Wacky Cake


This old-school chocolate cake is still impressing everyone today.

Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 45 mins

Wacky Cake, also known as crazy cake, war cake, depression cake, and three-hole cake, is a simple chocolate cake recipe that has been used in kitchens for nearly a century. This cake was created when many common ingredients were hard to acquire, or food items were being rationed, so the recipe doesn't include any butter, eggs, or milk. Even though this cake originated during challenging times, the recipe itself couldn't be easier to create.

Wacky Cake slices on blue plates
Will Dickey; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee

What Makes a Wacky Cake 'Wacky'?

Wacky cake is considered wacky not only because the recipe lacks any dairy or eggs but also because all the ingredients for this cake are mixed directly in the pan it is baked in. This recipe goes against the most popular methods for mixing cake batters, especially since there is no bowl or whisk necessary. Plus, it creating wells for the dry ingredients and filling them with the wet ingredients before mixing adds another level of wacky.

What Are the Ingredients for a Wacky Cake?

The ingredients for a Wacky Cake include everyday kitchen staples that you likely already have in your home; these ingredients include all-purpose flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract.

There is a little wiggle room for substitutions if needed. Some possible options are using gluten-free flour instead of all-purpose flour, vegetable oil or coconut oil instead of canola oil, cold coffee instead of water, or apple cider vinegar instead of regular white vinegar.

Just be sure to always include baking soda and vinegar in the recipe since the reaction of these ingredients helps give the cake its rise while baking and helps aid in its fluffy texture.

Southern Living Wacky Cake ingredients

Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

How Do You Make a Wacky Cake?

You're going to be surprised how easy this cake recipe is. And you're not going to believe how well it works. Here's how to make a Wacky Cake:

Step 1. Sift dry ingredients

After preheating your oven to 350°F, sift the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt) into an ungreased 8- by 8-inch baking pan.

Step 2. Create wells

Create three wells (one large and two smaller sizes) in the dry ingredients. This can be easily done with a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup. Pour the oil into the large hole. Then add the vanilla extract and the vinegar into the other two smaller ones.

Step 3. Add water

Add one cup of water over the entire mixture, and stir until it is well combined.

Step 4. Bake

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack until ready to serve. Make the Wacky Cake Frosting after the cake has cooled slightly.

What Are the Best Ways to Serve and Store a Wacky Cake?

A Wacky Cake can be served in various ways and is up to your preference. It can be served cold, at room temperature, or warm. The cake can also be ready to eat as is without any additions. Or opt to serve it dusted with powdered sugar or topped with a delicious frosting. For example, the recipe below is paired with a decadent, fudgy frosting and topped with chopped, toasted pecans.

If you are making this cake in advance, it can be kept at room temperature and covered for up to three days, but it also freezes well and can be stored in an airtight container for up to three months in your freezer.

Helpful Tips and Insights

Without any alterations, the cake is a wonderful vegan option. With minor substitutions to some ingredients, this cake can be adapted to be a perfect option for family members and guests with specific dietary restrictions or allergies.

If you are looking for variations to this cake recipe, consider mixing ½ cup of chocolate chips or chopped nuts into the batter before baking, or replacing the vanilla extract with another flavor, such as almond or orange.

Editorial contributions by Nik Pugmire.


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/3 cup canola oil

  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 cup water

  • Wacky Cake Frosting

  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans


  1. Mix the cake:

    Preheat oven to 350°F.

    Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into an ungreased 8- x 8-inch baking pan; spread mixture evenly in pan.

    Southern Living Wacky Cake sifting the ingredients together into the pan

    Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

    Make 1 large well and 2 small wells in mixture in pan.

    Southern Living Wacky Cake wells made in the dry ingredients in the pan

    Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

    Carefully pour oil into the large well, vinegar into 1 small well, and vanilla into remaining small well.

    Southern Living Wacky Cake wells filled with oil, vinegar, and vanilla

    Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

    Pour 1 cup water evenly over entire mixture in pan.

    Southern Living Wacky Cake pouring the water into the pan

    Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

    Stir everything together using a fork until combined.

    Southern Living Wacky Cake stirring the ingredients together with a fork

    Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

  2. Bake the cake:

    Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack.

    Southern Living Wacky Cake after baking

    Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

  3. Finish the cake:

    Pour Wacky Cake Frosting over warm cake. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Cool completely, about 2 hours.

    Southern Living Wacky Cake on blue plates to serve with glasses of milk

    Will Dickey; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Julia Bayless

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you freeze Wacky Cake?

    To freeze Wacky Cake, let the unfrosted cake cool completely in the pan. Remove from the pan, then wrap the cooled cake in plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Place inside a ziplock freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 1 month.

  • Why is it called wacky cake?

    This simple chocolate cake is 'wacky' because it's mixed in the pan (instead of a bowl) and contains no eggs or milk, two ingredients that are considered essential to most cakes. Yet, despite these 'wacky' differences, the cake is a delicious dessert.

  • Why does wacky cake work?

    An eggless cake batter relies on the gluten structure of the flour and the lift provided by vinegar and baking soda.

Additional reporting by
Nik Pugmire
Nik Pugmire

Nik Pugmire is a reputable pastry chef, sharing his expertise gained from personal experience working in professional pastry kitchens and bakeries for over 15 years. With formal education, practical skills, and a deep passion for culinary arts, he aims to help share that love and knowledge through his writing.

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