The Great Depression was a terrifying economic crisis for those who lived through it, and its impacts would reverberate through subsequent generations. The Depression, which was caused by the crash of the stock market in October of 1929, lasted 10 years, from 1929 to 1939. During that time, many Americans were out of work, homeless, or food insecure. 
During the depression, people needed to band together and stretch their resources as far as they could be stretched. Certain ingredients like butter, eggs, and milk, which are common baking ingredients, were often difficult to come by. This required bakers to think outside the box and come up with cakes that don’t require dairy and eggs.
It was from this period of time that the depression-era ‘Crazy Cake’ was popularized. These cakes, also called wacky cake, Joe cake, and WWII cakes, continued to be popular during the second world war. Even though the economy had begun to recover, when the United States entered the war in 1942, additional rationing was required in order to support the war effort.
Reading this, you might be thinking to yourself “why bother?” I mean, clearly we aren’t in a depression anymore and you can just go buy butter, eggs, and milk at the store, right? You’re not wrong, but crazy cakes are good for more than just scarce ingredients. They can also easily be made vegan and gluten-free and are easier on those who have common food allergies and lactose intolerance.
- 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa
- 1 cup all-purpose sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. white vinegar
- 1 cup of water
- Preheat your oven to 350 °F
- Completely mix flour, cocoa, baking power, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
- Make three depressions in the powder mix, two large and one small.
- Add vinegar to one large depression, vegetable oil to the other, and vanilla in the small one.
- Add water to the bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Transfer batter to a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake in the middle rack for 35 minutes.
- Once baked, poke with a fork. If the fork comes out clean, it’s ready to cool.
What I love about this recipe is that it’s so easy to do on a whim. Especially during the era of COVID where a run to the grocery store could potentially be a death sentence, it’s nice to have a cake recipe around for which you probably have most of the ingredients on hand.
Quick tip though: if you want to bake a larger cake, double the recipe and use a 9×13 inch pan instead.
Recipe and images courtesy of Sweet Little Bluebird.