You can have this cake, warm and fragrant, in about 30 minutes and for about $1.33, assuming you own a microwave and have the ingredients on hand. Not bad! I made this humble cake for May’s We Should Cocoa challenge which is hosted by Choclette of the Chocolate Log Blog. Each month we are challenged to make something with chocolate that meets the theme set for that month. For this month’s challenge, Choclette wanted to spotlight the plight of many people around the world who live in extreme poverty and challenged us to see if we could make a chocolate cake for just £1 (or $1.70 by today’s exchange rate).
When the challenge was announced, I immediately thought of my favorite quick chocolate snack cake, the Crazy Cake (or Wacky Cake, Dump Cake, Vinegar and Oil Cake, Depression Cake) from 365 Great Chocolate Desserts by Nathalie Houghton. It was apparently popular during the depression and contains no eggs, butter or dairy. This particular version of the cake is made in the microwave, making it pretty much instant gratification for a chocolate cake craving, unexpected visitors or simply not wanting to turn on the oven in the summer. As a bonus, the cake is mixed up entirely in the baking dish so there aren’t many dishes to clean either.
The first step was determining if the cake deserved it’s frugal reputation. I priced out the ingredients and found that if I use my homemade vanilla extract that the cake came in at $1.33/£.78. If I had used store-bought vanilla extract, it would have been unaffordable as the 2 tsp. of vanilla would have cost $1.03! I wasn’t able to figure out how much 1 cup of water out of my tap costs as we do not pay our water bill separately, but I figure it’s small enough that I didn’t count it here.
Here’s how the cost breaks down:
|Amount||Ingredient||Cost in Recipe|
|1 1/2 Cup||all-purpose flour||$0.21|
|1 Cup||granulated white sugar||$0.26|
|3 Tbsp.||unsweetened cocoa powder||$0.11|
|1 tsp.||baking powder||$0.03|
|1/2 tsp.||table salt||$0.01|
|1/3 Cup||vegetable oil||$0.35|
|2 tsp.||cider vinegar||$0.04|
|2 tsp.||homemade vanilla extract||$0.28|
|1/4 tsp.||instant espresso powder||$0.01|
|2 Tbsp.||powdered sugar for dusting||$0.03|
There’s even some wiggle room here if you wanted to splurge and try to make a cocoa powder glaze for the top.
To make the cake, the dry ingredients are combined in a baking dish. Three holes are made into which the vinegar, vanilla and oil are poured. The water, mixed with espresso powder, is poured over the top of it all. The ingredients are mixed well in the baking pan and then the pan is cooked in the microwave at 50% powder for 4 minutes (rotating halfway if your microwave doesn’t have a turntable.
The cake is then cooked for another 2 – 4 minutes, checking regularly after 2 minutes until it looks fully baked and risen. It’s important to watch carefully or you can overcook it which results in a dry cake.
Let it cool as long as you can stand it, then dust with powdered sugar and serve! If you’re feeling like splurging, this cake is also good with melted chocolate on top, peanut butter frosting or a little warmed Nutella.
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
- 1 tsp baking soda
- scant ½ tsp salt
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp cider vinegar
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup cold water
- ¼ tsp espresso powder (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar for dusting
- If you're using the espresso powder, place it in a measuring cup with 1 tbsp hot water to let it dissolve. In an ungreased 8 x 8 inch microwave-safe glass baking dish, mix together flour, white sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Make 3 holes (1 large, 1 med, 1 sm) in the mixture. Add oil to the large hole, vinegar to the medium hole, and 2 tsp vanilla to the small hole. Add cold water to the espresso mixture to make 1 cup. Pour water and espresso mixture over all. Stir well with a fork or whisk to blend. Scrape down the sides and corners of the dish with a rubber spatula.
- Cook in a microwave oven on 50% power for 4 minutes, turning dish twice during cooking time. Then cook on full power about 2 to 4 minutes, or until done (check frequently). Do not overcook or the cake will be dry (see notes).
- Let the cake cool entirely and dust with powdered sugar or frost with your favorite frosting. If desired, chopped chocolate may also be sprinkled on the cake right out of the microwave and allowed to melt for a few minutes before spreading it.
The cake may also be baked in a 350F/176C oven for about 25 minutes.