I’ve been playing this game the past few days where I don’t spend any money—cooking from the pantry, eating from what’s already in the fridge. I’m doing it partly to cut costs (how does one person spend so much money on food?) and partly to avoid waste (we’re heading back to Chicago for a few days on Tuesday anyway), and I have to tell you: nothing shows you how much you enjoy spending money like telling yourself you can’t.

It’s bad.

But it’s good.

I’m just telling you right now I won’t make it to Tuesday.

buttered cake pan

So anyway, yesterday, wanting to find something to bake that wouldn’t require a trip to the store, I found myself Googling such strange combinations as “flour, sugar, cocoa,” “baking with no eggs” and even “recipes from the Great Depression.”

It was the final option that landed me on this cake, posted by Alice over at Sweet Savory Life, a version of which I had actually previously posted here (we’re talking previously as in March 2009), and even though I remembered it being just OK last time, I knew I had to try again, if for no other reason than that Hannah of Honey and Jam had just told me about Alice’s site when we met in Chattanooga last Thursday.

(Have I mentioned here how much I love meeting other food bloggers in person? Hannah was sweet, smart, full of interesting info about blogging, and easy to sit and talk with for like three hours in the middle of the afternoon—just like I knew she would be, after following her site for the last few years.)

dry ingredients in the bowl

This time, I did a little more research on the cake, partly because I remembered it being just ho-hum before, looking for tips and tricks other people had posted about changing it up. I saw someone used brewed coffee instead of water, another person added extra cocoa, someone liked to add vanilla extract (I thought about adding almond?) and a few people emphasized cream cheese frosting, which, between us, is exactly what I would go for if I made this again when I was, say, able to go buy some cream cheese beforehand.

cake batter in the pan

Of course I made a few obvious adaptations to ingredients because of personal preferences regarding nutrition—whole-grain spelt flour, avocado oil, Sucanat—and so, I wasn’t expecting much from the cake when it emerged from the oven, even when it was soft and springy, fragrant with cocoa.

cake in the hand

After letting it cool, I sprinkled it with organic powdered sugar I also had on hand (I know, right? I’m really suffering here) and sliced a small square to sample.

cake on the stove

slice of cake

cake and slice on top of oven

As for how it tasted, I’ll just say this: I baked it yesterday morning, and we polished off the last morsel of it last night. Tim says we should make layers next time, putting berries and maybe a whipped cream or marscapone inside between.

But even on its own, this wacky Depression-era cake is just slightly sweet, moist, perfect for pairing with something else like maybe ice cream or coffee, and it’s so crazy simple, so easy to make with what you already have, that I have to say I am sold.

Wacky Chocolate Cake
adapted from Savory Sweet Life

Yay for finding new blog sites like Savory Sweet Life! Thanks, Hannah!

1 1/2 cups flour (I used whole grain spelt)
1 cup sugar (I used Sucanat)
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa powder
6 tablespoons oil (I used avocado oil)
1 cup brewed coffee or water
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×8 pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together by hand. Add all the wet ingredients except vinegar until well combined. Add the vinegar, stir and immediately pour into the prepared 8×8 pan.

Bake for 30 minutes until done. Allow to completely cool before serving; top with organic powdered sugar if you like.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Tim

    It was simple, not too sweet, and surprisingly light for whole grain spelt, and that is why I like it. Lots of s’s.

  2. Joanna

    Hold me back!! If there’s one thing our house has been missing lately, it’s chocolate. This…might get made tomorrow night and then hidden from Brad.

    p.s. Inspired by your post on cane sugar, I got some in Colorado a few weeks ago. I just sampled it a few nights ago while making mojitos and I love it! It’s so much less sweet and has a subtle plant flavor. Yum!

  3. Molly

    The Depression-era baked goods I’ve seen always seem to involve mayonnaise. And the ones I’ve tried, well, they’ve never shot to the top of my must-try-this-myself lists. I live for pantry recipes, and I’ve got to say, this one looks like it’s going to be number one with a bullet.

  4. Anne Zimmerman

    The perfect thing to bring to a low-key potluck that I don’t wait to put much time, effort, money into. Thanks!

  5. Lan

    i remember this cake! i liked it, especially when the vinegar was added.

  6. Jacqui

    I kind of like the challenge of using what I have on hand, I always come out with something new. Of coarse, it doesn’t always come out exactly as good as it maybe could have been, but it gives room for inspiration to change it when I do go to the store!

  7. Richard

    Thanks for the recipe. I’m going to try it out with the kids on the weekend.

  8. Claire @ Claire K Creations

    Well done! That’s a pretty good looking cake to whip up with your pantry contents. I try and do the no-spend thing too. It’s amazing what you can whip up from your pantry, fridge and freezer.

  9. wandering educators

    yum yum yum!!

  10. Shannalee

    Tim, I like the way you think.

    Joanna, Ha! The average person would probably find this very ho-hum chocolatey, but I loved it. : ) And hey, by cane sugar, do you mean sucanat? If so, yay! I notice is has a strong molasses quality, too. Or if you’re talking about palm sugar, even better! : )

    Molly, This is really my only Depression-era recipe, so I had no idea about the mayo–that’s interesting. I guess that was still easy to get back then? The only other recipe I’ve seen involves a sweet 80-something-year-old lady making peppers and eggs in a video online. I kind of want to try that, too.

    Anne, Right? Enjoy!

    Lan, : )

    Jacqui, I like it, too. I think it helps me simplify my wants and be more thankful… side benefits I wasn’t really after, but that have been nice nonetheless.

    Richard, Great! You’re welcome!

    Claire, I know! I love pantry cooking!

    Wandering, Ha! Indeed.

  11. lo

    I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not the only person who plays food games like this. We’re having one of those weeks at our house where we’re trying not to spend any grocery money. So far it’s working, but wow. Changes your perspective on things, doesn’t it?

  12. Sue

    Oh, that looks delish. I have been on a craze like that too- cook and bake with what I have to avoid waste… Crazy what desperation comes up with ! ! ! :)

  13. Megan Gordon

    Nice recipe, Shannalee! I bake a similar chocolate cake but I’ve never done it with avocado oil so I’m super curious now. And I think this would be really nice with barley flour…maybe a little bit heavier crumb but nice with the cocoa. I like Tim’s berry layer idea…heeeeellllo, summer!

  14. angela@spinachtiger

    I spend a FORTUNE on food and I try to be thrifty. I can’t wait to talk to you about using alternative flours and sugars for baking. See you Sunday.

  15. Shannalee

    Lo, Ha! It really does!

    Sue, Seriously. You should have seen my breakfast-lunches this week.

    Megan, It was my first time using avocado oil, actually. I’d heard great things, and so when I saw a bottle at TJ Maxx (go figure, they have great grocery stuff), I had to get it!

    Angela, Me too!

  16. Erin @ The Speckled Palate

    I absolutely love what you’ve done here and that you have found an interesting way to put some ingredients together without having to go to the grocery store. And you sound exactly like my husband and I before we made our big move from Nashville down to Louisiana. We just tried to combine random things/looked up a LOT of random recipes so that we didn’t have to take so many pantry and refrigerated items with us.

    Nice work!

  17. Shannalee

    Thanks, Erin! And that makes so much sense especially when you’re about to move. I’ll probably do the same thing in a couple months all over again!

  18. maija

    A little late to the game here – just catching up on my google reader. This looks pretty identical to my wacky cake recipe. I make it frequently this time of year, as it is a PERFECT base for whipped cream & fresh berries. I have to admit I prefer it to the traditional shortcake!

    Love that I always have the ingredients on hand for it, and it takes only 1 bowl & no prep ahead of time (i.e. setting out butter to soften, etc). Bonus – it’s vegan, with no subs needed, which isn’t always easy to find in baked goods.

  19. Shannalee

    Maija, Having it with whipped cream and berries sounds awesome!

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