Kitchn Love Letters

I Tried the Reddit-Famous Chocolate Depression Cake (and Now I Understand the Hype)

published Oct 14, 2022
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Credit: Grace Elkus

Ever since trying — and falling in love withReddit’s Nana’s Devil’s Food Cake, I pay close attention to the Old_Recipes subreddit. I skip right past the savory recipes and keep my eye on the trending desserts. What other old-fashioned treats will surprise me with their deliciousness? 

I recently bookmarked the Pumpkin Dream Bars and have been intrigued by Big Mama’s Secret Cinnamon Roll Cake. But when I came across u/BlackCatKitchen’s Chocolate Depression Cake, it jumped straight to the top of my list. It looked just as good as Nana’s but even easier to make, and the recipe itself was incredibly detailed (it included both volume and weight measurements and an accompanying video). Plus, it happened to be vegan! 

Could this pantry-friendly recipe really produce my new favorite chocolate cake? I couldn’t wait to find out. 

Credit: Grace Elkus

How to Make Reddit’s Chocolate Depression Cake

According to the original post, this cake was developed during the Great Depression when money was tight and ingredients were in short supply. It’s also known as Wacky Cake (or crazy cake), and many commenters noted that they grew up eating a version of it. 

You’ll begin by heating the oven to 350°F and lining an 8-by-8-inch pan with parchment paper. Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl (use your largest bowl), then stir together water, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla extract (I did this directly in the liquid measuring cup). Add this mixture and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients, stir to combine, and transfer to the prepared pan. In lieu of eggs, this cake relies on the reaction between the baking soda and vinegar to make it rise, so you’ll want to mix the batter quickly and get it into the oven ASAP. 

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (30 minutes for me). To make the icing, whisk together powdered sugar and cocoa powder in the now-empty large bowl. Stir in vanilla extract, then add water one tablespoon at a time until the icing is thick but spreadable (you’ll likely need 2 to 3 tablespoons). Spread onto the cooled cake, let the icing set (I waited about 10 minutes), then cut into 9 squares. If you like, you can also top the cake with sprinkles, chocolate shavings, or candy. 

Credit: Grace Elkus

My Honest Review of Reddit’s Chocolate Depression Cake

Every time I think I’ve found my favorite chocolate cake, a new one comes along and makes me question everything. This one was so good that it’s hard to even critique it! 

The batter, made entirely with ingredients I already had on hand, came together in less than 10 minutes with just a whisk and a rubber spatula. The cake smelled incredible as it baked and rose beautifully in the oven. The icing, which reminded me of the shiny glaze on a chocolate donut, was just as easy to make. 

But what impressed me the most was the texture. This cake is moist and a little sticky while still managing to be light and fluffy — and it stayed this moist for days after it was baked. If I didn’t know it was vegan, I never would have guessed! I also thoroughly enjoyed the sweet, crackly icing, which added textural contrast and an extra dimension of chocolate-y flavor. While some wacky cakes are finished with powdered sugar or whipped cream, I highly recommend the icing. 

I’ll still turn to Ina’s recipe when I want a classic two-layer birthday cake, and Nana’s Devil’s food cake is my forever go-to Bundt. But this Chocolate Depression Cake serves its own equally important purpose: It’s perfect for last-minute guests (or urgent chocolate cravings), and if you’re serving a smaller crowd, it won’t leave you with massive amounts of leftovers. Plus, you can serve it to all your vegan and dairy-free friends. I can’t imagine a single chocolate-lover who wouldn’t enjoy this cake. 

Credit: Grace Elkus

If You’re Making Reddit’s Chocolate Depression Cake, a Few Tips 

  1. Sift the cocoa powder and powdered sugar. In an effort to break up cocoa powder lumps, it’s easy to accidentally overmix your cake batter. Sifting the cocoa powder for the batter (and the powdered sugar for the icing) will save you this stress. 
  2. Replace the water with coffee. The use of coffee will intensify the chocolate flavor — and really take this cake over-the-top. 
  3. Use a thin layer of icing. A little bit of this sweet icing goes a long way. Use only as much as you need, then save the rest for homemade donuts (yum!). 

Have you made Reddit’s Chocolate Depression Cake? Tell us what you thought in the comments!