Gluten-Free Chocolate Water Cake using basic pantry ingredients is a cake recipe made without eggs, butter, or milk. Also known as “Great Depression Cake,” this recipe is completely basic but still magically delicious!
BEHOLD! A cake made without butter, eggs, or milk!
Why would we do such a thing?
Well, desperate times call for desperate measures, and for those who are out of stock of eggs, butter, and/or milk (or are vegan, allergic to eggs, or lactose intolerant and don’t cook or bake with them anyway) but are still craving a delicious treat, this cake is YOURS to own.
One of my friends texted me a link to a recipe for water cake, and because I’m both naturally curious and naturally skeptical, I just had to bake it. And so I did. And it is bangarang.
Let’s talk history.
What is Water Cake?:
Don’t let the title, “Water Cake” fool you into thinking this cake is bland or less exciting than, well…cake. The name, water cake, comes from the fact that the majority of the liquid used for making the cake is water (there is some oil as well). There are no eggs, butter, or milk! WILD!
Water Cake was popular during the Great Depression when – well – everything was scarce. It can be made as a vanilla cake or a chocolate cake and is traditionally sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Now that you’re familiar with the concept, here’s what’s going on in this particular post: I took the original recipe for water cake and also made it gluten-free and refined sugar-free for those of us who keep a stock of gluten-free flours and natural sugars. More on this later in the post.
If you have a long standing background with water cake (for instance, if your family has made it throughout the years), feel free to drop me a comment and tell us all about your experience!
The way I see it, this gluten-free chocolate water cake recipe is a great opportunity to bake with kids and to teach them how to create something marvelous out of very little while giving them a little history lesson. Or if you’re like me and you don’t have kids, it’s fun to create something marvelous out of very little while giving yourself a little history lesson. 😉
In addition to the fact that this cake has a marvelous rich history, I love the fact that it is forgiving. You can take the base recipe and tweak it using various sugars and flours. It is forgiving and generates a cake that is nice and fluffy and moist that comes together in a pinch.
What Does Gluten-Free Chocolate Water Cake Taste Like?:
This water cake recipe is fluffy, dense, moist, fudgy, chewy with crisp around the edges and top. To me, it tastes just like regular chocolate cake but is a little less rich in flavor and with a bit chewier of a texture.
For someone who likes her desserts fairly basic, I find it to be a complete delight. A chocolate cake aficionado may have a different opinion, but I think it is pretty amazing, especially given the minimal ingredients.
Ingredients for Chocolate Water Cake:
There are only six basic ingredients needed for this gluten-free water cake recipe (not including water and salt): Flour, water, oil, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, and sea salt. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
Flour: Use all-purpose flour, cake flour, or gluten-free all-purpose flour for this recipe. I have tested it with both all-purpose flour and gluten-free flour and it works marvelously both ways. I have not tested it using a grain-free flour (like almond flour yet), but my guess is it would not work out so well without eggs for leavening.
Water: The bulk of the liquid in this recipe is just straight up water!
Oil: Adds fat to the cake, which helps with moisture, texture and binding. You can use almost any oil. The traditional recipe calls for olive oil, but I have tested it using melted coconut oil and avocado oil and both turn out great with marvelous flavor.
Cocoa Powder or Raw Cacao Powder: This is where the rich chocolatey goodness comes into play! You only need ⅓ cup of cocoa powder for a delicious chocolate cake. I have tested the recipe using both cocoa powder and raw cacao powder. The raw cacao powder is my personal preference. Note: If you don’t have cocoa powder on hand, you can skip it and make a vanilla version of this cake.
Sugar: Traditional water cake calls for granulated cane sugar, but you can use any type of dry sugar. I have tested the recipe using dark brown sugar and coconut sugar, and both versions are marvelous. For a low-carb version, use your favorite sugar-free granulated sweetener.
Baking Powder: The only leavening agent used in this recipe is baking powder. I haven’t tested the recipe without it, but I’m willing to bet it won’t work out so well without the baking powder. Don’t skip it!
One of the traditional ways of making water cake is using baking soda and vinegar for leavening. I haven’t tried this method, but if you don’t have baking powder, use 2 teaspoons of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of vinegar for leavening.
Sea salt: I love adding sea salt to all of my baked goods because it adds flavor and richness, especially to a chocolate cake. If using iodized salt, cut the measurement in half, as iodized salt is saltier than sea salt.
And that is all! Such simple ingredients that we all typically have stocked in our pantry. When all is said and done, we end up with a cake recipe that is vegan, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free.
So let’s bake it!
How to Make Gluten-Free Chocolate Water Cake:
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F and line an 8-inch or 9-inch springform pan or cake pan with parchment paper.
If you don’t have parchment paper, spray it with cooking oil or use a paper towel to rub oil around the pan so that the cake doesn’t stick.
Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder to a mixing bowl and stir well using a whisk until any clumps are out. If you own a flour sifter or a fine mesh strainer, sift the ingredients together.
In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the water, oil and vanilla extract. It’s completely fine for the water and oil to stay separate…you don’t need to stir or whisk this mixture. Crazy cool, right?
Pour the liquid into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir everything together until combined. The batter will be very thick – this is normal!
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and smooth into an even layer.
Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake has risen substantially and has a nice firm crust on top.
Note: I bake at high elevation, so I allow mine to bake for 35 minutes. I then turn off the oven and leave it in the warm oven for an additional 8 minutes.
Allow cake to cool at least 20 minutes before releasing it from the mold. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, leave plain, or frost it with frosting of choice.
If you’re in need of some dairy-free frosting, you can whip out my Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting using raw cashews, or my chocolate frosting from my Chocolate Beet Cake with Chocolate Coconut Frosting using chocolate chips and coconut milk.
- Omit the cocoa powder if you don’t have it on hand.
- Skip the vanilla extract if you don’t have it.
- Replace the baking powder with 2 teaspoons of baking soda + 2 tablespoons of vinegar (you’ll combine the vinegar with the oil and water).
- Use regular all-purpose flour or cake flour instead of a gluten-free flour blend.
- Replace the coconut sugar with granulated cane sugar, brown sugar, or a granulated sugar-free sweetener.
More Basic Dessert Recipes:
- Flourless Chocolate Cake
- Dark Chocolate Chickpea Brownies
- Flourless Avocado Brownies
- Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
My cookbook, Paleo Power Bowls, is now available! CLICK HERE to check it out. Thank you for your support!
If you make this recipe, please feel free to share a photo and tag @The.Roasted.Root on Instagram!
Gluten-Free Chocolate Water Cake
- Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F and line an 8-inch or 9-inch springform pan or cake pan with parchment paper.
- Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder to a mixing bowl and stir well using a whisk until any clumps are out.
- In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the water, oil and vanilla extract.
- Pour the liquid into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir everything together until combined. The batter will be very thick - this is normal!
- Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and smooth into an even layer.
- Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake has risen substantially and has a nice firm crust on top.
- Allow cake to cool at least 20 minutes before releasing it from the mold. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, leave plain, or frost it with frosting of choice.