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One-Pan Chocolate 'Crazy' Cake

I've been a serious baker for almost 30 years, and I pride myself on turning out beautiful, delicious and often complex treats and sweets.

But there are many (MANY) times when a fancy-pants, multi-step/-ingredient/-gadget dessert is simply not in the cards:

  • It's a rainy/snowy weekend and the kids "want to bake."
  • I'm out of pretty much every ingredient needed to make a cake/cookie/doughnut.
  • I need to make a vegan/dairy-free/egg-free dessert for the class party/bake sale/team picnic.
  • The dessert buffet needs "one more" item – and I've run out of time.
  • I want cake — like, 5 minutes ago.

And this is the cake I've turned to time and time again.

Called "crazy cake" or "wacky cake", this recipe's roots run deep – all the way back to the Depression (though some sites claim it was during World War II), when ingredients like butter and eggs were considered luxuries. Cooks had to rely on limited, shelf-stable and cheap pantry ingredients to turn out tasty treats, and this cake is a perfect example of such.

As for me, this was one of the very first cakes I learned to make, and though I've accomplished more complicated and challenging desserts since then, it is my "go-to" recipe more than any other.

It would be easy to dismiss this simple cake as too pedestrian or unsophisticated. I mean, the only "tool" you need is a fork! But don't. It is moist, tender and super chocolatey — needing only a dusting of powdered sugar for garnish (but I've included some other ideas for mix-ins, below - you know, just in case).

This is a perfect recipe to make with even your littlest helpers, and since you mix all the ingredients right in the baking pan, cleanup is a snap!

With so many of us dealing with dietary restrictions, it is a joy to have a classic, simple and delicious recipe — without the use of expensive "specialty" ingredients — that can be turned out any time!

RECIPE: Crazy Cake (aka "Wacky Cake," aka "Depression Cake")

Makes (one) 8" square cake

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (regular or Dutch process)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I also love swapping a teaspoon of peppermint or almond extract)
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup cold water or cold brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Place all dry ingredients in an ungreased 8 x 8 baking pan — mix with a fork to combine; tap the pan lightly to level.
  2. Make 3 "wells" in the mixture — 2 small, 1 medium. Place the vanilla in one small well, the vinegar in the other, and the vegetable oil in the medium well. Pour the cold water over all and stir with a fork till the batter is smooth and well combined. Add in your mini chocolate chips and other mix-ins, if using (see below for suggestions).
  3. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or till a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cake, in pan, on a wire rack. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve.

Notes:

To make a 9 x 13 cake: double the ingredients and bake for 35–40 minutes.

To make cupcakes: for 24 cupcakes, double the ingredients and line a muffin tin with liners — bake for 15 minutes.

Greasing the pan is completely optional — that said, if you line the bottom with parchment paper it will be that much easier to remove the cake, and cleanup will be even easier!

For a fun twist, feel free to add any of the following to the batter after it is combined:

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

6 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles (mix 1/2 into the batter and sprinkle 1/2 on top)

Images via Sheri Silver

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