Depression-era cake serves up cheap chocolate dessert

Charlotte Varcoe-Wolfson/The Miscellany News

I’ll admit it, Depression-era cake doesn’t sound nearly as appetizing as rainbow bagels or “freakshakes.” However, while our friends are making trips to New York City to try these crazy food fads, my sister and I are continuing the family cake-baking tradition.

This cake may not be as flashy as other desserts you read about today, but I can assure you that it’s just as delicious, and easier and less expensive to make!

Although the chocolate-lovers are on my dad’s side of the family, this cake recipe was handed down to me from my mom. She tells the story of how, as a teenager, she would make “crazy cake,” as we call it, at least once a week.

Unfortunately for my tastebuds but fortunately for my teeth and overall health, my mom stopped making this cake so frequently. However, I enjoyed sharing it with my friends at numerous birthday parties over the years and delight in making it myself a few times a year. She can’t say why it’s referred to as crazy cake, but the internet community seems to agree with the title, so I’ll leave my qualms about it aside.

This past December, my sister and I were asked to bake a cake for my grandfather’s birthday. Since he’s on Dad’s-chocolate-loving side of family, we wanted to make chocolate cake, and crazy cake seemed like the clear choice. To make this delicious and simple dessert, you need only adhere to the following instructions.

First, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift three cups of all-purpose flour, two cups of white sugar, one teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons of baking soda and one-half cup of unsweetened cocoa powder into a 9×13 ungreased cake pan.

Next, make three depressions (Intentional or unintentional pun? You decide.) in the dry ingredients. In the first well, pour three-fourths cup vegetable oil. In the second, add two tablespoons distilled white vinegar. The third: two teaspoons vanilla extract. Pour two cups of water over the whole mixture and mix with a fork. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

That’s it! While milk, eggs and butter may be easier to buy nowadays than they were during the Depression, this cake allows you to save time and money by bypassing these ingredients.

An added perk is that it can be assembled in one pan! That means fewer dishes; who doesn’t love that? This is the perfect recipe for college students in close-to-empty dorm kitchens and anyone who loves cake but doesn’t have hours to spend baking.

When we made the cake in December, we made a simple chocolate buttercream frosting to put between the layers. The cake was topped with a chocolate ganache dripping down the sides, à la Instagram baking videos. To decorate, we added more chocolate buttercream frosting around the rim and sifted powdered sugar overtop.

While I’m a strong supporter of all-chocolate desserts, this cake tastes tremendous with any frosting on top: vanilla, cream cheese, or even raspberry buttercream!


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