Friday, February 19, 2010

Tomato Soup Cake

Well I finally did it… I made a tomato soup cake. I’ve been a member of the K. family for 15 years now, and invited to family birthdays for a lot longer than that, and it took me THAT long to work up the courage to make the family recipe from scratch. Sure I’ve made the cheater version using a boxed spice cake mix…in fact I’ve made one for every one of my kids parties… but for some reason I’ve always been intimidated by making the real thing. Perhaps it is because I am not a very good baker… I cook by instinct and not by science. Maybe uncertainty set in when my mother-in-law warned me that due to the changes in the texture and quality of the ingredients the recipe might need a few changes for the cake to rise properly. I’m not sure why I feared it… but when Ma-K asked me to make one for her birthday FROM SCRATCH… my palms started to sweat and all the neighborhood dogs started to bark because they smelled fear (ok so maybe I‘m exaggerating a bit for the sake of effect… but I did feel a little nervous). Then my husband pointed out all the lopsided, not-so-perfect cakes over the years and reminded me that it was the effort and not perfection that counted. Knowing that he was lying to make me feel better, I took that piece of advice for what it was worth and dived right in… and you know what… I did a pretty good job.

The K family recipe for tomato soup cake was given to my mother-in-law’s family in the early 30’s when they were living in Brooklyn. It was shared with her mother by a family friend named Helen Grogan, and was a regular at family birthdays after that. My mother-in-law told me that her brother Frankie would usually make the cake. When she got married the recipe came with her, of course… and it has been a K. family birthday tradition ever since.

I did a little looking around online to see if I could find out about the origin of this dessert and I found two possibilities. One source credits the unlikely use of tomato soup in cake to the limited supply and expense of dairy and eggs during the Great Depression. Some versions almost do away with dairy and eggs and moisten the batter almost exclusively with soup. This cake, also know as Mystery Cake, apparently became a popular dessert in the 1930’s. Another source traces the original recipe back to 1925 as a contribution by Campbell Soup and credits it’s popularity in the 1930’s to the love of “clever” cooking during that decade. Whatever this cakes story might be it sure is delicious. And I would like to share it with you here with my mother-in-law permission.

The Original Tomato Soup Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour (edit by Ma-K.... this should be cake flour)
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons ground allspice
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cloves
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Condensed Tomato Soup
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (edit by Ma-K... this should be margerine or butter)
2 eggs
About 1/4 cup water
Cream Cheese Frosting

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two round cake pans.
Sift the flour, baking powder, allspice, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves in a large bowl. Cream together shortening, sugar and eggs. Starting and ending with flour…alternate adding flour mixture and tomato soup (diluted slightly) to the creamed mixture. Beat until smooth. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4.5 oz cream cheese
3T. Milk
¾ t. vanilla
Pinch of salt
About 3 ¼ C powdered sugar

Blend first 4 ingredients together until soft. Add powdered sugar until the frosting is of a good spreading consistency (about 3-3 ½ cups).


  1. The vegetable shortening is margerine, or if you want you can use butter. Good work Jenn.
    Ma K

  2. Thanks Ma K... Well your birthday cake was made with butter flavored shortening because my recipe said shortening... I like the real stuff better so I'll edit the recipe to reflect that... Thanks for the compliment!

  3. I always looked forward to getting this, and the homemade pasta, for my birthdays.

    It was good to have it again last weekend.



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