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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Made without eggs or dairy, this one-pan fudgy chocolate cake is a no-frills dessert that’s perfect for birthdays or potlucks.
- 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
- Preheat oven to 350˚F.
- Combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in an 8×8” baking pan.
- Using the back of a spoon, make three wells in the dry mixture.
- 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.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Frost or sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into 9 equal pieces. Serve and enjoy!
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 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.
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.
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.
Two wells can be on the smaller side, with a slightly larger well for the oil.
Step 4 – Add Liquid Ingredients
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.
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.
While you can top the cake with powdered sugar, I highly recommend using a chocolate frosting instead.
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.
Check out some of our favorite frosting options on Foodal:
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: September 20, 2020 at 12:42 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.
The written contents of this article have been reviewed and verified by a registered dietitian for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as personalized or professional medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
About Kelli McGrane, MS, RD
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.