Vegans refer to the Chocolate Depression Cake, a cake whose origins date to the Great Depression in the ’30s as the accidentally vegan cake. Recipes for this cake, which is made without eggs, butter, or milk are found everywhere. You’ll see it labeled the Craters of The Moon Cake, Crazy Cake, Wacky Cake, WW11 and Joe Cake, and in my cookbook, Vegan Chocolate, it’s the Mix in the Pan Cake. The differences, if any, are minimal and the ingredients are simple: flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda oil, water, vinegar. The cake was usually served plain or with a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar instead of icing.
Years ago, multi-award-winning cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum, the highly respected authority on all manner of desserts sent me a stack of handwritten recipes for the Chocolate Depression cake. They’d been sent to her by the Food Maven, Arthur Schwartz, during his stint as food editor of Newsday, way back in the day.
The point of the original Depression Cake, again, is that it was egg, butter and milk-free, important when ingredients were scarce. That surely works for today’s quarantine pantry. The cocoa powder used in these cakes is natural (non-alkalized), likely because cooks had few choices then and the cake was leavened with baking soda and vinegar. Is it my favorite chocolate cake? No. Is it a good solid chocolate cake, especially when spread with a thick layer of frosting? Definitely.
Last week while doing an inventory of my cocoa powders (natural, Dutch-process, and black), I found myself wondering if using Dutch-process cocoa instead of the natural would result in a more deeply chocolate cake. Of course, I knew some baking powder would have to be added. As a test, I baked a half recipe of the cake in a 6-inch pan, and when it was finished, I was frankly astonished.
Interested in learning more about swapping out cocoa powders? Check out our recent newsletter for some information on cocoa powder and other common ingredients. Be sure to also sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss the great information that I share.
The color, as I expected, was darker, but the taste and it was the flavor and texture that blew me away. Sensational! I made the cake with all-purpose flour only, since I had very little whole wheat pastry flour. I bet many of you are having problems finding flour! You can use up 50% whole wheat pastry flour if you like.
Try the cake with both types of cocoas and see which you prefer, and please, please, please let me know what you think. The batter makes nice cupcakes too.
By the way, my mother in law, Wini, made another Chocolate Depression Cake– the one made with mayonnaise, which stands in for eggs. She used Hellmans. I use vegan mayo. I’ve made the cake with both Just and Follow Your Heart Vegannaise. You can find the recipe here.
Vegan Chocolate Depression Cake
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose glour
- 1 cup cane sugar, vegan preferred
- 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup room temperature water
- 6 tablespoons neutral-flavored vegetable oil I used grapeseed
- 1 tablespoon apple cider or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 350° F.
- Oil a 9-inch cake pan (or 8 inch square) and line the bottom with parchment.
- Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt through a mesh strainer set over a medium bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla until emulsified.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bang the pan on the counter to pop some of the air bubbles.
Bake for 24 to 28minutes or a toothpick inserted into the center is clean or has only a few crumbs clinging.
Cool for 5-10 minutes or so and turn out of the pan onto a baking rack to cool.
When the cake is completely cool, ice with frost with any favorite icing. I glazed the cake with chocolate ganache. You can serve the cake simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar and a scoop of a vegan ice cream on the side isn't a bad idea.
Happy Mother’s Day to all moms.
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