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Thrifty Cakes

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 14, 2009

In keeping with the “Be Thrifty” admonishment of another post this morning, and because a cooking segment on one of today’s morning news shows demonstrated what they called “Wacky Cake” (my mother called it “Snack Cake” and others call it “War Cake”), I’m posting a dozen variations of an easy, tasty, relatively cheap cake that all our grandmothers knew. These are “thrifty” cakes because they need no frosting; call for no butter, milk, or eggs; and you almost certainly have all the ingredients for almost all the varieties in your cupboard right now (some won’t have maraschino cherries and probably not pumpkin unless you’re looking for a way to use leftovers during holiday pie-baking season, but there are versions here that don’t call for even that level of “exotic” ingredient).

These cakes are easy enough for small children to make, and are fast enough that you can put one in the oven as soon as you get up and have it baked in time to pack in sack lunches.

The only important note is that these cakes are leavened by the action of baking soda and vinegar. Mix them in the baking pan with a fork, not with beaters in a bowl; have your oven pre-heated; and mix all ingredients but vinegar first. Then stir in the vinegar as quickly as possible and put immediately into the hot oven.

All these cakes bake at 350 degrees, in an 8×8 square pan, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Applesauce

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1-1/4 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 cup applesauce

Brown Sugar Nut

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar

Chocolate

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Chocolate Chip

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Chocolate Cherry

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup chopped unblanched almonds
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4-oz. jar maraschino cherries
1 cup cherry liquid/water mixture
1 tsp. vinegar

Chocolate Mint

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. mint extract

Chocolate Spice

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup cocoa
1-1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Double Chocolate

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Maple Nut

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. maple extract

Pumpkin

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup pumpkin
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1 tblsp. molasses

Oatmeal Molasses

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. allspice
3/4 cup oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
2 tblsp. molasses

Spice-Walnut

1-2/3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1-1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar



13 Comments »

  1. My mother used to make the chocolate version of the “Wacky Cake”, but she did frost it. It wasn’t till I became an adult that I learned how this had grown out of the restrictions imposed by rationing during WW II. I made it once myself here a few years ago. It actually makes a very moist chocolate cake. And it can be eaten without frosting, which made it a handy dessert to stick in your lunch sack.

    Comment by kevinf — April 14, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

  2. Exactly. I made a chocolate-cherry cake this morning, and it’s so fudgy you’d never believe it didn’t have melted chocolate in it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 14, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  3. This reminds me of something the LDS wards in Hamburg and Berlin (and maybe other places) did during WWII.

    Even though people had very little, they would bring a few tablespoons of flour or sugar to church each Sunday. The RS president would collect the ingredients, and when a child in the ward had a birthday, they had enough to make a birthday cake.

    Comment by Mark Brown — April 14, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

  4. I hadn’t heard that, Mark. What a great spirit of cooperation and love.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 14, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  5. oh my stars, i’m heading to the kitchen. bye!

    Comment by ellen — April 14, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  6. Ardis, you can read about it here:

    http://openlaunch.com/browse.php?id=2508079

    (fourth paragraph down the page.)

    When I was there, it was my priviledge to know some of those people. They were amazing.

    Comment by Mark Brown — April 14, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

  7. Ooh, these look easy AND delicious. Perfect.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — April 14, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

  8. The vinegar/baking soda combo is interesting to me. Was tartaric acid (what is combined with soda to make baking powder) restricted during the war?

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 14, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

  9. “Loeffelspende.” That’s a word and a concept I need to remember.

    Ben, CUB SCOUTS can make these cakes … and ellen will tell you how good they are when she gets back from the kitchen.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 14, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

  10. J., I’ve never heard of such a restriction. I know that baking powder biscuits and pancakes were staples in my grandmother’s house during the war, so even if prices went up the product was still available.

    Dunno why the cakes are made with soda/vinegar rather than powder. Like my fourth grade teacher used to tell me when she didn’t know any better, “they just ARE.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 14, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  11. My Cub Scout at home needs to do some cooking, so we’ll try these out. Thanks…

    Comment by queuno — April 14, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  12. Did you see on my blog this week that I used one of these recipes? Yum.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — April 15, 2010 @ 5:01 am

  13. Your cake was certainly richer, prettier and fancier than anything anticipated by this recipe! Now I want some cake …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 15, 2010 @ 7:37 am

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