Posted by: Erica Retrochef | May 8, 2009

you’ll love this one…

Instead of telling you what I’m making this week, I’ll let a picture do the work of a thousand words:


See that can there, all the way on the right?

tomato soup

Yes, that’s condensed tomato soup, which can only mean we’re making… tomato soup cake! This rather disconcerting idea was suggested by Jim Dunn of Retrosnark, and seemed just edible enough to qualify for my cooking. (There are some retro recipes I will never try in a million years, such as anything with tongue or canned brains; however, I’ll always bake and eat cake.)

There are a few distinct categories of retro recipes:

  1. A recipe which has been passed down through generations. Usually delicious.
  2. A traditional recipe, adapted to (a) deal with a lack of ingredients (e.g. rationing), or (b) use a particular brand (e.g. CAMBELL’S condensed soup)
  3. A recipe which was made up ONLY to show how versatile your product is. Usually not delicious.

I’m pretty sure the Tomato Cake falls in the third category, or maybe, if I was feeling very generous, category 2b.

Good Cooks Cook With Campbell's Soup

Tomato Soup Cake
2 cups sifted cake flour or 1.75 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup shortening
1 can (10.5 ounces) condensed tomato soup
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch round layer pans. Sift dry ingredients together into large bowl. Add shortening and 1/2 can soup. Beat on medium speed of electric mixer for two minutes (150 strokes per minute by hand). Add remaining soup and eggs. Beat 2 minutes more, scraping bowl frequently. Pour into pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand in pans 10 minutes; remove and cool on rack. Frost with cream cheese frosting or use your favorite white frosting.

While I was assembling the ingredients, I found myself wondering why there wasn’t any salt listed in the recipe, and whether I should add a pinch. Then I remembered I’m using canned soup.

710mg sodium

Eeeeeeyeah. 30% of your RDA of salt is probably plenty.

Drivers Ed Film

Not an appropriate color for a cake

The tomato soup makes the mixing bowl look like a crime scene involving a wood chipper; once it is blended in, it turns the batter (and eventual cake) into a odd shade of orange.

Tomato Soup Cake

Now, I wanted to be open-minded about this cake. Both Buzz and I are big fans of carrot cake, which is another odd combination of cake and vegetable. And tomatoes are a pretty sweet vegetable, so mixing them into a spice cake instead of carrot bits isn’t necessarily bad… in principle. But not even a nice cream cheese icing could really save this.

Campbells Soup Baby Chef Unfortunately, condensed tomato soup tastes a lot more like ketchup than like tomatoes. (So you can also call this a ketchup cake if you’d like.) In particular, it has quite a lot of salt; this can be appealing in soup or many other dishes. But a salty cake just isn’t quite right. We split one piece of cake, which usually involves grabbing the plate back and forth and fighting over the fork; for tomato cake, it was a picture of politeness.

“No, you have a bite now.”
“No, I insist, you have a taste.”
“Here, dear, I’ve left the last bite for you.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly, you go ahead.”

And so on. (Luckily, the kids both thought it was delicious — which means we won’t have to feed it to the dog.)



  1. You are SO brave! There’s no way I would try this, but I love your Retro Recipe tries. Nice Campbell’s Kids pics too!

  2. I think tomato just isn’t a flavor that can carry a confection on its own. Sure, there are spices, but ultimately, the dominant taste of this dish is the soup. Now, the recipe is good in that it doesn’t call for a ton of condensed soup, so the tomato flavor isn’t overpowering; but that actually ends of leaving the cake rather bland. It’s not gross, just something I wouldn’t really see any reason to eat, given there are other options available.

    I often like vegetable-based desserts. (Has anybody got a dessert recipe based on beets?) Carrot cake, sweet potato pie, and parsnip pie—those work. They call for vegetables that have interesting and sweet flavors. Other examples, like this and green tomato pie, were less successful. But I’m sure they have their defenders; maybe this cake would be a hit with people who drink V8.

    (And like Moxie, I love the Campbell’s Kids. They were probably my favorite corporate mascot when I was six.)

  3. No way would I ever try making tomato soup cake. I like carrot cake and zucchini bread and sweet potato casserole (which is sweet enough to qualify as a dessert, IMO), but something about putting tomato soup in a cake activates my gack reflex.

  4. You’re very brave–I remember trying this as a kid. I’m with buzz–it’s just tastes too much like canned tomato soup. You won’t wonder what the mystery ingredient is. (I also agree with him on the green tomato pie. I tried that once, with a recipe from a reputable cookbook, and it was just foul and vinagary. I guess people were hungrier in the depression–tomato-based desserts just stink.

  5. It’s definitely the salty soup that ruined this one. I really have no idea why the kids like it so much (they were fighting about who got the slightly larger piece this morning for breakfast!)

  6. My husband’s parents make something similar, a tomato pudding that also has chunks of canned tomatoes in it. Served as a side dish. I feel bad about finding it so repulsive, since it seems to have some sort of nostalgic appeal for all of them…but it’s just “vomitrocious,” as Muffy Crosswire likes to say.

  7. Regarding the green tomato pie, which had the eponymous vegetable sliced very thinly and baked in a cider-vinegar-based sauce, it was kind of nice for the first few bites. But the vinegar taste was so much stronger than anything the green tomatoes could supply, it quickly became a tiring, acidic chore to eat. I have sometimes thought about redoing the dish for this blog, but the first time, we used a recipe from a large, well-known cookery book. A retro version we might dig up somewhere would probably be worse.

  8. Tomato Soup Cake …? Wow. And to think I once thought Cheeseburger Pie was weird.

  9. Re: green tomato pie–Buzz, that was exacly my experience with it. It called for a CUP–one whole CUP–of cider vinegar. I thought that sounded weird, but I thought, “oh well, I’ve never made this before and this is a good cookbook, so they must know more than I!” Bad decision. It was awful–we’re not a family to waste food, but that pie went into the compost, all but 2 bites of it. (This was about 10 years ago in the L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cooking. Their recipie for a shrimp stir-fry with green tomatoes was actually quite good–we always haul it out in the fall, when green tomatoes are everywhere.)

    I’ve got a recipe for a chicken saute made with a vinegar sauce, but when you cook cider vinegar in a pan sauce and simmer it down for a while, much of the sharpness recedes and it tastes more like a tart wine-based sauce.

  10. Huh… I think that New New England Cooking might be the exact same recipe we used, because we have that cookbook too. (Maybe it’s just their version that’s nasty… but I’m not really eager to try again.)

  11. My mom has been making tomato cake ever since I was a child. I think she uses tomato paste, not tomato soup, however. She adds raisins to the mix and it makes an absolutely delicious cake. I grew up on the stuff and there’s no better birthday cake for me than the tomato cake! I’ve never baked it myself, but my mom often does and gives me some of it. I make others taste it and only tell them what it is after they’ve asked for a second serving. Always amazes everyone!

  12. My mother made something like this from her garden tomatoes one year. We only managed to struggle our way through maybe a third of it. My sister wouldn’t even try it. The taste was… wrong, and the frosting was gritty.

    You mentioned carrot cake. Zuchini is another veggie that is good in sweet dishes. It makes a great mock-apple pie.

  13. This would be sooo much more appealing to me as a savory cake. Omit the sugar, maybe jalepeno cream cheese frosting, or cheddar… hmmmm.

  14. I actually really love tomato soup cake! Although, the recipe I use is different.

  15. […] called for soup. We’ve visited these before — Shrimp Lamaze, Meatza Pizza, and even Tomato Soup Cake. In general, it only manages to rise to the level of “meh” — despite plenty of […]

  16. My mother’s WWII-era ‘Joy of Cooking’ has a similar recipe called “Mystery Cake.” The proportions are a bit different, eggs are omitted and nuts and raisins added. Mrs. Rombauer conceded that she wouldn’t make it for herself, but it was economical and sparing of some rationed ingredients, as well as some that certain friends were allergic to.

  17. I have a recipe for bean cake (pinto beans). It’s okay.
    I have a friend who is obsessed with tomatoes, and I developed (it’s easy) Tomato Upside-Down Cake so I could give him a meal with tomato in every course. (Hint: just replace the pineapple rings with elegant slices from a large, sweet tomato. In all that carmelised sugar, it’s fine.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: