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Thursday, April 30, 2020

No Egg, No Milk, No Butter Chocolate Cake

This is another wartime recipe that would have been baked to add cheer to a family meal using the very basic of ingredients. 

I've substituted vegetable oil for the recipe's original recommendation for Oleo. Oleo required fewer ration points than butter, so was often the preferred solid fat for families. Oleo was a white solid fat, like Crisco, that came with a small capsule of yellow coloring that would be kneaded into the white fat to make it resemble butter. A little while ago, an elderly friend of mine from church recounted her impressions of Oleo. 

"Oleo was ghastly. It was supposed to taste like butter. But for a girl who spent her early summers on grandpa's farm, I knew butter. And this was not anything like creamy, sweet butter. It was greasy and tasteless. It was my job to mix in the yellow color. I was 8 at the time and this job was often relegated to children. I hated the feel of the Oleo on my hands. Yes! I mixed it with my bare hands."

In my rendition of the cake, with using oil instead of margarine (Oleo), the mixing process is also simplified, as I don't need to use a mixer. 

Sugar was rationed during WWII, limiting each household member to 1/2 pound, which is about 1 measuring cup. Cake recipes that might have previously suggested more sugar were adjusted to spare as much of the family's sugar ration as possible.

Many kitchens found themselves lacking an ingredient or two at any given time, so just made do with substitutions as needed. Vanilla was sometimes in short supply during WWII. If vanilla extract was not available, a baker might use a teaspoon of bourbon, strong coffee, or simply leave it out. Synthetic vanilla flavoring grew in popularity and found its way into wartime cupboards.

Outside of wartime, baking chocolate was the preferred product for flavoring chocolate baked goods. However, during the war, chocolate rations were thought of as essential for soldiers, both to boost morale and to provide a portable energy food. As a result, baking chocolate was difficult for a home-baker to source, and cocoa powder combined with a little fat became a ready substitute.

Enjoy this super easy and very frugal chocolate cake!

1  2/3 cup flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (known to us as baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or bourbon, maple syrup, or strong coffee)

Use an ungreased 8 or 9-inch round layer cake pan or square 8 X 8-inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the baking pan, mix the dry ingredients together, whisking to break up lumps with either a fork or wire whisk. Add liquid ingredients and mix in well. Bake for 33 to 40 minutes, until the center springs back when depressed with the press of a finger.

A dark chocolate glaze can be made with a couple of spoonfuls of cocoa powder, and about 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar, pinch of salt, and water to thin and blend. Heat this over Medium on the stove or in the microwave, stirring well to combine. The glaze should be the consistency of a thick syrup.

A glaze would have been more economical of rationed supplies (no butter or milk and less sugar overall) than a frosting and was often preferred for that reason. But also, cakes were often served simply, unadorned with icing, serving slices alongside a thin custard, a dish of fruit sauce, or just plain.


  1. I have heard the same comments about oleo. By the time I had oleo, it came in regular sticks like it does today and I liked it. In fact, preferred it to butter. Growing up we had real butter for my father who grew up on a farm and liked the taste of butter over oleo like your friend, and oleo for the rest of us.

    1. I think my taste for butter vs. margarine are mostly what I'm used to. As we've switched between the two, I find I like what I'm currently used to. When we'd been using only margarine, I thought the taste of butter verged on rancid. Yet, after using only butter for a while, margarine just tastes salty.

      The story behind Oleo and the color capsules is an interesting one. It has to do with dairy farmers trying to keep Oleo out of the marketplace. Google it and read for yourself.


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