tomato soup bundt cake #bundtbakers

When I first started Brooklyn Homemaker, I hoped it would be an outlet for not only my love of food, but also for my love of food history and my off-the-charts food nerdiness.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I used to post lots of recipes (especially cake recipes) with fun details and anecdotes about their histories, how they came to be, and why we were still making and eating them today. As much as I still love writing these kinds of posts, life gets in the way and the fact of the matter is that researching the history of a recipe is a lot more involved and a lot more time consuming than just whipping something up on a whim. I also thought that I’d sort of exhausted my supply of cool, iconic desserts with histories that I’d find interesting enough to write about. That is, I thought I had until this month’s bundt bakers.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Felice of All That’s Left are the Crumbs chose Retro Desserts as our theme this month, and I was all over it! You know how much I love an old cookbook, and I kind of feel like this theme was hand selected to appeal to me! Thanks Felice!

To me the word “retro” always inspires images of the 50’s and 60’s, the atomic era, the age of ambrosia salads and jell-o molds. The days of gas guzzling pastel land yachts, wall to wall pink tile bathrooms, and single story cookie cutter ranch homes. I prefer my “old fashioned” dessert recipes from the 30’s and 40’s though, so I decided to go back a little further. People were doing all sorts of inventive things with food back then, either just to stretch their scarce resources, or maybe even to make their lives a little lighter and brighter.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

My favorite (and most popular) dessert history post that I’ve written so far is Red Velvet Cake, which didn’t actually originate in the 30s, but did reach it’s wild popularity in that era. Long story short; a big food coloring and extract company started giving away a red velvet cake recipe, complete with color photos, to try to boost their struggling sales during the Depression. It worked like a charm and soon red velvet cake was on American tables, and in American hearts, where it’s managed to stay for almost a century.

Not surprisingly, the cake I’m posting today is another Depression era recipe, though not currently as well known and loved as Red Velvet. Originally called “Mystery Cake”, this spice cake contains a full can of condensed tomato soup. The “mystery” was that you’d never guess the “secret ingredient” if you didn’t already know.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

This recipe most likely originated in the 20’s, as the first printed reference to it comes from a September 1928 notice about cooking classes in the Los Angeles Times. “The opening of the fall season is observed on the menu arranged by Mrs. Mabelle (Chef) Wyman for her demonstrating this afternoon… Under the dessert classification are velvet cake and mystery cake, a culinary idea of Mrs. Wyman’s skill.”

Mystery cake didn’t really become well known though until the Great Depression. The use of egg, dairy, and butter substitutes was very popular during this time because these grocery items were expensive and scarce. Grated or pureed vegetables like zucchini or carrots were popular substitutions for eggs and butter, as was applesauce, which remains a popular substitution for health conscious bakers to this day. Along with it’s moisture content, condensed tomato soup had the added benefit of an acidity that works as a flour conditioner. This meant that it could not only be used in place of butter, but could also replace the buttermilk usually used in baking to ensure a moist, tender, and delicate crumb.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Mystery Cake really took off in the early 1940’s when Campbell’s started promoting their own recipe during World War II. The same ingredients that were too expensive for home bakers in the 30’s were suddenly being rationed for the war effort in the 40’s and were even harder to come by. Canned food companies all over the country were using wartime rationing as a way to boost sales, and Campbell’s didn’t miss the opportunity. They quickly developed a recipe for Tomato Soup Cake that included only two tablespoons of butter and no eggs to appeal to homemakers with limited resources.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

The American food writer and cookbook author M.F.K. Fisher even included a recipe for Tomato Soup Cake in her 1942 book on wartime rationing and shortages, How to Cook a Wolf. Her recipe varied just slightly from Campbell’s but the idea was the same. “This is a pleasant cake, which keeps well and puzzles people while you are cooking other things, which is always sensible and makes you feel rather noble, in itself a small but valuable pleasure.”

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Tomato Soup Cake remained popular even after the war, and another version of the recipe was included in the Joy of Cooking in 1964. Modern homemakers in the 1960’s and 70’s, fascinated with convenience foods and time saving tricks, loved to make their Tomato Soup Cake with boxed cake mixes.

Eventually the cake did wane in popularity though, and today many people have never even heard of it. I myself only discovered it a few years ago, and had a really difficult time wrapping my head around the idea when I first saw it. Eventually I warmed up to trying it, and by the time this month’s theme was chosen I was full well ready to give it a shot!

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Since the Great Depression and wartime rationing are now just distant memories, the butter and eggs have found their way back into most of the recipes you’ll find out there, including Campbell’s updated version. Of course, the tomato soup still remains as a way to add moisture, acidity, and interest to this simple spice cake.

Nuts and raisins have always been common additions to Tomato Soup Cake, and for my recipe I kept the nuts but skipped the raisins. Sorry raisin lovers. You can add them back in if you want.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Mystery Cake was definitely an appropriate name for this recipe. I was worried that the tomato soup would add a weird tinny chemical taste, but I really don’t think I could have figured out what was in it if I hadn’t baked it myself. The tomato soup concentrate adds a subtle sweetness and tang, and ensures that the cake is moist and keeps well for days. It has a perfect just-enough sweetness and a lovely touch of spice that doesn’t overpower the cake. The walnuts add a nice contrast in texture and a welcome touch of earthy bitterness.

Many older recipes for Mystery Cake were topped with chocolate icing, but cream cheese icing has always been popular too. I decided to go for a drizzlable cream cheese glaze that adds sweetness and tang, and helps keep the cake from drying on the outer edges. I don’t usually go for sprinkles, but this fun retro theme got the best of me and I couldn’t help but add a handful of bright red jimmies as a play on the iconic tomato soup can!

Although this recipe has been around for almost a century, it definitely still feels relevant and delicious in these modern times. Why not step back in time and see what other retro bundts the talented team of bundt bakers came up with this month? Please scroll down past the recipe to find the links.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Tomato Soup Bundt Cake

Adapted from several sources, mostly from Campbell’s

Cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Condensed Tomato Soup
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)

Cream Cheese Glaze:
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 to 8 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350.
Butter and flour pan. Refrigerate.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, & cloves together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together condensed tomato soup and water until smooth.
Cream butter and sugars on high speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time, and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Alternate additions of the flour mixture and the tomato soup mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Mix each addition just to combine. Do not over-mix.
Stir in walnuts just until evenly distributed.

Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Invert the pan and turn the cake out onto the rack to cool completely before glazing.

While the cake cools, make the glaze.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until it’s soft and smooth and light. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 4 tablespoons of milk and blend until there are no lumps. If necessary, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition until the glaze reaches the desired drizzle-able consistency. It should be about the consistency of melted ice cream to drizzle correctly.

Place a tray under cake and cooling rack to catch any drips. Pour glaze over cake and let the glaze work its way down the side, tapping the tray on the counter if necessary. Top with red jimmies if desired.

Well covered in an airtight container, this cake should keep at room temperature about 3 or 4 days.

tomato soup bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Don’t forget to travel back in time with all the other retro cakes the bundt bakers came up with this month.

BundtBakers
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You can see all our of lovely Bundts by following our Pinterest board. Updated links for all of our past events and more information about #BundtBakers, can be found on our home page.
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51 comments

  1. I sure as hell hope you are tagging Campbell Soup in all of your social media shares, Tux, so they can share and reshare. I love this post. Well-written and informative, it flows beautifully from history to current events. I so appreciated your description of the flavor and why the tomato soup works! Plus your cake with the cream cheese glaze is lovely. Good choice on omitting the raisins. No one likes them anyway. ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hahahaha! Great idea Stacy! I’ll have to send it their way and tag tag tag away!!!
      Thank you so much! I really do love writing these kinds of researched posts- and I don’t get to do them nearly enough. This was such a fun and interesting one to write too- with delicious results! :)
      And I’m glad you said that about the raisins! hahaha!

      Like

  2. The history behind this cake is so interesting. And well the flavor. . .certainly very unique. I would have never guessed that this was the mystery ingredient although I have to admit mystery anything is kind of scary. That said there is nothing scary about this beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It was such a fun recipe to research and write about- and I was shocked at how tasty it was. I’m not usually someone who uses anything with high fructose corn syrup and a bunch of ingredients I can’t pronounce, but it tasted absolutely delicious!

      Like

  3. Thank you Tux for another great recipe and story behind this cake!!
    I’ve just recently discovered myself the Mystery world of Depression Cakes :) I made only Carrot Cake (no dairy, no eggs) and it was great. But I’m so excited about this Tomato Cake that I might even have to make it tonight! :)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I definitely hope to do so in the nearest feature!
        And I completely agree with you! I have big respect for those recipes and people’s ability to cook out of ‘nothing’.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This looks awesome! I hadn’t heard of using tomato soup in cake, but I do remember reading a book as a child that mentioned tomato soup bread in the WWII years. I loved reading about the history of this recipe!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tux, I really love the little bit of history behind this cake. I was so intrigued by the idea of tomato soup in a cake when I first heard it…I am really eager to try it now!

    Beautiful cake as always ^_^ Happy Baking!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Grew up eating the cake, my friends mom always made it for us as an after school treat. Made homework almost tolerable……LOL. Thanks for re-introducing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad to hear from someone who’s so familiar with this cake! I hope I did it justice! I think a nice slice of cake definitely would make homework more tolerable! Someone should have told my mom about that when I was a kid! Hahaha

      Like

  7. Before I get to how amazing your cake is, can I get some lessons on how to glaze like you do? Seriously, that glaze looks like a beautiful waterfall over your bundt. I’ve seen recipes over the years but have never tried one. After seeing this beauty I am definitely inspired to give it a go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Felice! I think a lot of my success with glaze has to do with getting the consistency right. It can be too thin or it dries more like a candy coating- and it can’t be too thick or it won’t dribble down the sides right.
      I hope you give this a try- and please let me know what you think if you do!

      Like

  8. This is absolutely an interesting and lovely recipe and your writing is so warm and informative and your photography is so inviting !! And plus you made it all the way to Sweet Paul Magazine!
    Congratulations and for sure we will make this beautiful cake ASAP .
    Cheers to you !!
    Thanks .

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Amazing Bundt, just fantastic!!! Every Bundt you publish we want to make it and our list is growing every month so we´ll have to start soon ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I always enjoy reading your posts Tux, they are always so much fun and full of cool baking information. I’ve heard about tomato soup cake but never given it a go, maybe I will one day. Laura@ Baking in Pyjamas

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You never fail to disappoint! I love this cake for so many reasons. First, because it reminds me of my crazy Gammy (grandmother), who was always trying a recipe out on us with a secret ingredient, and second because it reminds me of a cake that I make with homemade tomato juice. I always have so many tomatoes in the summer, and have to find some way to use them. A girl can only make so much tomato sauce, before she just about loses her darn mind after all!!! Finally, just look at that glaze! So perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh thank you so much!!! I honestly bet this (or a version of it) would be even better with fresh tomato juice! You’d have to play with the liquid to flour levels and maybe add more sugar, but boy I bet it would be TASTY!!!
      Oh my wheels are spinning already!
      :)

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I can’t stop staring at your perfect glaze! Wow! Thanks for the tomato soup cake history. I never spent too much time reading about why it worked – I was just too sceptical.
    Love your bundt, Tux!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. ….WHAT?!

    I had to double check what I was reading when I started this post. Then I found myself scrolling down to get to the ‘How did it TASTE?’ part, haha! Good to know that the soup didn’t add a tinny flavour or anything too tomato-ey, particularly as you were adding a cream cheese frosting. It actually looks incredibly delicious, which in part would be due to your adaptation of the traditional recipe I’m sure ;)

    Fascinating post Tux. I had no idea that tomato soup was used in such a way, serious props to those ingenious wartime-rationed bakers and cooks! I must give this a go one day. Well, maybe. I’m curious… we’ll see how far that curiosity goes! :P

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahaha! I definitely know what you mean. I remember the first time I saw a version of this recipe and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! After reading about the history of it though, and hearing what it tasted like, I HAD to try for myself!
      Those depression and WWII era folks sure were resourceful!

      Like

  14. I hope you never get tired of writing about food history because every time I come to your site I learn something new. I hadn’t heard of cake baking with tomato sauce until a few years ago, as well. however, I didn’t know that the acidity in the tomato sauce acts as a flour conditioner so you could skip the buttermilk. wtf? mind blown. as usual, you have dazzled me once again. and that cream cheese frosting? just heavenly.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love reading about the inventive ways wartime and depression era bakers and homemakers still managed to get their baked goods fix! I think I need to try this just so that I can astound my family when I tell them the secret ingredient :)
    Also, your photos are just gorgeous as always. I love that blue cake stand!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I can’t even imagine living through a time when butter and eggs and dairy weren’t readily available!
      I’d probably break down and pout at first, but would probably end up being just as determined to figure out something else as those folks were! When you need a slice of cake, you just NEED a slice of cake!!! Amirite?

      Liked by 1 person

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