Chocolate Wacky Cake is the easiest scratch cake you will ever make! Also known as Crazy Cake, this eggless, dairy free chocolate cake recipe is made exclusively with common pantry staples. It mixes up in minutes right in the pan, and results in a surprisingly moist, delicious snack cake!
What's the Story on Wacky Cake?
Chocolate Wacky Cake was the first “scratch” cake I ever baked all by myself. (I think I was eight.) So named because it requires no eggs, no milk, no butter, and is mixed directly in the pan, Wacky Cake is a surprisingly moist, delicious chocolate cake that is easy enough for a child to make.
Wacky Cake is dead simple to make, but the origins of the recipe are somewhat murky. Also known as Crazy Cake, War Cake, Depression Cake, Magic Cake, 3-Hole Cake (and more recently as Quarantine Cake and Pandemic Cake), Wacky Cake is a recipe created for difficult times.
Passed down from one generation of frugal bakers to the next, there are references to similar cake recipes dating back over a hundred years; clear back to World War I, when War Cake could be found in a 1918 Food Administration Department pamphlet entitled “War Economy in Food,” under “Recipes for Conservation Sweets.”
After The War to End All Wars ended in 1918, Crazy Cake recipes made their way into 1930's Depression Era kitchens, when budgets were tight, and milk, eggs, and butter were luxuries. Still later, mothers on the home front during World War II relied on this unusual cake recipe as a way to deal with wartime shortages, when milk and eggs were scarce, and other staples (like sugar and coffee) were rationed and in short supply.
What Goes into this Crazy Wacky Cake Recipe
Wacky cake is made from a handful of common pantry staples.
- Flour: Use all-purpose flour. (This recipe has not yet been tested using alternative flours.)
- Sugar: Use plain ol' granulated white sugar.
- Baking cocoa: Use natural cocoa if possible, and not Dutch-pressed (which is also sometimes called European-style or alkalized). Dutch-pressed cocoa is washed with a solution of potassium carbonate which lessens its acidity, and Wacky Cake depends on that acidity to strengthen the gluten and help the cake rise.
- Baking soda: Baking soda does lose its potency over time. Try to use it within 2 years of purchase.
- Salt: Use table salt or fine sea salt.
- Vanilla: Use real vanilla extract, or vanilla paste for best results.
- Vinegar: Use plain white vinegar.
- Vegetable oil: Use a neutral vegetable oil, like canola.
How to Make Eggless, Dairy Free Chocolate Cake
Wacky Cake is the easiest scratch cake you will ever make. It is mixed in one pan with a fork. The trick to this cake is the three-hole method of mixing that allows the vinegar and baking soda to combine at the last moment and act as a leavening agent.
Start your cake now, and it will be ready to eat in less than an hour!
Mix Cake Batter
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray an 8x8 (or 9x9) cake pan with cooking spray.
Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together directly into the pan.
Flatten the sifted dry ingredients and form three depressions in the top - one large and two small.
Pour oil into the large depression, vanilla into the second depression, and vinegar into the third. Pour water over the whole thing.
Stir with spoon or fork until thoroughly mixed. Be sure to check the corners. The cake batter will produce bubbles on the top of the cake.
Bake the Cake
Gently tamp the cake pan on the countertop once or twice to release gas. Bake at 350°F | 177°C for 25-30 minutes, until the top springs back when touched.
This cake bakes up very moist, and can appear underdone. Crazy cake is not as "springy" as some cakes, but it will bounce back a little when it's done. A toothpick inserted an inch off-center will come out clean.
Hint: My favorite way to check a cake's doneness is to listen to it sing. If you listen very carefully, you will hear a faint crackling or sizzling sound, as the steam from the liquid ingredients cooks out. As the cake gets closer to being done, the sound will become softer and slower, becoming a barely audible whisper when the cake is done.
Remove cake from the oven and allow it to cool on rack. Wacky Cake can be served as is, or with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, or iced with your favorite frosting.
That's literally all there this to it! If you work super slow, it might take you 15 minutes to mix it up.
BONUS POINTS: No raw eggs in this batter! Go ahead and let the kids lick the fork!
Frosted: You can frost Wacky Cake if you like: you can never go wrong with chocolate buttercream.
Crazy Cupcakes: Instead of mixing the cake in the baking pan, mix it in a mixing bowl instead. The process os still the same: mix the dry ingredients, make three holes, add the liquids, pour on the water, and whisk it together.
Once mixed, simply fill cupcake liners ⅔ full, and bake for 18-23 minutes.
Chocolate Chip Crazy Cake: Add a handful of mini chocolate chips to the batter before baking.
For best results, use a heavy gauge metal 8x8 square cake pan to make this cake. A metal pan conducts heat better, and you will get a more even bake. That said, you can also use a 9x9, or even a round cake pan. Be aware that you may need to adjust the baking time a little if you use a 9x9 or a glass pan.
Unfrosted chocolate wacky cake can be kept on the counter at room temperature for up to 4 days.
This Wacky Cake recipe also freezes well. Bake the cake as directed, and allow it to cool completely. Once it's cool, you can freeze it in the pan, or cut it into pieces for in individual servings Wrap the cake tightly in two layers of plastic wrap, and then one layer of aluminum foil. Defrost by setting it out on the counter.
For best flavor and texture, eat frozen wacky cake within two months.
Hint: Individual serving make a perfect treat for sack lunches. Pack it frozen in the morning, and it will thaw by lunchtime.
Attention: Teachers & Homeschoolers!
This recipe makes an excellent STEAM activity. Consider Wacky Cake a great opportunity to demonstrate the power of baking soda and vinegar outside a volcano! Whoohoo kitchen science!
Wacky Cake is an exceptionally moist, delicious chocolate snack cake. Surprisingly so, in fact. It's perhaps not as quite as rich as a true, butter-filled Devil’s Food Cake, but it will definitely satisfy those chocolate cake cravings.
1970's Kids Only: Remember Betty Crocker's Snackin' Cakes? Wacky Cake is a lot like those little cakes as far as texture goes, and it tastes something like a Hostess Cupcake without the cream filling, only softer and richer.
More Cake Recipes
Wacky cake is delicious served as is; however, one of my favorite ways to serve it is to gently lay a paper doily on top and sprinkle powdered sugar though a wire sieve over it. When you remove the doily, you have a lovely, delicate design! Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for simple dessert perfection!
Chocolate Wacky Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F [177°C].Spray an 8x8 pan (or 9x9) with cooking spray.
- Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together directly into the pan.
- Flatten the sifted dry ingredients and form three depressions in the top - one large and two small.
- Pour oil into the large depression, vanilla into the second depression, and vinegar into the third.Pour water over the whole thing.
- Stir with spoon or fork until thoroughly mixed. Be sure to check the corners.The cake batter will produce bubbles on the top of the cake.
- Gently tamp the cake pan on the countertop once or twice to release gas. Bake at 350°F | 177°C for 25-30 minutes, until the top springs back when touched.Remove cake from the oven and allow cake to cool on rack.
- Wacky Cake can be served as is, or with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, or iced with your favorite frosting.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
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Originally published July 30, 2013. This post has been updated with new images, content, and recipe directions to improve reader experience.