Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Crazy Cake for a Birthday Celebration

A humble dessert cake with a bold taste that’s easy to prepare and vegan! (photos from Deborah Brooks)

Crazy Cake, also fondly known as Wacky or Depression Cake, is a humble dessert with a big bold taste that belies how easy it is to prepare, even for first-time bakers. Created during the Great Depression when butter and eggs were scarce -hence the “Depression Cake” name -it’s vegan by nature, as oil and vinegar replace the butter and eggs.

This is the perfect cake for me to bake to celebrate both hubby’s and my birthdays this month. We’re born two days apart. And, yes, he married an older woman. Of course, I changed a few things here and there. That’s my nature as a recipe creator.

First change was to elevate the oil from simple vegetable to Hazelnut, for a richer and more flavorful option. Same, with the vinegar. I chose to use a white balsamic from Italy in place of the distilled white vinegar. Hey it’s a birthday cake. I wanted to ” bougie” it up. I also opted to use strong, brewed coffee in place of water. Coffee enhances chocolate’s richness and is always a good addition to chocolate-based baked goods.

I frosted the cake with a vegan butter cream that was divine. Then decorated with toasted hazelnuts to tie in with the hazelnut oil. Chocolate and hazelnuts is a pair made in food heaven!

How did it turn out? Scrumptious! This cake has a dark, moist crumb that’s not too sweet while the buttery chocolate frosting adds a sugary, gooey contrast. It’s a perfect cake for celebrations. While I see so many fancy, over the top birthday cakes on the Internet, this unassuming gateau, by comparison, is just as decadent in flavor without all of the fussing.

Oh, and not a crumb will make it to our birthdays!

Chef’s Tips

  • Any vegetable (canola, grapeseed, safflower, avocado) oil or nut (hazelnut, walnut) oil should work. I don’t recommend extra virgin olive oil as it has a bold taste that will be in contrast to the chocolate.
  • The original recipe calls for distilled white vinegar. Feel free to keep to the original.
  • Many recipes have you mix the cake in the baking pan. I’m not a fan of that as it will make a messy pan and not mix the ingredients as well. I mixed it all up in a bowl then poured the batter into the pan.
  • Dutch process cocoa powder doesn’t have as rich a chocolate flavor so I recommend regular unsweetened cocoa powder. Hershey’s is excellent and readily available at most markets.
  • You can use an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan square. The larger pan will bake a bit faster. I used a glass pan. This requires a lower oven temperature and longer bake. Raise the oven temperature to 350 for a metal pan. Test at 25 minutes for doneness. I greased the pan with vegan butter, as it is made from coconut oil and doesn’t burn like dairy butter can. I didn’t use any parchment. It lifted out of the glass baking dish easily. I recommend greasing and lining with parchment paper for a metal pan.
  • While the cake is mixed by hand, I highly recommend making the frosting using an electric mixer, either a stand or a hand held version. You can mix it by hand but it will be difficult to get it light and airy and will be a lot of arm work.
  • I topped the frosted cake with toasted hazelnuts to enhance the hazelnut oil. Colored or chocolate sprinkles or cookie crumbs would also make for a festive design. You can also leave the cake unfrosted and top with a good dose of powdered sugar for a simpler cake.

Crazy Cake Recipe

Vegan butter for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 T white balsamic vinegar or distilled white vinegar
5 T hazelnut oil (or oil of choice)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup strong coffee, cooled

Preheat oven to 325 with the rack in the center. Grease a square glass baking dish with vegan butter.

Sift the flour cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine cocoa into the flour.

Add the sugar, vinegar, oil and vanilla extract to the flour mix and combine

Add the coffee and stir up until well combined.

Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 30 minutes and test with a toothpick for doneness. There should be dry crumbs when it’s done. My cake was still gooey in the middle and took 40 minutes to fully bake.

Let cool completely in pan before frosting. Once cooled frost the cake or cover with plastic wrap until ready to frost. Can sit overnight on the counter.

Vegan Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Makes enough for a thick coat of frosting on this cake
You can use less and refrigerate leftover frosting for another use

4 oz vegan butter
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp fine sea salt
3 T full fat/extra creamy oat milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Bring butter to very soft room temperature.

Stir vanilla into the oat milk, set aside and bring oat milk to room temperature

Sift the sugar, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl to eliminate lumps and set aside.

Attach paddle to stand mixer if using.

Cream the very softened butter for a minute.

Add the powdered sugar/cocoa mixture in 3 increments so you don’t get sugar everywhere.

Cream until light and fluffy.

Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl often, as it gets thick.

Add the milk/vanilla mixture and cream until light and fluffy. About a minute.

I found this to be the perfect texture. For a thinner frosting add a bit more milk.

Frost cake immediately.

You can store the cake covered at room temperature for a few days or in the fridge. For longer storage definitely store in the fridge. Freezes well.

This is the perfect cake to bake to celebrate both my hubby’s and my birthdays this month.
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Deborah Brooks
Deborah Brooks
Deborah is currently a documentary film producer. She is also a former certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition coach. The shutdown of business due to Covid-19 and the implication of an animal wet market connection caused her to rethink her high animal protein food lifestyle. She has spent the last year exploring the world of plant based eating for her own health as well as the health of the planet and all of its sentient beings. Her recipes can be found on Instagram. She would love you to follow along on her journey.

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