The World’s Easiest Chocolate Cake

This recipe would also work beautifully in cupcake form. Just because a recipe is ridiculously simple, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious and it doesn’t mean you can’t make it look beautiful.
By Marissa Sertich

When I was about 10 years old my grandma gave me a cookbook – “The I Hate to Cook book,” and ironically, it is the book I used as I learned to love to cook. The book celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010 and although I’m not sure what edition I have, there is a guest list tucked inside from my grandparents’ first house that dates back to 1952.

The author, Peg Bracken, begins the book by equating cooking to childbearing and paying taxes – something that should be done as quickly as possible. Although many of the recipes are outdated with processed cheeses and canned soups, the narration is wildly entertaining and it is a fascinating bit of historic counter-culture of the 50’s.

I’m a huge fan of her chocolate cake, which she calls “Cockeyed Cake,” as well as its introduction. She tries it at a friend’s house and gets the recipe. “So, I tried it, and, oddly enough, mine, too, was dark, rich, moist and chocolaty. My own timing was five and a half minutes, but that includes hunting for the vinegar.”

Bracken is not kidding. The cake literally takes 5 minutes and it is delicious. After culinary school and working at several bakeries and restaurants, I have a binder full of chocolate cake recipes, but this is still one of my favorites. With the cake already baking in the oven after just 5 minutes, I have more time to make other components of the dessert, whether its candied oranges, chocolate whipped cream, or whatever else. This recipe would also work beautifully in cupcake form. Just because a recipe is ridiculously simple, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious and it doesn’t mean you can’t make it look beautiful.

In the end, even when I’ve plated my chocolate cake in a way that counters all of Bracken’s no-fuss philosophy, I still like to imagine her snarly commentary about those “who want to fold our big dish-water hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder come the end of a long day.”  Peg Bracken, I make this dessert in your memory. Cheers.

The World’s Easiest Chocolate Cake

5.0 from 4 reviews
The World’s Easiest Chocolate Cake
 
Prep Time
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I loved this recipe when I was 10 because it was fool-proof and delicious. I love this recipe now because it is delicious, takes 5 minutes and has some history.
Author:
Recipe Type: Dessert
Serves: 10
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 5 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c water
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F
  2. Prepare your pan with pan spray, or line your cupcake molds.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and soda.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, water, vinegar and vanilla
  5. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until it is completely incorporated and smooth
  6. Pour the final mixture into your prepared pan and bake until the cake springs back to touch.

Marissa Sertich

Marissa Sertich Velie is a New York based pastry chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. She passionately documents her adventures of baking and eating her way through the fascinating (and sometimes nutty) underbelly of the American pie. Velie has a Master's degree in Food Studies from NYU.

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14 Comments
  1. That is my go-to chocolate cake, too! Originally Wacky Cake or 3-Hole Cake. I do it the same as you. My Grandkids can make it and they are 3 and 5..of course I supervise. You can add nuts, baking chips, coffee (I always add a bit of coffee), whatever your heart desires. It makes the best Chocolate Date Cake in the universe. I bake that one in a loaf pan.

    I have noticed for many years that most cakes taste better if they have been frozen and then thawed. This cake especially; I do it all the time.

  2. I actually love cooking but what I don’t get about this recipe is why you should add vinegar whAt if it’s sour

  3. Great recipe! I changed out the water for coffee and added chocolate chips – absolutely what I was looking for. Thanks!

  4. My mom had the I Hate to Cook Book when I was growing up! I made this cake as a child, my first from scratch! I just looked it up for my step daughter and was happy to find it here. Her first cake from scratch is now in the oven!

  5. This is still the best chocolate cake in my he world. And it’s also an amazing chemistry experiment. My father, a chemist and cook, taught me about the oxidizing reaction between the vinegar and baking soda AND how to make a chocolate cake that makes all the other chocolate cakes jealous. About to make a Black Forest birthday cake with this recipe.

  6. A guy I was dating, and ultimately married 30 years ago, had this recipe book. This cake is very popular with my lactose intolerant friends so I’m always commissioned to make it for them for parties.
    Best book I had read in years.

  7. I would not recommend using this recipe to make a white cake. The cocoa powder has a big impact on the final texture and structure of the cake.

  8. I’ve also been making this cake for years. Only changes I made were doubling the amount of cocoa to 4 tblsp to make it fudgyer and adding some chopped nuts. Sometimes I double the recipe to make 2 layers. I mix it up in a bowl rather than directly in the pan because I line the baking pan with parchment paper which makes mixing difficult. I don’t think they had parchment in Peg Brackens day. It’s a perfect cake. I’ve considered leaving out the cocoa and trying it as a vanilla cake. Bet it would work

  9. I too love this cake. And it’s vegan! Not on purpose you understand, but vegan it turns out to be. Some of my daughters are vegan and I make this as cupcakes for her birthday (amongst other events of course) and the kids gobble them all up. You can melt and drizzle some dark chocolate on them or use a stencil (we have snowflakes for today) and make a fun powdered sugar design on the top. It has a moist and sophisticated taste… you can rightly say you made it from scratch, and it’s delicious. Need to watch them as cupcakes as all of a sudden they’re done. Start the spring back test at about 15 minutes. The book is worth a proper reading just for the stories and social history. Enjoy!

  10. OMG! I practically have this book memorized because it’s so funny. I remember her instructions for waiting for meat to marinate for 10 minutes were to “Light a cigarette and stare sullenly into the sink.” My tattered copy is from 1966, and this is my all time favorite recipe. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  11. I am in Nairobi Kenya and my daughter is allergic to eggs and is lactose intolerant…but loves chocolate cake… She just gobbled up this chocolate cake with no fear of repercussions. Wish I could get the recipe book.

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