Food & Drink

The comfort of cake During WWII rationing was the norm, these cakes were a rare treat

Sweet & Spicy | Lisa Williams

Lisa Williams

Sometimes called Crazy Cake or Impossible Cake, this chocolate Wacky Cake is mixed in its own baking pan.
Lisa Williams Sometimes called Crazy Cake or Impossible Cake, this chocolate Wacky Cake is mixed in its own baking pan. The recipe does not contain eggs, butter or dairy, making it perfect for vegans or those allergic to dairy.

The other evening, I sent my husband to the grocery store. He telephoned from the dairy aisle to say the type of milk I wanted was not to be found.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I know it’s there.” And as he started naming the types and brands of milks he saw, all I could think about was how excessive it seemed to be. The milk I wanted was indeed there, but it was a few feet further down the aisle.

We enjoy so much abundance and variety that shelf space is measured in feet. Foods in season and out are found but a short drive away. A highly complex supply network ensures our whims and desires are accessible year round.

This bounty was on my mind as I stumbled upon a World War II era recipe from the British National Trust. Our grocery store shelves are such a sharp contrast to the rationing and scarcity that people willingly complied with more than 75 years ago.

Britain began rationing bacon, butter and sugar in January 1940. Later came tea, jam, cheese, eggs, milk and other items. Each person was allowed one ounce of cheese and one egg per week.

Britain later asked the United States to conserve food supplies to help British troops. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the United States began its own food rationing and sugar came first. The allotment was eight ounces per person per week, which was half the normal weekly consumption. (This really made me think about my own sugar consumption? Do I eat one pound of sugar per week?)

With Memorial Day upon us — as well as the 75th anniversary of D Day — I searched for and baked a few cakes from this extraordinary time. The comfort of cake brings a sense of normalcy and hope in perilous times.


The very idea of these recipes is such a stark contrast to the superlative Insta-culture of our day. The ingredients are not particularly precious or beautiful or hard to find. These cakes, though, are creative, resourceful and tasty.


Wartime Carrot Cake

In World War II, sugar in Britain was rationed to 8 ounces per person. Carrots, which contain plenty of natural sugar, were used to sweeten cakes and cookies, thereby requiring less granulated sugar. I’ve kept the British measurements and put U.S. equivalents in parentheses.

Please grate your own carrots for this recipe — the pre-shredded kind at the grocery store are too coarse for baking. Use the smaller holes on a hand grater or food processor to get the right texture. This not-too-sweet cake is like a cross between soda bread and scones. Notice you can use water or milk for the liquid. Made with milk, the cake is a little more tender. Both versions are very good slathered with a little salted butter.

230 g self-rising flour (2 cups)

85 g margarine or cooking fat (6 T butter, softened)

85 g sugar (scant 1/2 up)

115 g finely grated carrot (1 1/3 cup)

55 g sultanas (heaping 1/3 cup golden raisins)

A little milk or water to form a sticky dough (1/4 to 1/2 cup)

1 reconstituted dried egg or 1 fresh egg (1 fresh egg)

Preheat oven to 355 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper, buttering the paper also. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Rub in the softened butter. Add sugar, carrot and raisins and mix well. Make a well in the mixture and drop in the egg and water or milk. Mix until everything is incorporated. The mixture will be sticky. Scoop this into baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cook for 10 minutes. Then turn out onto a wire baking rack.

Source: Adapted from the British National Trust

Wacky Chocolate Cake

This cake originated in the 1940s and is also known as Crazy Cake and Impossible Cake because, remarkably, there are no eggs, milk or butter and yet it’s perfectly tender and delicious. What’s more, the ingredients are mixed right in the baking pan. Somewhere in the basement is a set of recipe cards from when I was first living on my own after college. I remember copying this recipe, but cannot recall who handed it down to me. For anyone allergic to eggs or dairy, this is the perfect chocolate cake. And who doesn’t like to prevent a dirty dish or two?

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

6 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup water

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.

Sift flour, cocoa, soda and salt into the baking pan. Then add the sugar. With a spoon, create three holes in the dry ingredients. Pour vanilla in one hole, vinegar in another and oil in the lsat hole.

Next, pour the water over the ingredients. Stir with a table fork and reach into the corners until everything is incorporated and the batter looks smooth.


Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a tester in the center comes out dry. Remove from oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once the cake is cooled, you can add frosting of your choice, or simply dust with powdered sugar. Cut and serve from the pan.

Source: Adapted from various sources

War Cake

Raisins, sugar and spices — this War Cake, sometimes known as “Boiled Rain Cake” is greater than the sum of its parts. I found many recipes on the Internet, all with slight variances in ingredient proportions and all with no eggs or milk. One source said this cake was baked in Canada and shipped to troops in World War I. Another source claimed it goes as far back as the U.S. Civil War. Elsewhere I read of its popularity in Canada’s Maritime provinces, joined by a chunk of Cheddar and a cup of tea. Whatever its origins, this cake doesn’t taste like frugal. It won’t spoil as fast as recipes with eggs and milk and therefore I think it’d be ideal for a camping trip, picnic or a daylong hike.

2 cups raisins

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar (I used half white sugar, half dark brown)

8 ounces butter or shortening

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Put raisins and water in a large saucepan and bring to boil. Boil for 10 minutes and remove from heat. Add butter and sugar and stir until melted. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Sift flour, salt, spices, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Add cooled raisin and sugar mixture. Stir until incorporated. Pour into pan and bake for one hour. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Cool completely before slicing.

Source: Adapted from various sources on the Internet

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