Recipe Swap: Chocolate Spice ‘Depression’ Cake

So, I’ve been involved in this recipe swap for awhile now. For those of you who may not know, Christianna at Burwell General Store created this swap a few months back, in order to encourage creativity in the kitchen. Back then, it was just the two of us, but it quickly grew into a large group of foodies from all over the world.

I love the swap for so many reasons: but mostly, I love seeing how one recipe blossoms into so many tasty things (from so many talented people!). Every month, CM emails us a recipe from a darling old cookbook/hymnal – All Day Singin and Dinner on the Ground - and we re-interpret the recipe however we see fit.

For this swap, CM asked us to create our own versions of “Wacky Cake” (Original recipe pictured below).

When I first saw this recipe, I panicked. First off, I’m not much of a baker. Secondly, this cake is made with VINEGAR. Vinegar?! I was stumped. I’d never heard of using vinegar in a cake! I just didn’t see how it could possibly be good. I had no idea what to do.

So, I did the only thing I could do: googled the heck out of “cake made with vinegar”. Thanks to Google, I found out a lot of interesting things about cakes made with vinegar. Namely, I found out that Wacky Cake is an old wartime recipe (it can also be called Depression Cake – a name which I personally prefer). It was originally created out of necessity, when butter, eggs, sugar and other common ingredients were rationed and hard to get. (If you want to know a little bit more about the history of this ‘wacky’ cake, listen to this great NPR piece about one family’s history with this particular cake.)

All that to say, after a little bit of research I was completely inspired by this cake. I loved the idea of a cake being borne out of hardship. It is a true testament to perseverance and ingenuity. When you don’t have eggs or butter – by golly, use vinegar.

In order to keep with the spirit of the original recipe, I decided to limit myself to ingredients that I had on hand. To be honest, I happened to have some pretty stellar ingredients lying around: one blood orange, local raw wildflower honey, and Scharffen Berger cocoa powder. But, the rest of the ingredients were quite simple.

I must say, I was totally surprised at how great this cake turned out. The vinegar worked wonders! The cake was amazingly light and fluffy, yet moist with just the right amount of density. The dark chocolate cocoa powder and fresh ginger gave the cake a flavor somewhat akin to a traditional gingerbread. It wasn’t terribly sweet (which I love) and it paired so nicely with the honey orange compote. Did I mention that it’s vegan?!

Please do check out all the other amazing creations from my fellow recipe swappers. You can find them all on CM’s Recipe swap page!

Chocolate Spice ‘Depression Cake’ with Honey Blood Orange Compote
(Cake recipe adapted from The Perfect Pantry)

1.5 cups white flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown or muscovado sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water

Method:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Using a spoon, create an indent (or ‘hole’) in the dry ingredients. Pour remaining ingredients (in the following order) into the indent: vinegar, oil, water. Mix well.

Pour mixture into a greased 8×8 cake pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

For the compote:
1 blood orange
1 Tablespoon good quality honey
Dash of nutmeg

Peel and cut blood orange into segments or supremes. Gently mix orange segments with honey and nutmeg. Serve with chocolate spice cake. Enjoy!

20 Responses

  1. Vegan!! I couldn’t resist, I had to add a bunch of fat into mine. I can’t wait to try this, and as always, thank you so much for participating in the swap. I always love to hear your voice, and see your amazing food.

  2. GREAT POST! I’m so glad that someone else thought of (and actually used blood oranges). I was thinking of making chocolate lava cakes with a blood orange reduction (I love Jaffa cake)… but then I didn’t have any ramekins as I am working in my soon to be mother-in-law’s kitchen! I can’t wait to make a great ‘recipe swap’ recipe in my new kitchen with all of my kitchen equipment!

    Shari from http://www.goodfoodweek.blogspot.com

  3. I was so glad to read this Lindsay and to know I was not the only one who started with an adrenaline rush, confounded about what this beast was that we were to tame and modernize. I love hearing more about the roots of this recipe from you. I do not believe I’ve ever made anything without the traditional ingredients and am fascinated with the adaptation. I must say I really want to go back and make this now (after reeling back in from my psychotic interpretation). I also love the idea of the blood oranges. Always can’t wait to see what you do with this swap!

  4. cca says:

    Lindsay- this looks gorgeous! I love the use of the blood orange. Your photos are perfect and I applaud you for using just what you have on hand- I attempted the same thing but of course I was out of coffee!

  5. PolaM says:

    Wow that looks luscious! Will have to try it!

  6. Mari says:

    By golly! Did you save me a piece? Love it Linds. You always garnish your recipes so beautifully.

  7. Ms. Joy says:

    Love it! Especially since your cake is vegan. I have a special love for vegan baking that is beautiful and delicious, just like your “Depression” cake.

  8. Oh Lindsay, YUM! But, alas, still Lent! I’ll have to wait. The funny thing with the vinegar is my grandparents used to swear by apple cider vinegar and many of my grandmother’s recipe had it. I serve my kids an apple cider vinegar tea when they’re sick that my grandparents drank every day. Everything old is new again!

  9. HOLY WOW~~~YUM! I’m not a huge chocolate eater, but with those oranges—I’m drooling, seriously. I’m not a baker either, now I might have to give this one a try! Nice job!!!

  10. This cake look amazingly delicious and so gorgeous..Yummy!

  11. Chef Dennis says:

    hi Lindsay

    I love blood oranges, and I would agree you had some pretty darn good ingredients on hand for this swap! Your cake does look delicious, with those lovely blood oranges…sigh
    We certainly have had some fun with this swap, I was glad I was able to join in. There are so many talented bloggers in this group, I can’t wait to see everyone’s entry!

    Cheers
    Dennisx

  12. Parsley Sage says:

    Fascinating! I think I’d run screaming if someone told me to make a cake with vinegar. Way to be brave! And your recipe looks absolutely stunning! Well done :)

  13. This looks divine! I have a “depression” cake recipe from my grandmother, but I never got a chance to hear her story…I can’t wait to have some time to myself and listen to the NPR piece!

  14. Ky Foley says:

    Wow! when my fiance worked at One if By Land in NYC he made blood orange salad and vinaigrette, blood orange panacotta, and scallop ceviche with blood oranges as well. but i’ve yet to see it used this way! i love it, thanks so much for sharing! =]

  15. tiffany says:

    Oh, I LOVE that this is vegan!!! The honey blood oranges are making me smile :D

  16. I Love this post! And, that cake looks amazing!!

  17. If you figure out how to make it GF, I’ll be your best friend (sounds like a perfect dessert for Easter).

  18. Fabulous!!! I love the chocolate/ginger/citrus/honey….That is a symphony of flavor that works beautifully together! And great work digging up that NPR story- I absolutely love it! Great job with this month’s swap!

  19. Elizabeth says:

    This looks so good. There are all a couple of vegan cakes in the All New Joy of Cooking that use the vinegar method too. Plus I really love a light, airy chocolate cake.

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