The Easiest Chocolate Cake Recipe You Didn't Know You Were Missing

In 1918, the U.S. government published a pamphlet which called on households across the country to commit to the rationing of specific food items in order to contribute to the war effort. It called for meat to be substituted with poultry and fish; wheat to be replaced with potatoes, corn, and rye; and vegetable oils to be used instead of animal fats like butter or lard. The booklet also featured several recipes offering advice on how to make the substitutions and lists potato bread, peanut bread, oatmeal muffins, and griddle cakes (via Internet Archive).

A variant on war cake, which appears in the pamphlet, appears to be making a comeback to American kitchens, at a time when butter, milk, or eggs could be running in short supply. The chocolate dessert, also known as wacky cake, is widely considered to be a Depression-era cake, which came about when war rationing was in effect. Perhaps the best part of wacky cake? It's all mixed in and baked in one pan.

Wacky cake has no eggs, milk, and butter

Many versions of wacky cake (or crazy cake) exist today. All use vinegar and either baking soda, baking powder, or both — a combination that ensures a tender, moist result — and even though its genesis is linked to the Depression, food historian Lynne Olver told the Los Angeles Times that the cake could well have come about much earlier. "Using vinegar in baking was not uncommon in the late 19th century. Presumably, the method (all mixed in one pan) was the byproduct of necessity. Smart cooks have been doing this for thousands of years," Olver said.

AllRecipes promises a delicious one-pan chocolate cake by mixing 1-1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, and 1 cup water. Dry ingredients get sifted together into an 8x8 pan, three wells are made for the vanilla, vinegar, and oil, then water gets poured over. Use a fork to stir, then bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. But how can such an easy recipe possibly work? 

Wacky cake is the result of chemistry. Food scientist Harold McGee says the vinegar's acidity reacts with baking soda to help lift the cake, and to make it lighter. He recommends using hot water as it will thicken the batter and cause it to retain its bubbles, making it lighter still. McGee further suggests using baking powder instead of baking soda for the ultimate in light and fluffy chocolate cakes.