Great Depression Water Cake

Great Depression Water Cake

It’s interesting to see how generations past used to handle scarcity. Many families during the Great Depression had to cut back on supplies and were limited not only by income but by what was in store. Despite this, the resourcefulness of the Greatest Generation’s cooks meant that most families still had enough to eat and even had a yummy dessert now and again. There’s no question that folks stretched what they had, but the cakes and desserts of the era are quite appetizing nonetheless.

Water cake gets its name from the fact that water is used instead of milk or buttermilk, along with oil, vinegar, and baking soda to give the batter both moisture and leavening.

If you don’t have fresh milk then this is a great recipe to follow to create a yummy cake that satisfies the call for something sweet after dinner.

Great Depression Water Cake

The basic version of this recipe results in a luscious vanilla cake, but you can also add cocoa for a chocolate cake instead.

This cake can be plainly topped with powdered sugar for simple finish. Or you can use this delicious vanilla buttercream frosting recipe.

Great Depression Water Cake frosting

If you’re adding the cocoa to the cake batter then you might try this chocolate frosting recipe which uses cream cheese for a decadent flavor.

Great Depression Water Cake

For this recipe we made the vanilla version, garnished with whipped cream and fresh fruit, and it turned out so tasty. However, both ways of making this cake are wonderful.

If you’re looking for a fun twist on dessert, then look no further than this Great Depression Water Cake recipe.

Great Depression Water Cake

Great Depression Water Cake

50 minutes to prepare / serves 10-12


  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons cocoa powder [optional]
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar for garnish [optional]


  1. Preheat oven to 375˚. Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, and baking soda in large bowl.
  3. Add water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. If making chocolate version add cocoa during this step. Mix until blended, but do not overmix.
  4. Pour batter between the 2 greased cake pans.
  5. Bake on a middle rack for 35 minutes or until knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool before adding frosting or dusting cakes generously with powdered sugar.

Recipe adapted from the Family Cookbook Project.

Whizzco for LPE