Thrifty Baking: A Magical Chocolate Cake with a Secret Ingredient
By Rebecca Scott
As a baker, I love to push myself outside of my comfort zone. When I see a recipe with ingredients that make most people scratch their heads in confusion, I know that’s a recipe I must try. I found such an intriguing challenge with Chocolate Tomato Soup Cake.
The earliest known printed recipe for tomato soup cake dates back to 1922, according to research from the Campbell Soup Company. It rose in popularity during the 1930s and 1940s, when baking staples such as eggs and butter were hard to find or too expensive. Sound familiar?
During the Depression era and World War II, tomato soup was inexpensive and readily available, unlike eggs, butter and other forms of fat and emulsifiers used in baked goods. I have learned that the fat used in a recipe can be replaced by puréed fruit or vegetables, such as condensed soup. Additionally, condensed tomato soup contains gelatinized starch from thickeners and pectin from the tomatoes. Both of these keep water in suspension and create a moist cake.
Reflecting on the current high prices of eggs and butter, I could understand why people turned to this famous pantry staple during times of shortages.
Tomato Soup Cake debuted in The New York Times in 1949. Over the years, the cake went through several transformations. As the economy boomed in the 1950s, wartime scarcity became a thing of the past and bakers modified the recipe to include more eggs and lucious, buttery frostings. In 1951, Campbell’s introduced a chocolate version of the tomato soup spice cake. That is the recipe I tried, because I cannot turn down anything chocolate.
When I completed my research, it was time to bake this allegedly delicious cake. The batter came together easily. I cautiously sniffed the bowl, expecting to endure the overwhelming aroma of tomato. I was pleasantly surprised to smell nothing but rich, velvety chocolate. I will admit I was too scared to eat some of the unbaked batter. Watching a can of gelatinous tomato soup go into a cake is something you cannot unsee.
Finally the time had come — after waiting impatiently for the cake to cool, I had my first slice. This was the moment I imagined going one of two ways. The cake would either be delicious or a disgusting, tomatoey mess.
My initial forkful could only be described as a heavenly, chocolatey cloud of cake. It had a soft, tender crumb and unbelievably intense chocolate flavor. And there was no hint of tomato. It was one of the best chocolate cakes I had ever eaten.
I have baked many desserts over the years — some have been triumphs, others utter failures, and some have tested my patience and skills. I am happy to report this one-bowl chocolate cake recipe was a wonderful success.
The people who crafted this recipe many decades ago also endured increased egg and butter prices. However, baking this cake filled me with a sense of hope, because I learned there’s always a way to take humble ingredients and create something truly magical.
Chocolate Tomato Soup Cake
- 1 3⁄4 cups flour
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3⁄4 cup cocoa
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 (10 ounce) can condensed tomato soup
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1⁄2 cup oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
Directions: Mix the dry ingredients together. To the dry ingredients, add the eggs, tomato soup, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until everything is moist and well blended. This should take about five minutes. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.