This is another recipe that I did not grow up with. I think it was because by the time the eighties and nineties came around, box cake mixes were such a part of life and made baking a cake just as easy as this recipe. Unbeknownst to me, I had made this cake (but under a different name) when I was testing out recipes for my Peg Bracken posts. Ultimately “The Cake” recipe won but this cake was a close second. This is not a pretty cake but the results is something you can not argue with!
Who and where was Wacky Cake created?
So figuring out when this cake was created took me down a bit of a rabbit hole. First I looked up the cake in Jean Anderson’s The American Century Cookbook where she remembers the cake vividly in the 1970s but feels she has known about it longer, though can’t prove it. This made me remember a recipe I made in Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cookbook called the Cockeyed Cake. I made a bee line for the 1960 cookbook and sure enough the recipe was for Wacky Cake just called a different name. Now I knew that it dated at least sometime around the 1960s. Then in a 1985 article, a reader wrote in about the cake saying that it was at least from the 1950s. So 1950s it is…..until I came across a Mary Moore newspaper column. In the 1958 article, a reader writes in asking for a recipe she saw printed a few years ago called Wacky Cake. Mary Moore answered that a “‘few years ago’ was March 3, 1940!” and that she guesses that “we can afford to repeat it”. Now we know that it was around 1940 but still did not have the who. Then a chance encounter with Anne Byrn’s cookbook American Cake (2016) at the library added that the cake became popular in the 1940s due to the recipe being used during cooking demonstrations. It was most likely created by an anonymous food economist at the time for this purpose. Other names for the cake besides Wacky and Cockeyed are Crazy or Wonder cake.
What ingredients are in Wacky Cake?
This chocolate cake gets its name due to the way it is mixed together in the the pan it will be baked in and the fact that it includes no eggs. After the dry ingredients are mixed together and three holes are made with vanilla, vinegar and oil placed in each of the holes. Then water is pour all over it, mixed together and then baked. The outcome is a super moist cake.
When was Wacky Cake popular?
Wacky Cake was popular recipe in the 1940s for two likely reasons. First lets face it, the ease of making these recipe was probably really appealing to the women of the day. Anyone who has made a cake knows that, while it is not hard, does have a certain set of steps that needs to be followed. The fact that one could mix this cake up in the pan the it was going to bake in had to be quite refreshing. Another major factor was the United States entering World War II in 1941. Many ingredients used to make traditional cakes such as butter, milk, sugar and eggs were rationed during and even for a time after the war. Therefore many homemakers on the home front had to find creative ways to make family favorites. This cake not needing eggs, butter or milk made it quite a favorite in a time sacrifice.
Wacky Cake definitely had another heyday in the 1960s and 1970s probably due to the children of the women of the 1940s growing up and making this easy cake for themselves. This recipe could be found on many school lunch menus of the day all the way to the early 2000s. Dorothy Dean in one of her 1958 newspaper articles called the cake a great last minute dessert and it is “so good and so simple that we wonder sometimes why we go to so much effort to make cakes”. Two articles from the 1960s proclaimed the greatness of this cake. One mentions in it that a young homemaker loves to make this cake for her family and liked the fact it can be made in a “jiffy”. The other called the recipe a “long-time favorite”. Amy Vanderbilt suggested that the cake was perfect for first time bakers in the 1960s.
In a 1985 newspaper column about wacky cake, a reader wrote that her boyfriend’s mother had been making the cake since the early sixties. She goes on to describe the cake as “so rich and dark and good. There was never any leftover.” Another reader in the same article called this cake her standby since the 1950s. In the 1990s, this cake got a microwave makeover due to the rising popularity of cooking with your microwave.
Why should I make Wacky Cake?
This cake is beyond easy to make with very little mess that makes a pretty darn tasty cake. For that alone you need to try it out. It is also a cake that you do not have to frost if you don’t feel like it. Many articles I read mentions that most people just top it with some powdered sugar and call it a day. If you love chocolate cake then I do say you need to give this low maintenance cake a try. A reader of of 1993 newspaper submitted a wacky cake recipe with the note “I’m sure all your readers will love this cake”. I completely agree with this statement.
How do you make Wacky Cake?
The original recipes has you prepare and mix everything in the greased cake pan. I prefer to mix it in a mixing bowl and then pour it into the pan. It is just much easier to combine the mixture in the bowl then something with squared corners. This is the way I put it in the recipe but just know that this can be done all in one pan.
I kept in the making the three holes as a nod to the original recipe but you really can just make one large hole to put the vanilla, oil and vinegar before pouring the water over. Also some recipes call for using warm water while other says it has to be cold. I have tried both and I personally could not see a difference.
A super easy and quick chocolate cake that does not use eggs. This can easily be double and baked in a 9x13 pan. Just increase the cooking time accordingly.
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup water
- Preheat the oven to 350 degree and grease a 8 inch cake pan.
- In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda. Then give it a quick stir to combine.
- Make three holes in the dry mix and put vinegar in one, vanilla in another and the oil in the third.
- Pour water over the mixture and mix till well combined.
- Pour the batter into greased pan and bake for 30 minutes.
- Let cool and top with powdered sugar or frost (see suggestions in the notes).
Notes: Many recipes call for just dusting the cake with some powder sugar but here are two other serving suggestions:
- This one is from a 1980s community cookbook and is the one I used in the photo: Mix together 3 tablespoons of softened butter, 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons coffee (sub milk or cream if you do not want to use coffee) and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. You can either spread this on the cake warm and it turns glossy and fudgey or wait for the cake to cool completely and the frosting stays like fluffy buttercream.
- This one is from a 1990s article about a Home Economics teacher: She liked to sprinkle a handful of chocolate chips on the batter before baking. Then she served it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
- Another article (in which I wrote no information down for), poked holes in the warm baked cake and topped with some caramel sauce in which it seeped into the cake. They then spread some homemade whipped cream on top of that and finished it off with a sprinkle of chopped up heath candy bars.
Anderson, Jean. The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1997.
“Baked Dessert for Fall Menu”. The Pittsburgh Press. October 15, 1964.
Byrn, Anne. American Cake. New York: Rodale, 2016.
Cicero, Linda. “‘Very Best’ Wacky Chocolate Cakes Stirred up right in the cooking pan.” the Evening Independent. November 13, 1985.
Dean, Dorothy. “Fill Square Cake with Jam to Get Change of Scenery”. The Spokesman-Review. January 30, 1953
“Former Teacher Submits Recipe for ‘Wacky Cake'”. Reading Eagle. January 13, 1963.
Hawks, Ellen. “Candy Cake Recipes Worth Keeping”. The Bulletin. August 31, 1993.
Lovegren, Sylvia. Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads. New York: Macmillian General Reference, 1995.
Moore, Mary. “Marry Moore’s Meals: Reader Asks for Quantity Salad.” Ottawa Citizen. May 22, 1958.
Scripps, Howard. “Wacky Cake from ’60s Can Be Made in Microwave Today”. Times-Union. October 7, 1996.
“Wacky Cake – Still One for the Cookbooks”. St. Petersburg Times. July 9, 1970.
23 thoughts on “The History of Wacky Cake”
I remember my mom making this in the 1970s, and she called it wacky cake. I remember also that is was good!
LikeLiked by 1 person
That is so neat! Yeah wacky cake seems to be the most popular name for this cake.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wacky cake ,I’m 64 and my English gran would make this for us as kids .I’ve taught my kids and grandchildren how to make it
We use white butter icing on the top.
Even kids can make this it’s easy
Just made one
Still enjoy it
LikeLiked by 1 person
It is a great cake that has stood the test of time. I will have to try a white butter icing next time I make it!
Yum, this looks deliciously
LikeLiked by 1 person
My mother used to make this cake. She was born in 1926, grew up in the Depression in the Midwest and went through the WWII years in Los Angeles, living with relatives and working several jobs to get through college. She told me the cake was created because the of rationing of eggs, milk & butter during WWII. The war years were a time of great sacrificial in this country. If you look at other online histories of Wacky Cake, the same story is told again and again. The recipes for Wacky Cake are passed down from grandmother, mother & aunt, to daughter, niece and granddaughter. Never have I encountered Wacky Cake in a restaurant, but once an old boyfriend call me for the recipe because before the internet he couldn’t find it in cookbooks.. It would be nice if you changed your story to reflect the WWII rationing story and the actual history of this. Certainly this history would resonate with people today, in the age of Covid shortages.
First off thank you for your comment. I love to hear how certain recipes have impacted and played roles in peoples lives. The first earliest reference that I find to this recipe was March 3, 1940 in a 1958 Mary Moore column. It predates when us Americans entered the war. Though both can be true. This can be a recipe that was developed for cooking demonstrations which were all the rage during the 1930s and 1940s and be a recipe that became popular due to the necessity to ration. Wacky Cake definitely falls into the long line of Depression Cakes. Though you are correct that I have missed mentioning a part of this cake’s history. While this cake was quite popular in the 1960s and 1970s, I did neglect the part that it played during the War and the 1940s.
I will admit I like to have sources to point to when I mention something in my posts because there can be a lot of misinformation out there on the internet. When I was doing research for Dump Cake many internet histories pointed to the 1980s which I knew not to be true. I do a lot of research for all these recipes on my blog and cite all my sources. That is hard to do for the 1940s part of Wacky Cake’s history as highlighted in your comment. It is not in the cookbooks of that era as it passed through word of mouth. Even the Wikipedia page for Wacky Cake doesn’t have many references.
Again thank for your comment and for coming to my little piece of the internet. I have amended the post to talk a little bit more about the 1940s side of the Wacky Cake’s history.
I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and this cake was a family favorite. We called Crazy Chocolate Cake. We were always told of the history of WWII rationing and why this cake was popular then. My parents lived through both the Great Depression and WWII and they never mentioned the cake being made in the Great Depression.
I still make this cake today with a minor change or two. First I always substitute a cup of cooled coffee for the water, it brings out more of the chocolate flavor. And two I never frost it, it’s too good as is. However, I have added a cup of chocolate chips on top of the raw batter just before baking.
I will definitely have to try your version. It sounds delicious!
My favorite version of the Crazy Cake includes a cream cheese filling: Mix 8 oz cream cheese, 1 egg and 1/3 C sugar thoroughly. Make the 13″x9″ version of the cake and then pour half the batter into the pan. Then plop spoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture all over the surface. Optional further decadence is a sprinkle of chocolate chips. Then pour the rest of the batter over the cream cheese. This works wonderfully in cupcakes as well.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This version sounds delicious!
The holes are for Papa, Mama, and Baby bear. Helps ro remember recipe and teach it to hildren.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Awww that is a cute way to teach the recipe.