Serves 8-10, or 10-12 as a layer cake

Wacky Cake, with its host of pseudonyms—Cockeyed Cake, Crazy Cake, Three-Hole Cake, War Cake—is an invention of the 1940s, when war rationing limited the use of butter, eggs and milk. That’s a good thing for today’s health-conscious cooks, who long for an old-fashioned dessert but want to avoid cholesterol and animal products.

You would never know that this moist, chocolaty cake doesn’t include the traditional ingredients that give most baked goods their lift and crumb. In this case the lift comes from the unexpected combination of a counter-intuitive ingredient, vinegar, and baking soda—the momentary fizz that occurs when they combust in the pan has a lasting effect in the oven. This is an especially welcome discovery for modern cooks who eschew eggs but still want to create a believable cake that doesn’t compromise health or values for taste and texture.

The novelty of the name and its no-frills preparation make this an ideal baking project to enjoy with kids. The “wacky”-style monikers may stem from that ingredient out of left field—vinegar. It’s also a little wacky to mix everything right in the pan you are baking in. You’ve heard of one-pot meals—this is a one-pan dessert.

When the recipe is doubled in a round pan it makes a springy, old-fashioned, chocolate layer cake. Topped with the pale pink Strawberry Icing—with, perhaps a ripe jewel of a glistening strawberry decorating the center—for a moment it becomes something like a time machine, transporting everyone around the table back to an era when sweet confections were routinely baked from scratch.


  • Although it is not a necessity, if you want to sift the dry ingredients and don’t own a sifter a fine, wire mesh sieve will suffice. You would be surprised what you find at the bottom after the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda have passed through—you might not want to eat it!
  • Do not add water until oven is hot and you are ready to bake—the chemical reaction that produces the bubbles will not last long.
  • Recipe may be doubled for a 9 x 13-inch sheet cake or two 9-inch round pans to make a layer cake.

Non-hydrogenated margarine for greasing the pan (or a schmear of oil)

1 ½ C. all-purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour, or a combo

¾ C. sugar

¼ C. unsweetened cocoa powder (or 3 T.)

¾ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1/3 C. (5 T.) vegetable or canola oil

1 T. white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 C. water (substitute ¼ C. water with strong leftover coffee)

Optional: ½ C. chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, or fresh cherries, halved

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting or Strawberry Icing

Variation: Top with whipped cream and blueberries or sliced strawberries

Directions: Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees

  1. Grease an 8-inch-square or 9-inch round baking pan generously with margarine.
  2. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl and pour into prepared pan. Make one large and two small craters in the dry ingredients. Add the oil to the large crater and the vanilla and vinegar separately to the small craters.
  3. Pour the water into the pan and mix until all the lumps are broken up (a few streaks of flour might remain).
  4. Immediately place pan in hot oven. Bake until springy to touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
  5. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then run a knife around the rim to loosen from pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Dust with confectioners’ sugar or frost with your favorite icing. May be stored loosely covered at room temperature up to three days.

Strawberry Icing

Ices 2-3 layers

4 T. non-hydrogenated vegan margarine, softened

2 C. confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)

2 T. fruit jelly or jam (raspberry or strawberry work well), or thawed frozen strawberries

1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-2 T. soymilk


  1. Using an electric hand mixer beat the margarine in a medium-size mixing bowl with the jam until smooth.
  2. Beat in the sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and beat the mixture until very soft and smooth.
  4. Dribble in enough soymilk to thin to desired consistency for easy spreading and beat one more time.


  • Icing the cake while it is still warm (not hot) will make it easier to spread the frosting. Allow the cake to cool completely before cutting.
  • Extra icing freezes perfectly, which makes your next cake go very quickly indeed!


  • For chocolate icing, substitute 2 T. sugar with cocoa and omit jam
  • Use coconut liqueur or fruit schnapps instead of vanilla extract.
  • Thin with water instead of soy milk.