Heirloom Recipes

A Slightly Wonky, Depression-Era Cake That's Stood the Test of Time

October 18, 2016

Tra-la-la, it's The Fall Cookbook Cake Parade: a new cake from a new cookbook every single day. Are your costumes cake pans ready?

Today: An oddball cake from 1930s America (and The Short Stack Cookbook).

Vintage cakes are regularly a little strange by modern standards: Rations on things like eggs, butter, and coffee forced bakers to be creative, and resulted in cake recipes full of things like tomato soup, or made tender with vinegar, or full of mayonnaise. And in many cases, the "substitute" recipe, the one intended for filling the void during hard times, stuck—like this one, a Depression-era cake from The Short Stack Cookbook by Nick Fauchald, Kaitlyn Goalen, and the contributors of Short Stack Editions.

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You'll notice that it has no eggs, only 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of butter (in the icing only), and chicory instead of coffee. As the recipe's headnote says:

"Cooks got creative to make ersatz versions of their favorite dishes. Store-bought mayonnaise suddenly had newfound value in baking as a substitute for eggs. Although we no longer need to use mayonnaise as a placeholder, this cake is an instance in which the understudy outperforms the lead. Not only does mayonnaise add the richness and leavening, but the oil in its makeup also acts as the fat that brings the batter together. Chicory is another nod to the days of rationing; it was used as a substitute for coffee, except in New Orleans where, in many kitchens, it’s still preferred over coffee."

For more recipes like this one, check out The Short Stack Cookbook.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • lissa rice
    lissa rice
  • Brownie Hamlyn
    Brownie Hamlyn
  • Sue Casabella
    Sue Casabella
  • Maggie
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


lissa R. October 24, 2016
This looks great although I'm pretty sure bittersweet chocolate wasn't around in the 30's. It was either cocoa powder or unsweetened baking chocolate.
Brownie H. October 18, 2016
May I substitute regular ground coffee for the chicory?

Sue C. October 23, 2016
Hi Brownie - I am not an expert, but my Mom used to make this cake (and it is amazing!). I would use instant coffee in place of the chicory. Or, you could use instant espresso, which would be my choice.
Maggie October 23, 2016
In the interest of keeping this in the spirit of Depression-era cooking and using what I already have in the house, I think I'll be trying this with the instant coffee I keep around for the rare times I want iced coffee rather than sourcing ground chicory online.