The Depression-Era 'Secret Ingredient' That Makes Cakes Super Soft

The Great Depression of the '30s was devastating for all those involved. People lost jobs, the economy crashed, and living day-to-day became so much harder. As a result, people had to innovate to make foods last longer or compromise on ingredients they could no longer afford. This led to a time of strange recipes and creations, such as  Hoover Stew, which used macaroni and hot dogs, or dandelion salad, which used weeds that could be foraged locally. Interestingly, it turns out that weeds actually have a plethora of health benefits, including a nutritional source of vitamins A, C, and K, plus it contains soluble fiber, explains Healthline.

According to Out of the Box Baking, by using whatever ingredients were on hand, people's experiments with substitutions opened their eyes to new methods of baking. While many were used to sticking to tried and true recipes, this era of having to go without meant drastic measures had to be taken to enjoy the little pleasures in life. So how exactly do you make a cake if you don't have access to certain ingredients, such as milk or butter? 

Ice, Ice, Cake Mix

You may be surprised to learn that you can use ice water. Baker and cookbook author of "The Vintage Baker," Jessie Sheehan, learned this secret while working at a Brooklyn bakery called Baked. She said she was surprised to find that the batter had no dairy in it, but, she said "the white cakes at Baked were legendarily delicious, with the perfect spongy crumb," per Kitchn. Sheehan was curious to know where the recipes for cakes containing ice water had come from and she discovered that, even though there were plenty of recipes around for odd substitute-ingredient style cakes from the Great Depression, she had a hard time finding any that called specifically for iced water.

However, there are plenty of old vintage recipes on the internet for Cold Water Cake or Wacky Cake as it's also known. The commonality between these recipes is their lack of dairy, which definitely makes sense during the Great Depression. Some of them even omit eggs, but the recipes still work with many describing the end result as light and fluffy, notes Yahoo News. While today, people assume that these recipes started appearing in the Great Depression due to scarcity of ingredients, according to The Best Cake Recipes, the ice water is a deliberate ingredient because it delays the fats from melting and this causes a fluffy cake texture.