Garam Masala Depression Cake

Two weeks ago, Jim and I drove back to Western NY to gather up what was left of our earthly goods (kindly stored in a building at Beccy’s), 14 hours on the road TO New York, and 18 hours back (the rental truck felt happiest popping along at 55 to 60 miles an hour, and we wanted it to be happy all the way home). We brought lots of tools, furniture, the rest of my kitchen wares (oh, how I’ve missed you all!), books (here a groan from Jim), and THE FLU. We were able to unload the truck fairly quickly, but there is still a lot of unpacking to do. For me, the biggest job right now is a book purge. The house we are living in is quite small, and while I’ve packed in as many shelves as we reasonably can, there are still many hundreds more books than there is room to store them. On top of that, I’ve been living with the flu for the last several days, and today I felt in the need of some comfort food, mainly in the chocolate category.


Enter Depression Chocolate Cake. I’m thinking the name can be applied any way you wish–it’s originally from collections of frugal recipes connected with the Great Depression, but it applies equally well to how you feel on the sixth day of the flu, still shuffling around the house in ‘comfortable clothes,’ hair tousled, trails of tissues scattered all around (so you can be sure to be able to find your way back to the bedroom while in a medicine-induced haze).  It is a very simple and basic recipe, but I actually found enough gumption to play around with it a little bit today.  So I will give you the basic recipe, noting the changes and additions I made along the way.


One of the things I added was a teaspoon of Garam Masala, a mixed spice used in Indian cooking, easily found at most natural food stores or Asian markets. It’s a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, and a couple other items I can’t recall at the moment. We’ve been using it in Jim’s morning oatmeal, I will stir it into my hot chocolate now and then, and I thought it would add a nice touch to the chocolate cake. That of course meant that I felt moved to tweak the plain vanilla buttercream as well; and since I had a little shredded coconut hanging around, well, might as well use that up, too!


Oh, one more thing–this can easily be made into a vegan dessert, since it requires no eggs. Just use alternatives for the milk and butter, and you are good to go!


This makes a single 8″ layer cake, enough for 8 to 10 people.


Spiced “Depression” Chocolate Cake with Orange Vanilla Butter Cream and Toasted Coconut






For the cake:

1 cup soured milk or buttermilk

1 t. vanilla

1 t. baking soda

1/4 c. butter

1/4 cup cocoa

1 t. garam masala (my addition to the recipe)

1 cup sugar

1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)

1 t. salt



Preheat over to 350 degrees, and grease a 8 inch round cake pan, set aside.  (This would  be a good time to put the coconut on a shallow pan and let it toast for a few minutes, if you think you won’t forget it while making the cake.)


Melt butter with cocoa and garam masala, stirring till smooth. Once butter is completely melted, remove from heat and let cool while you mix the other ingredients.


Combine Buttermilk and vanilla in mixing bowl, gently whisk in baking soda. Combine sugar, flour and salt in a sifter and sift into the buttermilk mixture, stirring to mix. Finally, stir in the cocoa mixture, blending completely, and pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, till toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven, cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cake to a serving dish or board.


While the cake cools, prepare the butter cream:


3 cups confectioners sugar

1/4 c. butter

1/2 t. vanilla

Grated rind of one orange

Juice of one orange

1/2 t. coconut extract (optional)

1 cup toasted shredded coconut


Cream together 1 c. confectioner’s sugar with the butter, till light. Add flavorings and orange rind, and about 2 T. of the orange juice. Add enough of the remaining confectioners sugar to make a thick, spreadable frosting, adding more orange juice as needed.


Spread over the top of the cooled cake, cover with toasted coconut, and enjoy!


mmmmmmmmmmm……(sez Jim)


  1. says

    I made this last week, and it was so easy and so good (and I used your buttermilk recipe too). The orange juice in the icing was the perfect complement to the earthy notes in the spiced chocolate cake. I am now starting to add garam masala to hot chocolate too. Thanks so much for sharing – I have three little boys too and it’s encouraging to see how much cooking you’re getting done with all of your brood :).

  2. Valerie says

    So glad you like the recipe! I make it every two or three weeks here, in various permutations, and we always love whatever version it ends up being. But the Garam Masala and orange icing is my favorite.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>