Wacky Cake

Toasty, nutty sorghum syrup sweetens this Depression-era dessert that’s stood the test of time.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    55 minutes


By Alline Anderson, Benjamin Brownlow

Published on February 9, 2024

Crafty Depression-era bakers created wacky cake as a way to maintain a bit of sweetness in the face of egg and dairy shortages. In the communities of Northeast Missouri, many families still remember the wacky cake made by homesteaders at Sandhill Farm, an agricultural collective founded in the 1970s. Known for its sorghum syrup, the farm would churn out cakes sweetened with the toasty, nutty nectar. Today, sorghum syrup-based wacky cakes continue to be a potluck staple in the region. Local farmer and food writer Benjamin Brownlow—working with his longtime neighbor and down-home patissier Alline Anderson—developed this wacky cake recipe as an homage to Sandhill’s version, the exact specifications of which have been lost to time. Look for sorghum syrup at specialty grocers, or online.


For the cake:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
  • ½ cup sorghum syrup

For the frosting:

  • ¼ cup sorghum syrup
  • 16 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter, cut into ½-in. pieces
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar


Step 1

Make the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. To a small bowl, add the vinegar and ½ cup of hot water. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter on medium speed until a coarse paste forms, then beat in the sorghum syrup until well incorporated. Replace the paddle with the whisk attachment and, with the machine running, gradually add approximately half of the flour mixture, followed by approximately half of the vinegar mixture; then, gradually add the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining vinegar mixture, and continue whisking just until a smooth batter forms. Transfer the batter to a greased 9-inch cake pan and bake until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, wash and dry the stand-mixer bowl and return it to the machine.

Step 2

Make the frosting: In the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the syrup and 1 tablespoon of room-temperature water until it resembles the consistency of maple syrup. Add the butter and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, ¼ cup at a time, and beat until the mixture is fluffy and well combined. 

Step 3

Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cake. Slice into equal portions and serve. 

Continue to Next Story

Want more SAVEUR?

Get our favorite recipes, stories, and more delivered to your inbox.