Gluten Free Vegan Spice Depression Cake with Maple Vanilla Icing

Dairy Free, Egg Free, Gluten Free, Nut Free, Seed Free, Top 8 Allergy Free, Vegan, Vegetarian

I love cake, I love the holidays, so let’s finish off the season with a beautiful holiday cake, no? ❄️🎄🕎🍰

A favorite recipe amongst the allergy community is something called Depression Cake, aka Wacky Cake or Crazy Cake.  It is a cake recipe developed during the Depression Era using chemical leavener and oil when butter and eggs were scarce.  It’s actually extremely tasty and a godsend for those with dairy and egg allergies (or just for the days when you NEED cake but are out of the basics!), but it’s not always a slam dunk when it needs to be gluten free.  I’ve been playing around with this for a while and really came up with a beauty.

The star of this cake is the brown sugar and light spices in the cake that give it a lot of depth of flavor, and the extra acid in the brown sugar helps the cake rise even higher. It has such a great gingerbread flavor but not quite as bold. Not easy with no eggs and gluten free flour!  As always, my recipes are formulated so regular all-purpose flour will work as well.  Many Depression Cake recipes can taste a lot like corn bread and be gummy, but this very light and super moist.

The icing I used is a basic buttercream made with safe ingredients and a touch of maple syrup to balance the slight spiciness of the cake.  The ginger and maple especially compliment each other!  I’ve posted this icing before with an Easter basket design cake and it really is delicious and foolproof.  Any vanilla or cream cheese frosting will taste delicious with this cake (bust out that tub frosting if you want!) but I’m not a big fan of chocolate as a pairing.  Chocolate is too acidic for the cake and the maple vanilla icing is used to mellow, not fight against, the richer flavors of the cake.

This is such a fast cake to pull together and very easy for the littles to help with.  All the mixing is done in the cake pan (if not using a cupcake molds) so the cleanup is very minimal.  It’s a great sendoff for the rest of the holiday and New Year as these flavor combos are really elegant and polished.


I wish you a safe, happy, healthy holiday season and most Happy New Year…see you in hell 2020!!! 💙👩🏻‍🍳

**As always, please check which brands are safe for your needs**

 Ingredients and Substitutions

Flour – Either gluten free or all-purpose flour can be used in this recipe.  If your gluten free flour blend does not have xanthan gum, add ¼ tsp. per cup of flour.  I always prefer to do the 140 grams per cup of flour.  Remember all gluten free blends are different, some are denser and absorb more liquid.  I use King Arthur Measure for Measure gluten free flour blend.

Oil – Honestly, I’m a fan of light extra virgin olive oil in my baking.  I’m a good Italian girl, what can I say?  I will use either that (I safely use Felipo Berio extra light virgin olive oil or Mazola canola.  As much as I love coconut oil, I’m not in favor of it in this particular recipe. Any other safe oil will work. 

Spices – I use cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in the cake batter.  No, nutmeg is not a tree nut!  If cloves are safe you a dash is nice as well…Casey can’t have it.  McCormick is always my safe go-to for spices.  I am not a fan of spices blends because those can be run on manufacturing lines that are unsafe for Casey.  I buy individual spices and then mix together.  Most allergy parents do similarly.

Fat for the “Buttercream” – Casey can have baked milk but obviously that’s not an option for icing.  I use a blend of his safe margarine and Spectrum palm shortening.  Whatever is safe for you, be it butter, plant based vegan margarine or Crisco, go for it.  I recommend not using straight shortening as the flavor is not great and it’ll make it very stiff.  A little shortening is good though because it helps to stabilize the icing.

Maple Syrup – Note it says maple syrup and not pancake syrup!  Very different stuff!  Pure maple syrup, and just a touch of it, is all you need for caramel-y richness and sweetness for the icing.  Remember it will color the icing a bit so don’t be put off by the color.

Decorations – I needed to get festive here!  A fun quick tip is to take a chewy candy (I used large Sour Patch Kids) and rolled them a bit flat to shape and create the holly and berries.  Get imaginative!  Festive colored sugar and sprinkles look beautiful as well.

**As always, please check which brands are safe for your needs.**

Gluten Free Vegan Spice Depression Cake with Maple Vanilla Icing

Dairy Free, Egg Free, Gluten Free, Nut Free, Seed Free, Top 8 Allergy Free, Vegan, Vegetarian

Author: Katie Martino Lopez

Prep Time: Cake- 10 minutes, Icing, 15 minutes, plus decorating time.


Cook Time: For 9” cake, about 35 minutes, for cupcakes, about 25-30 minutes.

Total Time:  About 1 hour plus more for cake cooling, decorating and chilling icing if necessary.

Yield: 1-9” round or square cake or 12 regular size cupcakes.

2- 1/4 lbs. buttercream, enough for 1-9″ cake or 12 thick frosted cupcake.


For the Spice Cake:

  • 1 ½ c. (210 g.) gluten free all-purpose flour blend with xanthan gum or regular all-purpose flour
  • ¼ c. light brown sugar
  • ½ c. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ dried ginger
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Scant (a little less) than 6 Tbls. vegetable or light olive oil
  • 1 ¼ c. water (use a bit less water for regular all-purpose flour)

For Plain Vanilla Variation: omit the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  Keep the vanilla extract or use 1 scraped vanilla bean pod instead.

 For Chocolate Variation:  Use 1 ¼ c. gluten free/regular flour + ¼ c. sifted cocoa powder. Still add xanthan gum if your gluten free blend doesn’t contain it.  Omit cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

For the Maple Vanilla Icing:

  • 8 ounces vegan or regular butter
  • 4 ounces shortening Note: all butter/vegan butter can be used instead of shortening
  • 1 lb. 4 oz. confectioner’s sugar (about 4 ½ cups), sifted after measuring
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 5 Tbls. pure maple syrup or to taste
  • Optional: 2 Tbls. safe or regular milk, room temperature if the icing is too thick


For the Spice Cake:

  1. Note: Depression cake is usually made in the pan it’s being baked in, but I prefer to do it in a separate bowl just because I think it incorporates the ingredients better without over mixing.
  2. Preheat oven to 350. Have your pan prepared-either a 9” round or square or one regular (12) or one mini muffin pan (24 cups) for cupcakes. Line cupcake pan with liners.  The large pan does not have to be greased.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients (up to ground ginger in the recipe). Whisk well to incorporate and break up any lumps of the brown sugar with your fingers.
  4. Using the traditional Depression cake method, make 2 small wells and one large well on the surface of the dry ingredients. In this order, add the vanilla in one small, the oil in the large well and the apple cider vinegar in the other small well.  Immediately pour the water all over the top of the flour and whisk to combine.  Do not overmix but whisk well to combine.
  5. Pour the cake batter into the pans or portion into the cupcake pan. Immediately bake approximately 35 minutes for the 9” pan and 25 for the cupcakes.
  6. Note: Cool completely in the pan before unmolding icing-the cake will crack if it is too warm when unmolded.
  7. Decorate with Maple Vanilla Icing when completely cooled. Pro Tip: If you are splitting and filling the cake, wrap and chill the cake overnight.  The crumb will be less soft and not as messy to cover.  If you’re just frosting the top, no chilling is necessary.

For the Maple Vanilla Icing:

  1. In a stand mixer using a paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and sifted confectioner’s sugar until well combined. Scrape down often to ensure there are no lumps of fat.
  2. Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract and pure maple syrup and mix until light and fluffy. There is a lot of liquid for the fat to absorb so add slowly and scrape down often, getting from the bottom and sides of the mixer.
  3. Add optional milk for a softer buttercream. A firmer consistency is better for piping, but it can make it more difficult to cover a softer cake with.
  4. Use immediately or if saving for later use, chill. If buttercream is refrigerated because it is too soft, stir often while chilling or the edges and surface will harden.
  5. The iced cake can be kept at room temperature or chilled, depending on desired texture. See recipe notes below for storage and reconstituting.

Recipe Notes

  • This cake can be made without the spices if desired, it will still have a great caramel type flavor.To omit the brown sugar, just increase the granulated to ¾ c. (6 oz.).
  • Regular all-purpose flour can be used as well, however, a little less water may be necessary as gluten free flour absorbs much more liquid. Just one cup should be sufficient.
  • This cake AND icing freeze fantastic for up to one month well wrapped. Thaw both in the refrigerator.  Leave the icing to come to room temperature or put on the mixer with the paddle to soften.  It will kind of like scrambled eggs from the cold fat, but it will all come together as the fat softens.



As we all know, reading labels and preparing food when managing allergies is a job within itself with much responsibility. All the brands I use are ones that I have contacted, and Casey has eaten safely. That being said, I must remind…

Please do your own research when deciding which products and foods are safe for the allergies you manage. These are the ones that are safe for our needs but may not be for you. Everyone has different comfort levels with manufacturing and production procedures.

And, as a friendly reminder, always have 2 epinephrine auto injectors on hand!

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