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Sunday Baking: Tomato Soup Cake

I have a great love of strange and kooky recipes, and honestly fell head over heels with the idea of a tomato soup cake when I spied it on Instagram. Add the fact that my birthday was coming up and I that I have a habit of presenting friends with strange cakes for theirs, it only made sense to bake one and delight terrorise my colleagues.

The recipe is taken almost exactly from the Campbell Soup website, which has a detailed history into the cake’s origins. In my version I substituted the lard for butter, and omitted the raisins.

Soupcake
An earlier recipe and the inspiration
 Tomato Spice Cake

2 Tbsp butter

1 C sugar

2 C flour

1 tsp mixed spice

1x 420ml can condensed soup

1 tsp baking soda

Preheat your oven to 180°C with a shelf set on the middle rung. Butter and line a cake tin and set aside.

Cream the butter sugar and mixed spice until it’s grainy and blended. Sift the flour on top of the sugar blend.

Add the baking soda to the tin of soup and mix until you see the colour change from red to orange, which is caused by tiny bubbles. Baking soda reacts with acid, and the soup has that aplenty. Quickly add the soup to the remaining ingredients and mix until you’re just beyond where you’d mix a muffin: the lumps are gone but it’s not perfectly smooth. Spoon into the cake tin and gently slide into the oven. Bake for around 35 minutes, checking regularly thereafter to test it with a skewer.

The cake will go from Halloween orange to the most beautiful shade of sienna, and your house will smell of sugar, spice and rich tomato: strange, but not in an unwelcome way. The flavour is of rich spice and umami: deep and comforting.

One it is cool, blend 250g cream cheese with 170g icing sugar and the zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes (depending on how big and juicy they are), and ice as you wish.

The best part about strange cakes like this is getting to play with the icing. I opted for a relatively safe cream cheese and lime frosting, but dabbled with the idea of including basil as well. Other temptations included playing up the tomato aspect and dressing it like it was a spiced tomato juice, adding some Worcester sauce to the batter and adding a spicy frosting. Then I went one step further and seriously contemplated adding vodka, à la Bloody Mary. This cake lends itself to play and cream cheese is an excellent companion for the rich flavour.

Soup cake 1
Crumb shot

The recipe first appeared as a depression era recipe somewhere around the 1920s to 30s, and adapted itself well to wartime households with rationing on eggs and butter. Also known as Mystery Cake, the recipe often includes raisins and acts as a spiced fruit cake, which I imagine would work quite well. I didn’t add raisins because I had run out and couldn’t be bothered making a run to the supermarket late at night. I imagine it would be wonderful with fruit, but I love the fact that this version really just lets the tomato sing.

My colleagues all expressed reservations about the cake, and yet by 4pm both had been gobbled up and I had multiple requests for the recipe. Many people went back for seconds and it was even a hit with children, who gobbled it down. I imagine it would be a brilliant birthday cake option for a tomato sauce-obsessed child. We all agreed that the tomato wasn’t unwelcome, in fact it was heartening and moreish. The crumb was beautiful and it was the perfect, toothsome level of moist.

I was worried as the Cambell’s recipe above called for it to be baked for an hour, and some reviews said that even baking for 35 minutes was too long and left the cake dry. My best explanation is that ovens have continued to improve in terms of heat reliability and efficiency and that an hour certainly is too long for a modern oven. That said, you should also spend some time baking so that you can learn the quirks of your oven, and I recommend checking in with a skewer after 30 minutes.

I would absolutely bake this cake again. Modern renditions have become more elaborate, but this is a cake perfect for tight budgets and busy brains. For those watching their intake, a one-twelfth slice of the recipe above (without icing, and it’s still tasty without) comes out at about 860 kilojoules, or 205 calories.

I had my doubts, but I’m sold!

Further reading:

New York Times Mystery Cake

University of Chicago Press

The Enduring Allure of Tomato Soup Cake, The Kitchn

Plastic Free cookery Challenge

Plastic is ubiquitous and seemingly inescapable. The first man-made plastic compound, ‘Parkesine’, was unveiled in 1862, and since then plastic and its various types have evolved and grown. Light, cheap, hygenic, preserving and flexible in use, plastic eventually became intertwined with the modern packaged food industry. Go to your local supermarket and you’ll find just about everything in plastic, from meat to milk, bread to cheese, fruit to peas. According to National Geographic, of the 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging produced globally each year just 14% is recycled.

A leading justification for the use of single use plastics to package food is the role that packaging can play in extending shelf-life of food and consequently reducing food waste. However, per capita food and packaging waste rates in Europe remain amongst the highest globally, suggesting that packaging has not offered a silver bullet to the food waste problem. 

Institute for European Environmental Policy

In my home, we’ve been trying to cut down on plastic for about two-and-a-half years. But we still end up with thing in the rubbish bin, filled with the treats that we can’t yet buy plastic free from our local grocers. As Plastic free July is coming, I thought I’d undertake that long-needed audit of the rubbish bins to see what my weaknesses are, and if there’s a way to circumvent the plastic by making it myself. A quick dig through our bin revealed a few places for improvement:

Chips.

Known as Crisps in the UK , reputedly the spiteful creation of an irritated chef in New York, and popular the world over, potato chips – those thin, crunchy slivers of potato come in a plastic bag that are a devil.

Cheese.

Before plastic, cheese could come wrapped in fabric (cheesecloth), covered in wax, or even in jars (particularly Stilton cheese). Dishes such as rarebit, raclette and fondue were dishes that specifically used the hard, dried ends of your cheese. And while waxed cheese is still seen, it is usually in wedges – and shrink wrapped in plastic.

Crackers.

To go with my cheese addiction, crackers come in loads of packaging. While in Florence last year, I was astonished to see towers of crackers at the local bakeries for sale. It struck me as symbolic of the relationship Italians have with their food, which seemed (to me) much more diverse in terms of suppliers, and more intimate with your foods origins.

Pasta.

Breaking the alliterative trend here, Spaghetti is the hardest pasta for me to source plastic-free. I imagine that it’s hard to sell without it breaking, but given the simplicity of the ingredients I should really be better at this.

The challenge:

During Plastic Free July, I m going to try to find recipes that I can use to replace the commercial version. In this attempt I’ll seek to use historic recipes to try and recreate the foods that people would have eaten before plastic became quite so entrenched in our pantries. That might mean a Victorian recipe for crackers, a modern recipe for pasta, or a made-up recipe for crisps. But what it means is that I can reduce my waste further, and I can explore the recipes for food that comes from a time when more was made at home, and when plastic wasn’t everywhere.

Join me on instagram or Twitter with the hastag #plasticfreecookery. Food and recipes can be modern, vintage and historic in the spirit of togetherness and of fighting a modern problem that people lived for thousands of years without.