Vanilla Depression Cake Recipe

Have you ever “needed” to make a cake and found yourself in a bind because you’re missing eggs, butter, and/or milk? If so, this Depression-Era vanilla cake recipe is for you!

All of these ingredients were hard to come by during the Great Depression, so savvy cooks made do with what they had and came up with this delicious cake base.

Maybe it’s inconsistent to make whole wheat tortillas and eat homemade yogurt sweetened with raw honey…and then turn around and make a white cake (with white flour and white sugar.) This recipe won’t win me any healthy mom brownie-points.

Part of a homemaker’s job though is to find the balance of health, taste and cost that works in her kitchen.

Need cake, but don't have eggs, milk, or butter? This Great Depression inspired cake saves the day!

Depression cupcakes with fresh strawberry frosting

Rose turned five last week and requested white cupcakes with strawberry frosting.

I thought I had all the ingredients for birthday cupcakes, but when the time came to make them, I realized the eggs were used up for quiche and we were almost out of butter. Whoops!

There wasn’t time to run to the store. I searched for an egg-free, butter-free white cake recipe, but couldn’t find one.

Then I remembered this chocolate depression cake, named because it uses no eggs, milk, or butter—all of which were hard to come by during the depression.

I tweaked the recipe and this eggless, butterless white cake turned out surprisingly well.

Vanilla Depression Cake Recipe

Makes one 9×9 pan or 12-18 cupcakes


  •  1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond flavoring
  • 6 T oil
  • 1/2 cup yogurt, optional (It really increases the moistness and flavor of the cake! See how to make your own yogurt here. It’s a huge money saver!)


  1. Mix together dry ingredients
  2. Combine wet ingredients and add to dry. Mix well.
  3. Pour into a 9×9 pan (or 12-18 lined muffin tins.)
  4. Bake at 350 for 30 (or around 12-15 minutes for the cupcakes) or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.
  5. Top with icing of your choice, if desired. (I added frozen strawberries to homemade buttercream frosting.)

Need cake, but don't have eggs, milk, or butter? Let this Great-Depression inspired recipe come to the rescue!

Enjoy Vanilla Depression Cake

So there. I’ve completely ruined any delusions you had of me as a super healthy mom. Oh well. My daughter loved the cupcakes!

If you need cake in a hurry and don’t have eggs, milk, or butter, let this vanilla depression cake save the day.

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    • anna says

      Thanks Jill. I guess that’s one small comfort…. besides the fact that they did taste good and my daughter was very happy!

  1. HappyMrsBass@Like A Mustard Seed says

    Anna…this is great! I admit, sometimes I need to make a dessert in a stitch, so it usually end up being not exactly “natural homemaker” approved. But, like Jill said… definitely beats all the yucky, unnecessary extras in a boxed cake.
    I’m bookmarking this for emergency dessert needs! 🙂

  2. says

    Oops! I’ve done that before, too, especially when we make a dinner of scrambled eggs or quiche the night before. Running out of those ingredients is a tricky pickle to be in! 🙂 I will definitely keep this recipe in mind. Thanks for posting it!

  3. says

    Birthday’s only come once a year (of course the more people in the family the more birthdays will happen in the year) so it’s okay. 🙂 They looked delightful.

  4. says

    I enjoy Depression Era recipes. Thanks for posting this one. I am printing it off to try sometime. 🙂

    Around here we subscribe to the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of what we eat needs to be good, healthy, and nutritious (or at least get a good amount of nutrition into my family). The other 20 percent we don’t worry about.

    • anna says

      Hope you like it!

      That’s a great rule to live by! Mostly healthy, but not sweating it too much when you aren’t . 🙂

  5. kat says

    I am going to try this tonight! I am having a sweet toothing that i need to rid of!! and this is what i am going to make bc i am out of butter and Milk!!!

    • anna says

      Hope you liked it! 🙂 It’s definitely richer if you add sour cream, but I think it’s good either way.

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