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Sunday, April 14, 2024

How to make a ‘Depression cake’

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I love cooking and I love baking. It is likely the reason that I spend half my time in the kitchen and the rest of my time writing about being in the kitchen. A lot of my friends and relatives say they would love to bake more but simply can’t afford it. They take one look at an ingredients list and realize that they either have none of their ingredients on their shelf or the ingredients required are very expensive. I have some good news. While many online recipes are full of dashes of this and sprinkles of that, most are not required. Those recipes are written by chefs who have a full kitchen of ingredients at their disposal. If you don’t have all those ingredients you still have plenty of options.

In the 1930s, America went through the Great Depression. Most families could not afford expensive items like butter and eggs, and if they could they did not smash 6 eggs for a cake, they made them last. It was during this time that people who loved to bake learned alternative ways to make everything using far cheaper ingredients. Today I want to share with you the Depression Cake.

To make a depression cake you will need (I use the word need very liberally here, use what you have) 1.5 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, ¼ cup of cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of vinegar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil. That’s it. Amazing right? Already you should be marveling at the fact that I did not mention eggs or butter, but they are not required for this delicious cake. 

The cake is incredibly easy to make and you can do it all in one pan. I guess during the depression era people didn’t just want to save money they wanted to save time washing up too. Turn on your oven and heat it up to 190 degrees celsius. Grease a pan of your choosing. Now mix your flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa. Once mixed pop a few holes inside and pour vanilla, vinegar, and oil into each hole. Stir the ingredients until blended and place them in the pan. Put the cake in the oven for 35 minutes, once done take out and allow to cool while still in the pan. Put on some frosting of your choice and you are done. 

This cake is a winner. If it turns out too runny you can throw it in a bowl and call it a pudding. If it turns out too hard just serve it with some ice cream. If you find the flavor lacking you can add in coffee to give it an extra bite.

The reason this cake works so well is because of science. We have become so used to using eggs and butter in our recipes we no longer ask why. By understanding the role each ingredient plays in a recipe you can substitute it with what you have and still have a great cake. Butter is what keeps a cake soft as it coats the flour. We did this with oil instead. Eggs are used to leaven cakes and provide a structure, we did this with baking soda and vinegar instead. If you pay a little attention to the role each item plays you can change things out and save money and hassle.

The depression cake is not just a tasty, easy to make, cake that costs less, it is a lesson for the kitchen. Let the ingredients in your pantry inspire your cooking and baking decisions and have some fun experimenting.

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