Cocoa “great depression” cake recipe

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It was a special treat that brightened the dinner table during the hard times of the Great Depression. Back in the day, milk, sugar, butter, and eggs were either too expensive or just plain hard to get. The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air provided radio listeners with resourceful, budget-friendly recipes, including “the most worthwhile cake ever made,” using water in place of milk, baking soda for eggs, and vegetable oil instead of butter. This moist, dairy-free recipe bakes into a chocolate cake that’s just as delicious in an age of prosperity.

  • Yield: 12 Servings


  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1⁄3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
How to Make It
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine vanilla, vinegar, oil, and water. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until fully combined and no lumps remain.
  2. Pour batter into a greased 8 x 8-inch square pan. Bake for 30–35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cake to a wire rack to cool. When cooled, cut into squares and sift powdered sugar over the top.

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