Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

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Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Hey, you! (Yeah, you!) Summer’s coming. Let’s go to the playground! Oh, or maybe the roller rink. Or both. Sorry…this cake makes me feel like I’m about 12 years old again. And I’m loving it. (Slumber party, anyone?)

This is one of the best chocolate cake recipes I have, hands down. It’s also one of the easiest to make.

This cake is made without eggs, milk, or butter, which makes it a take-off on some war-time cake recipes, when certain ingredients were rationed. It gets its poof from the reaction between the vinegar and baking soda.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

This cake doesn’t have a ton of ingredients, but definitely resist the temptation to toss anything additional into the batter. Really. This cake is moist, dense, and super chocolate-y.

The Angry Chef suggested that it would be a great base for those homemade Hostess cupcakes that have been popping up all over the internet.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

In terms of serving, you could frost it (try my Creamy Chocolate Frosting), if you like. But all this cake really needs is a little powdered sugar. Maybe a tall glass of ice cold milk or a nice, hot espresso.

That said, I dare you not to just sit down with the pan and a fork.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake: A note on cocoa powder

Just to clarify, be sure that you use unsweetened cocoa powder for this recipe�not hot chocolate mix that has sugar in it.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake: A note on pan size

This recipe makes a large, 13 x 9 cake.

To make a layer cake, split the batter up between two 8-inch pans. If you do that, cut baking time down to about 28-30 minutes.

Or, for a single, smaller cake, cut the recipe in half and bake for 28-30 minutes in an 8-inch pan.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
2 Tbls. white vinegar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups water
spray oil to grease the pan

Makes one 13-inch x 9-inch cake

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake: Make the cake batter

Lightly spray a 13 x 9 baking pan with oil. Line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper. Press it down so it sticks and set the pan aside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Mix together with a whisk until uniform.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Depending on the brand of cocoa you use, the dry mixture will probably be a really light brown. That’s just fine.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Add the oil to the dry ingredients. (I used regular ole pure olive oil.) Toss in the vinegar and vanilla extract.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Pour in the water.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Mix just until the batter comes together.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

You don’t want to overmix it, or you risk the cake getting a little tough. Just smoosh any big lumps against the side of the bowl to break them up.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake: Bake the cake

Pour the batter into your prepared pan.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Smooth it out so the surface is relatively level. Pop it into your preheated oven and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

When it’s done, the cake should be firm to the touch (when you press on the surface with a finger, the indentation should spring back), and slightly darker brown (but not crispy or hard) on the edges.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Oh, and a toothpick should come out clean when inserted in the middle.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Let the cake cool completely in the pan before cutting and serving.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Keeps well for about 4 days (if it lasts that long), tightly wrapped, on the counter.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse


Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake at The Hungry Mouse

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. Ohh! I have a similar cake recipe to yours! but I do not use olive oil. I feel that this cake is so much better than the regular cakes that have eggs.

    • Yay! It’s funny, you’d think you’d be able to taste the olive oil, but I swear, you can’t! And I totally agree–love this so much more than regular chocolate cake. 😀


  2. My family calls this Wacky Cake, and it’s served at every (EVERY) family get-together that we have. It’s always covered with a difficult to make frosting that sets up like fudge. My mom always made the chocolate version of the frosting, but my aunt (the one who makes the best version) did half chocolate, half brown sugar frosting. Everyone angles to get a middle piece that has both frostings on it!

  3. Perfect timing! Today’s my anniversary, so i’m going to make this for my husband today-i’ve got everything on hand! Thanks, because I really did not want to make a trip to the store today just for cake ingredients.

  4. Hi,

    I made this cake today and it took almost an hour to bake.
    I find it too dense and the centre still look uncooked despite the extended time.
    Taste is ok, not too sweet, I like the recipe that it has no egg and milk, but mine didn’t turn out as good as yours. Too sad…

  5. This is my Mothers, Mothers favorite recipe. We used to have the newspaper clipping first published during WW II. This is the BEST Chocolate Cake Ever!!! Especially in the morning with your first cup of coffee. I make it at least once a month and usually eat the entire thing by myself. I am so happy you are sharing it with everyone!!!

  6. Umm, that cake looks so yummy, especially the top crust!
    and I just love bakers who use epicurean terms such as “smoosh”!!:)

    My friend Olga mentioned your delicious and artistic blog to me. I just launched a business selling spices (A World of Spice. I’m giving away some free samples to food bloggers, and having a contest to see who can come up with the best recipes using the free goodies. I’d love to send you some. If you’re interested, you can send me your address by email or by using the contact page on the website.


  7. I made this cake for Labor Day…it was fantabulous!!! I did use cooled, brewed coffee in place of water, but I usually do that with everything that calls for water and chocolate. I just love The Hungry Mouse – thanks so much for your wonderful instruction.

  8. hi jessie! i love your site! i’ve never been successful in baking and i would really love to try this for my son’s upcoming bday. we waited for 7 years before we had him and now he’s turning 3 years old next month.

    i want to bake him a cake instead of buying in the store but i’m kinda’ hesitant because i’m just using a mini convection oven. in the past, i’ve tried a few recipes but it was either over or underbaked. i’m not sure if its d temperature, the heating direction (up,down or both) and the turbo fan function. i know that using a convection oven lets u cook /bake faster than the conventional type and the temperature settings are different. like when it say, 350 deg., should the equivalent be 180 or 190?. i’ve followed some online conversion sites but still i get the same results either over or underbaked 🙁

    what do u think should i do if i’ll try your recipe? will i be successful even with just a convection oven? so sorry for taking this long. i just really want to learn. baking classes here are expensive and i couldnt get to enroll to one because we have to prioritize our family needs, (we have 2 kids) so i’m just learning online.

    thanks for your time and hope to hear from u! God bless!

    • Hi there!

      Alright. We can figure this out. It just may take a little trial and error.

      So, this cake is really easy to make in a regular oven…I’m not sure about a convection oven, since I don’t have one. Like you said, from what I’ve gathered, it’s a matter of timing and temperature.

      This is a total guess, but try lowering the temperature to 325 degrees and start checking it after 20 minutes. Since I don’t have a convection oven, and you’re not sure how to bake a cake just yet, I think the most helpful thing I can do is tell you what to look for as the cake bakes–and how to tell when it’s done. If you can, turn off as many of the fans as you can (or put them on low), and definitely don’t set it on turbo.

      SO! Make a practice cake first, way before your son’s actual birthday party.

      Mix the batter up, slap it in the pan per my instructions in the post above, and grab a seat by the oven. You’re going to hang out with the cake while it bakes. Be sure to mark down the time you put the cake in the oven, so you can figure out how long it actually took.

      While the cake is in the oven, use your eyes, your nose, and your fingers to figure out how it’s cooking. I’m oversimplifying here, but you’ll see what I’m getting at:

      As the cake starts to bake, the batter will poof up a little. Then it will sort of get solid looking from the outside moving in. The outer edges will start to look like cooked cake (and probably be a little raised), but the center will still be dark and liquidy looking.

      Then, the whole thing will look like it’s cooked, but when you move the pan gently with a potholder, the top of the cake will wiggle and jiggle (so you know it’s still a little liquid, and isn’t cooked through the whole way). At this point, pay attention to the very outer edges. If they’re starting to burn, that’s a sure sign you need to lower the temperature a little next time.

      Then, the cake will start to firm up, so that it doesn’t jiggle any more when you shake the pan. When you press on the top of the cake near the center, however, your finger will leave a little dent that doesn’t spring back. This means it’s still not done, but it’s getting really close.

      Finally, when the cake is fully baked, you’ll be able to press on the surface gently with a finger (near the center) and the cake will spring back. This tells you that the cake is baked. You can also check it with a toothpick test (http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2009/01/22/basic-cooking-how-to-test-a-cake-for-doneness-with-a-toothpick/).

      Give that a try and see how it goes. It will take a little more of your time, but hopefully you’ll learn a little about how your oven bakes. And once you get a handle on that, you’ll be able to adapt other recipes.

      Oh, I did find this thread on Chow about using a convection oven. It seems like it might have some good info for you:

      If your model come with an instruction manual, that’s probably your best guideline.

      Let me know how it goes! Best of luck to you!

      And happy birthday to your son! Thanks so much for reading!


  9. I am really lucky to find this site of yours Jessie… Thanks for sharing now I can bake cake like your recipe for my kids… Thanks a lot… Keep on sharing…

  10. This is similar to “Cockeyed Cake” which is a mix-it-all-up-in-one-pan version from the I Hate to Cook Book (ca 1965). I can’t wait to try this version… this is a great recipe to have around, since you nearly always have all the ingredients on hand and it makes a very moist cake. We keep close to the 60’s era tradition of serving it with a dollup of Cool Whip on top. It’s super easy, super good.

  11. I made this cake for Thanksgiving and it was a hit. Everyone couldn’t believe that this recipe didn’t have egg nor milk.
    Thanks for a easy delicious recipe!!

  12. Been making a cake like this for years..but mine calls for 2 cups hot brewed coffee, instead of the 2 cups of water. Love your pictures. Need to go make a chocolate cake now. It must be someone’s birthday today, right?

  13. I just made this cake as a test run for my sons birthday (he will be one next week and is allergic to dairy). It was fantastic! I followed the recipe exactly and I was surprised how good it was – tastes just like regular chocolate cake. Thanks for sharing the recipe – this will be a family favorite for sure!

  14. This is really helpful Jessie, knowing that cake are really expensive. now I can bake this and for sure my family will love it… thanks for you… godbless…

  15. This is really one of the best chocolate cakes around. I always am afraid it won’t turn out, but it does!!!! You give great instructions with the wonderful pictures. While you are mixing you can see the chemical reaction between the vinegar & baking soda making light colored streaks. Usually I only mix a little bit more after seeing this so I don’t disturb the reaction.and sometimes, especially if I actually make it in the baking pan I will start baking when it’s a bit streaky. It’s never failed yet. Your directions/suggestions for a convection oven were great, even though I don’t have one yet. I’ve checked about 15 sites for this recipe and yours is the most detailed and friendly that I’ve seen. Thank you for continuing a WWII tradition in baking.

  16. […]    Volume sales of block chocolate and chocolate confectionery posted modest growth in 2013, despite the pressures the market faces. The growth was largely fuelled by Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Maltesers. HOWEVER,  10% of over-65s  claim they never eat chocolate. The predicted 9.1% rise in over-55s between 2013 and 2018, to 20.1 million suggests that this is an age group that brand owners should be paying greater attention to in future. Chocolate was never used in baking 1950, as you can see: everything was no bake this and fridge cake that. http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2009/04/22/old-fashioned-chocolate-cake/ […]

  17. I have made this cake so many times after I found it a couple of years ago. Thank you! Everybody loves it!

    I even made cupcakes from it. It makes 48 (!).

  18. Can I ask how fattening this recipe is please if it had no main ingredients like other cakes I’m thinking it might not be too bad :/

  19. I was looking for a recipe that has been used by our family for years but is now misplaced. I’ve emailed several to try and resurrect it for us. It is a rich, dark chocolate cake made with buttermilk and boiling water, it’s very simple and rewarding to make. So if you recognize it, I would be very happy. The ones on the Internet have too much shortening, I’m pretty sure it called for 1 stick of butter or margarine or not enough cocoa powder. In the mean time, I’m going with this recipe, so many recommendations and how often are we found to be without milk and/or eggs, but we shouldn’t be found without CAKE! thanks.