2 cups flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon ground cloves
    1 teaspoon all-spice
    1 teaspoon nutmeg
    1 cup chopped walnuts
    powdered sugar

    Mix the sugar, coffee, shortening, raisins, and apple in a large saucepan. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool for 10 minutes. Sift in the dry ingredients and stir together. Fold in the nuts. Pour into a greased and floured 9X13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool. Dust with powdered sugar. Diced candied fruit may be added to make a fruitcake. Enjoy!!

    Sara, hope you can use this. I’ve tried it and enjoyed it. I like reading your useful tips, thanks. Judith Faye Fontenot

  2. Judith A. Carlson

    4/19/2009 at 7:44 pm

    A Depression Era chocolate cake is now being used by a Chicago-area chain restaurant, but wouldn’t want the secret of their cake made public, so I would prefer you leave their name out of it. Thank you!

    Mayonnaise Cake
    2 cups flour 2 tsp. baking soda
    1 cup sugar 1 cup mayonnaise
    pinch of salt 1 cup cold water
    1/2 cup cocoa 1 tsp. vanilla

    Sift dry ingredients together. Then add the mayonnaise (for a fluffier cake, Miracle Whip is better as it has more vinegar that reacts with the baking soda) on top of the dry ingredients, BUT DO NOT MIX. Pour water on top of the mayonnaise, then the vanilla on top of the water. Then beat until smooth (if you beat before this, the action of the soda on the vinegar starts prematurely and you will have a flatter cake). Pour batter into an 8-inch square pan and bake at 325 degrees until it tests done (toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean). This should be approximately 45 minutes, depending on your oven, but check after 35 minutes. Top of cake will be smooth and shiny. IMPORTANT: Let cool completely before eating or you will definitely taste the mayonnaise! Dust cooled cake with powdered sugar or use frosting of your choice.

    Another Depression Era chocolate cake makes use of spoiled milk.

    Cheap Cocoa Cake
    1 cup sugar 1 cup sour milk
    2 tablespoons butter 1 tsp. baking soda
    2 tablespoons cocoa 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1 egg 2 cups flour

    Sift flour and baking powder together. Cream butter and sugar with the cocoa. Add the egg and stir to combine. Combine the milk with the baking soda. Add flour mixture and milk mixture alternately, stirring to combine after each addition. Beat until smooth. Pour into an 8-inch square pan and bake at 350 degrees until it tests done (toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes, depending on your oven). Cool completely. Dust cooled cake with powdered sugar or use frosting of your choice.

    NOTE: For both of these cakes, my favorite topping is 1 pint of whipping cream, whipped until fairly stiff. Fold in anywhere from 1 to 2 cups of finely crushed peanut brittle (use a blender or a food processor) depending on your taste (I use 2 cups). Also, I have used this whipped cream/peanut brittle mixture not only as a topping, but as a filling for layer cakes and even put it in a parfait glass, alternating with chocolate-flavored whipped cream (use either chocolate extract or chocolate syrup to taste, then fold into the whipped cream). Garnish with a chunk of peanut brittle.

    I hope you enjoy these recipes. The Chocolate Mayonnaise cake has been a staple cake in my house for over 40 years. It also makes great cupcakes.

    Judith A. Carlson

  3. Thelma Michealson

    4/19/2009 at 7:47 pm


    1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup shortening
    1 cup water
    1/2 cup raisins
    1 t. cinnamon
    1 t. cloves
    1/2 t. nutmeg
    Cook together in a sauce pan these 7 ingredients.

    When it is cool, add

    1 cup nuts
    1 t. soda
    2 1/2 cup flour
    Pinch of salt

    Pour into baking pan and bake at 350.

  4. Myrna Haag

    4/19/2009 at 7:49 pm

    When I saw your Depression Chocolate Cake recipe in your column in the McCook Daily Gazette, I had to dig out one of my mom’s depression recipes. We lived in the Oklahoma panhandle and I remember her making this cake when unexpected company was coming before payday and the weekly shopping trip, and we were out butter, milk and/or eggs.

    Butterless, Milkless, Eggless Cake

    2 C. Brown Sugar
    2/3 C. Shortening
    2 C. Water
    3 C. Raisins
    2 t. Cinnamon
    1 t. Cloves
    1/2 t. Mace
    1/2 t. nutmeg
    2 t. baking powder
    1 t. soda
    Pinch of salt
    4 C. Flour
    3 T. Warm Water
    1 C. Nuts (optional)

    Cream together sugar and shortening. Add water. Add soda to warm water and add to sugar and shortening mixture. Sift together 3 cups of the flour, spices and baking powder. Add to mixture. Put nuts and raisins in other cup of flour and add. Bake in 350 degree preheated oven for 45minutes to 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.

  5. kate

    5/24/2009 at 1:11 pm

    I made this yesterday for a great depression-themed party and oh my god! It was incredible.

    I cheated and used melted margarine instead of oil (because that’s what I had) and tried to take it out of the pan too soon, resulting in a minor caketastrophe. So I slathered the mound of cakey goodness in a quick caramel (brown sugar, more margarine and some condensed milk) and it was still really (and quite wonderfully) ugly. It fit the theme perfectly and was beyond delicious.

    Thank you for sharing it with the world!

    (found via. Google)

  6. Mrs. White

    6/7/2011 at 8:28 am

    I love this recipe! Thank you for sharing!

    Mrs. White

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