Depression Era Cake

Course: DessertCuisine: DEPRESSION ERADifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time


Total time



Cake was a luxury during wartime and during the Great Depression in North America. This recipe is referred to as Depression Cake. Depression Cake was made with ingredients that were on hand in the pantry and often ingredients such as baker’s chocolate, eggs, butter, and vanilla were left out due to rationing or the cost of certain luxury ingredients. Chocolate was often one of those ingredients, however, in this recipe it was included in the handwritten one my great-grandmother passed on.


  • 2 cups spelt or all purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1.5 cup chopped baker’s chocolate

  • .5 cup sugar, or corn syrup (optional)

  • 1/2 cup applesauce, banana, or yogourt

  • 1/2 cup melted rendered lard (or substitute with corn oil)

  • 1 1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract (often unavaialbe or expensive)

  • 1 1/2 cup water


  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 4 – 6 tbsp corn syrup, maple syrup or honey

  • 1/4 cup regular or Dutch cocoa powder

  • 4 – 5 tbsp milk of choice


  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Grease two 8-inch square or round pans or one 10 inch round spring bottom pan. Set aside.
  • Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, chocolate and sugar in a bowl.
  • In a new bowl, whisk the oil, applesauce or yoghurt, water, and vanilla.
  • Pour wet into dry and stir until just combined (don’t over-mix). Pour into the pans.
  • Bake on the centre rack for 25 minutes or until batter has risen and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out mostly clean. (I like to take them out when still a little under cooked, let cool, then set in the fridge overnight. This gives the cake a moist texture and prevents overcooking, and the cakes firm up nicely as they sit.)
  • When ready to frost, go around the sides with a knife, then invert each cake onto a large plate.
  • Frost separately, then place one cake on top of the other if a double-layer cake is desired.
  • If you have used a round cake pan you can slice cake across the centre to fill with frosting.
  • Blend everything together until completely smooth.


  • You can modernize this recipe for vegan or diabetic requirements by substituting the chocolate for vegan or sugar-free for diabetics. If you are cutting out dairy go for the fruit to moisten or a vegan dairy free yogourt.
  • Ingredients most often not available in these times: baker’s chocolate, eggs, butter, sugar and bananas. The addition of applesauce, helped sweeten and moisten the cake along with the yogourt. Yogourt could be easily made at home from scratch.

Similar Posts