Chocolate Wacky Cake: No Eggs, Milk, or Butter Required (Vegan)

So you’re planning to make an amazing dessert and you head to the kitchen… No eggs, butter, or milk in the fridge? No problem!

This one-pan fudgy chocolate cake can be yours with a handful of simple pantry ingredients.

Vertical image of a piece of chocolate cake with a piece taken out and on a fork next to it to the right, on a piece of parchment paper on top of a gray and beige surface, with a bottle of milk and a glass baking dish in the background, printed with orange and white text at the midpoint and the bottom of the frame.

Every year on August 7th, my family eats wacky cake to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

As a kid, I thought that my parents came up with the name “wacky cake” to make it more fun, But as I got older, I started seeing other recipes for it online and was disappointed to see that my family recipe isn’t all that uncommon.

As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Originating during the Great Depression, wacky cake was the result of eggs, butter, and milk being too expensive for most households to afford, and hard to obtain.

Instead, bakers used cheaper ingredients, such as vegetable oil and vinegar, to create a budget-friendly chocolate cake that’s surprisingly moist.

Vertical image of a fork stuck into a square of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting on a small slip of white parchment paper, on a stone surface with a bottle of milk and a glass baking dish of more of the dessert in soft focus in the background.

Also known as crazy cake, the original recipe calls for combining the ingredients right in the pan – no mixing bowl required. Talk about easy cleanup!

Personally, I think the “wackiest” part of this recipe is in how you combine the wet and dry ingredients. Rather than just pouring the wet ingredients over the dry, you make three wells in the dry mixture and pour one liquid into each.

This was always my favorite part of making it as a kid. My mom would let me make the three wells and pour the vinegar, vanilla, and oil into each. She’d then pour hot water over the whole thing, and that’s when the real fun would begin.

I don’t know what it is about watching vinegar and baking soda react, but I just loved seeing all the bubbles form as my mom would quickly stir the whole mixture together.

Overhead vertical image of a square glass baking dish of chocolate cake with another piece below it on a square of white parchment paper, with a bite taken out by a fork that rests to the right of it, and a glass bottle of milk with a red and white paper straw stuck in it to the left, on a grayish weathered and unfinished wood surface.

After researching and making this dessert on my own, it’s clear why my grandma loved it so much. As the wife of a pastor with three kids, money was tight, and so was time. Having a recipe on hand that didn’t require any butter or milk and that could be made in one pan was essential.

Plus, if any of you have been to a Midwestern church function, then you know that you don’t bring a pretty layer cake to a potluck. No, you bring a large sheet cake topped with a fudgy frosting that’s then sliced into squares and served on paper plates.

One thing I was surprised to discover is that my family recipe never once mentioned using coffee instead of water. Growing up in a coffee-loving household, it would’ve only been natural to incorporate coffee into the batter.

My only guess here is that my grandma either didn’t want to brew extra coffee, or her original recipe simply didn’t call for it.

Being stuck in my traditional ways, I still make this cake with hot water most of the time. However, using coffee does give the cake a deeper, more intense chocolate flavor.

Horizontal image of a piece of chocolate cake with a fork on a square piece of parchment paper, on a gray surface, with a bottle of milk and a glass baking dish filled with the remainder of the dessert in the background.

While most recipes call for making it in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan, as this one does, my traditional family recipe uses the same quantity of ingredients, but bakes it in a 9-by13-inch sheet pan.

I’m not sure if this was another money-saving strategy, or if the goal was to achieve a higher frosting to cake ratio.

I personally like the texture better when it’s baked in a smaller pan. It’s much more springy, and tastes similar to a boxed mix (in the best possible way).

Despite being baked without any eggs, this cake tastes wonderfully indulgent, especially with a fudgy chocolate frosting on top. For a lighter version, you can forgo the frosting and sift powdered sugar over the top instead for a pretty presentation.

Print
Horizontal image of a fork stuck into a square of chocolate cake on a white piece of parchment paper, on a gray surface with a bottle of milk and a glass baking dish in the background.

Chocolate Wacky Cake


  • Author: Kelli McGrane
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 1 8-inch cake 1x

Description

Made without eggs or dairy, this one-pan fudgy chocolate cake is a no-frills dessert that’s perfect for birthdays or potlucks.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (21 g) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (216 g) granulated sugar (vegan, or coconut sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot water or hot coffee

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in an 8×8” baking pan.
  3. Using the back of a spoon, make three wells in the dry mixture.
  4. Pour vanilla extract into one well, vinegar into another, and oil into the third. Then pour hot water or coffee over all the ingredients. Stir until just combined.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Frost or sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into 9 equal pieces. Serve and enjoy!

  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Vegan

Keywords: dessert, cake, chocolate cake, vegan dessert, chocolate

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Preheat Oven and Measure Ingredients

Preheat oven to 350˚F and measure out all of your ingredients.

Overhead horizontal closely cropped image of glass, white ceramic, and blue ceramic bowls of oil, vanilla, cocoa powder, flour, sugar, vinegar, and baking soda for baking a cake, on an unfinished wood surface.

Note: as there’s only 1/4 cup of cocoa powder in the recipe, you’ll want to use a high-quality natural cocoa (not Dutch-process). To tell if your cocoa is high-quality, simply look at the nutrition label. You want to pick one with 1 gram of fat per 5-gram serving.

Step 2 – Combine Dry Ingredients.

Overhead horizontal image of dry ingredients being mixed with a spoon in a square glass baking dish, with three small bowls of ingredients at the top of the frame.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.

Step 3 – Make Wells

Using the back of a spoon, make three wells in the dry mixture for the liquid ingredients to go into.

Horizontal overhead image of a square glass baking dish filled with a mixture of dry chocolate cake ingredients, with three wells made in the center, on a brown surface.

Two wells can be on the smaller side, with a slightly larger well for the oil.

Step 4 – Add Liquid Ingredients

Pour the vanilla extract into one well, vinegar into another, and the oil into the third.

Overhead image of a frothy chocolate batter mixture in a square glass baking dish, on an unfinished wood surface.

Then pour hot water (or coffee) over all the ingredients.

Step 5 – Mix and Place in Oven

Stir until just combined, and scrape the bottom to make sure any extra dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

Overhead horizontal image of chocolate cake batter in a square glass baking dish with three small white bowls of ingredients at the top of the frame, with the handle of a spoon sticking out of the leftmost one, on an unfinished wood surface.

Place the baking pan in the preheated oven.

Step 6 – Bake

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Step 7 – Cool, Frost, and Slice

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting or sprinkling with powdered sugar.

I find that baking the cake at night and frosting it in the morning works well, but it will be cool enough to frost just 15-20 minutes after coming out of the oven.

Closeup horizontal image of a spatula spreading chocolate frosting onto a cake.

While you can top the cake with powdered sugar, I highly recommend using a chocolate frosting instead.

Overhead closely cropped horizontal image of a frosted and sliced chocolate cake in a square glass baking dish, with a knife covered in chocolate icing resting on the rim, on an unfinished weathered wood surface.

To keep the recipe vegan-friendly, I used this fudgy chocolate date frosting (your guests will never guess that it’s made with dates!). But you can also use an old fashioned cocoa fudge frosting instead if you prefer.

Either way, the creamy frosting plus a moist crumb gives this cake a decadent, fudgy quality.

So Many Ways to Frost

Canned frosting is one of those things I’ll never understand.

Sure, you could say it’s more convenient. But when a cake takes 30 minutes to bake, there is plenty of time to mix together butter and powdered sugar for a simple buttercream, or vegan margarine, sugar, and non-dairy milk for a vegan version.

Plus, homemade frosting doesn’t have that plastic taste that most pre-bought frostings have. And the best part about making your own frosting is all the flavor and ingredient possibilities.

Horizontal image of a fork stuck into a square of chocolate cake on a white piece of parchment paper, on a gray surface with a bottle of milk and a glass baking dish in the background.

Check out some of our favorite frosting options on Foodal:

And if you are craving more vegan chocolate sweets, make a restaurant-worthy Avocado Mousse Torte.

What’s your preferred type of frosting? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below. Love this recipe? Let us know by giving it a five-star rating!

Photos by Kelli McGrane, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on June 8, 2011. Last updated: May 3, 2019 at 19:58 pm.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Kelli McGrane

Kelli McGrane is a Denver-based registered dietitian with a lifelong love of food. She holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in nutrition science from Boston University. As a registered dietitian, she believes in the importance of food to nourish not only your body, but your soul as well. Nutrition is very personal, and you won’t find any food rules here, other than to simply enjoy what you eat.

17 thoughts on “Chocolate Wacky Cake: No Eggs, Milk, or Butter Required (Vegan)”

  1. Hold me back!! If there’s one thing our house has been missing lately, it’s chocolate. This…might get made tomorrow night and then hidden from Brad.

    p.s. Inspired by your post on cane sugar, I got some in Colorado a few weeks ago. I just sampled it a few nights ago while making mojitos and I love it! It’s so much less sweet and has a subtle plant flavor. Yum!

  2. The Depression-era baked goods I’ve seen always seem to involve mayonnaise. And the ones I’ve tried, well, they’ve never shot to the top of my must-try-this-myself lists. I live for pantry recipes, and I’ve got to say, this one looks like it’s going to be number one with a bullet.

  3. The perfect thing to bring to a low-key potluck that I don’t wait to put much time, effort, money into. Thanks!

  4. I kind of like the challenge of using what I have on hand, I always come out with something new. Of coarse, it doesn’t always come out exactly as good as it maybe could have been, but it gives room for inspiration to change it when I do go to the store!

  5. Well done! That’s a pretty good looking cake to whip up with your pantry contents. I try and do the no-spend thing too. It’s amazing what you can whip up from your pantry, fridge and freezer.

  6. Tim, I like the way you think.

    Joanna, Ha! The average person would probably find this very ho-hum chocolatey, but I loved it. : ) And hey, by cane sugar, do you mean sucanat? If so, yay! I notice is has a strong molasses quality, too. Or if you’re talking about palm sugar, even better! : )

    Molly, This is really my only Depression-era recipe, so I had no idea about the mayo–that’s interesting. I guess that was still easy to get back then? The only other recipe I’ve seen involves a sweet 80-something-year-old lady making peppers and eggs in a video online. I kind of want to try that, too.

    Anne, Right? Enjoy!

    Lan, : )

    Jacqui, I like it, too. I think it helps me simplify my wants and be more thankful… side benefits I wasn’t really after, but that have been nice nonetheless.

    Richard, Great! You’re welcome!

    Claire, I know! I love pantry cooking!

    Wandering, Ha! Indeed.

  7. Oh, that looks delish. I have been on a craze like that too- cook and bake with what I have to avoid waste… Crazy what desperation comes up with ! ! ! 🙂

  8. Nice recipe, Shannalee! I bake a similar chocolate cake but I’ve never done it with avocado oil so I’m super curious now. And I think this would be really nice with barley flour…maybe a little bit heavier crumb but nice with the cocoa. I like Tim’s berry layer idea…heeeeellllo, summer!

  9. I spend a FORTUNE on food and I try to be thrifty. I can’t wait to talk to you about using alternative flours and sugars for baking. See you Sunday.

  10. Sue, Seriously. You should have seen my breakfast-lunches this week.

    Megan, It was my first time using avocado oil, actually. I’d heard great things, and so when I saw a bottle at TJ Maxx (go figure, they have great grocery stuff), I had to get it!

    Angela, Me too!

  11. I absolutely love what you’ve done here and that you have found an interesting way to put some ingredients together without having to go to the grocery store. And you sound exactly like my husband and I before we made our big move from Nashville down to Louisiana. We just tried to combine random things/looked up a LOT of random recipes so that we didn’t have to take so many pantry and refrigerated items with us.

    Nice work!

  12. Thanks, Erin! And that makes so much sense especially when you’re about to move. I’ll probably do the same thing in a couple months all over again!

  13. A little late to the game here – just catching up on my google reader. This looks pretty identical to my wacky cake recipe. I make it frequently this time of year, as it is a PERFECT base for whipped cream & fresh berries. I have to admit I prefer it to the traditional shortcake!

    Love that I always have the ingredients on hand for it, and it takes only 1 bowl & no prep ahead of time (i.e. setting out butter to soften, etc). Bonus – it’s vegan, with no subs needed, which isn’t always easy to find in baked goods.

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