Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Mystery Cake" for Retro Recipe Challenge #11

With my first recipe "Challenge" (Weekend Cookbook Challenge#27) under my belt, I decided I should go for #2 this weekend; Retro Recipe Challenge #11: Your Mother Should Know, hosted by Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness. It was similar to the first challenge in that it asked for a retro recipe but this one had to be from a year before your Mother was born. I thought I was set because I have several vintage cookbooks but it turns out my earliest one was published in 1933 and my Mom was born in 1931. Luckily I found an excellent resource at, called Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads by Sylvia Lovegren. (This is a fun book, very interesting to read and I plan to cook a few more retro recipes from it). Looking through the recipes and information on the 20's and 30's I had several contenders in my mind but it finally came down to two choices, both cakes, because this is supposed to be a challenge and once again (with feeling), I AM NOT A BAKER! I do admire bakers more than I can say and occasionally aspire to be one but frankly I am much better at "tinkering" with recipes and measurements than sticking to them to the letter which means I usually end up with about a 60% success record when baking. But enough about my issues and on to the finalists...

I was torn between two cakes; a Pineapple Upside Down Cake and a Mystery Cake by Campbell's Soup; basically a spice cake with a can of tomato soup as the secret ingredient. The Pineapple Cake sounded better, I love a good upside down cake and it provided a nice connection to my home in Hawaii but I have made similar cakes before. Although not being either a spice cake or tomato soup fan, I still could not resist the weirdness and kitschy appeal of the Mystery Cake, frosted with Philly-Vanilly Frosting so that was the winner.

Sylvia Lovegren writes about the Mystery Cake: "One of the newest and most popular cakes was a mystery or surprise cake--not surprising because everyone in the Thirties seemed to love "clever" cooking. This cake was a 1925 culinary contribution from Campbell's Soup and tasted surprisingly good. "But," said Joy of Cooking (1964) "why shouldn't it? The deep secret is tomato, which after all is a fruit." Mystery Cake was most often frosted with another brand named product--frosting made from Philadelphia brand cream cheese."

Mystery Cake
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon or mace
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup seedless raisins, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 (15oz) can condensed soup
Philly-Vanilly Frosting (below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices together in a medium sized bowl. Toss the raisins to coat with 1/4 cup of the flour mixture. Cream the shortening in a large bowl. Add the sugar gradually to the shortening, creaming until light. Beat in the eggs until thoroughly mixed. Add the flour mixture alternately with the soup to the egg mixture. Stir until smooth. Fold in the raisins. Pour into two greased, floured 8" layer pans. Bake until cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Frost with Philly-Vanilly Frosting.

Philly-Vanilly Frosting
1 (8-ounce) package Philadelphia brand (of course) cream cheese
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the cheese until soft in a large bowl. Work in the sugar, then beat in the melted butter and vanilla. Continue beating until very light.

Both the cake and frosting were very easy to put together. The cake batter was an interesting orange color from the soup--for some reason I was expecting red?! I used golden raisins as I thought it would look better in the cake. I also checked my cake at 25 minutes and it was done--so watch cooking time. I baked the cake last night and frosted it this morning. The cream cheese frosting is good but the cake looked a little "blah". Trying to imagine what I might do if I were a typical "house-wife in a hurry" in the 20's-30's, I decided to "jazz it up" simply by zesting an orange, mixing in a bit of sugar and sprinkling it on the top of the cake, then sort of "swirling it with my knife into the frosting. I think it gave the cake a bit more visual interest and the hint of orange in the frosting complimented the flavor of the cake well and looked nice against the orange color of the cake when it was sliced.
The cake was pretty darn good actually! There was no discernible tomato flavor, just a mildly spiced cake, very moist. I don't think anyone would guess the mystery ingredient if you didn't tell them it was in there. Since I have only made and frosted one or two other layer cakes in my life, due to a traumatic cake making incident in my early teens (I'll cover that another time), I was very pleased with the results. A success for my second challenge entry!


  1. Thank you for posting this. I love vintage recipes and cookbooks too, and this cake is really good.

  2. Hi,
    I just had to take a moment to thank you for posting this recipe. I hope you don't mind but I am saving the link for a post I'm doing on the 6th of August.

    I'm so glad I bumped into your blog. I too am not a baker (although I am so envious of those who are:) I also find Fashionable Foods an indispensable resource.

    Thanks again. I'll drop back soon.

  3. Hey Louise,
    Thank you. Go right ahead and link away. it was a fun recipe to make--baker or not1 ;-)

  4. Hi Deb,
    Thanks so much for replying. I tried to email you but got noreply. The post is going up on the 6th at the Months blog. Thanks again, Louise


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