I made this cake for a literary-themed English Department meeting at the college where I teach part-time.
Tomato Soup Cake?
Recently, I received an invitation to go to an end-of-the-semester meeting and luncheon in the English Department where I teach part-time. The lunch had a literary theme, and each potluck item was supposed to be a famous dish from some work or author. Not sure what to bring, I googled some of my favorite works and authors. One of them happened to be Sylvia Plath, the tortured poet who ended her life by turning on a gas oven and sticking her head in it. Sad and fascinating, huh?
Since graduate school, I have been intrigued by Plath's work with its dark richness. Her anger at her father for dying when she was just a child was evident in "Daddy," and the suicidal tendencies that she fought all her life were evident in much of her work. "Lady Lazarus" is, as the title implies, all about dying and coming back to life, as Plath references her attempts to take her own life every ten years. But when did she finally succeed?
After she was married, Plath turned to cooking in an effort to stave off her depression. Her favorite book was reportedly The Joy of Cooking. She often baked and made dinners for friends. Still, her baking could not save her, as her marriage fell apart. Separated from her husband, with two young children at home, Plath could not continue on and was finally successful in her many attempts at suicide. Ironically, this 30-year-old poet ended her life by using the baking medium she loved—the oven.
I dare you to try it and love it!
Plath's Specialty: Tomato Soup Cake
It is said that Plath made tomato soup cake over and over again; it was her signature dish. When I first looked at this recipe, I was fascinated by the title. Tomato soup in a cake? It sounded kind of yucky. Still, I thought taking a tomato soup cake by a disturbed poetess would be an appropriate item to take to an English Department's potluck.
I must admit that I felt very literary when making this cake, and, by the time I was putting on the finishing touches of frosting, I felt that I was paying homage to the great tortured and talented Plath. Read more in this article from the Guardian about Plath's life and the recipe that inspired me to try this experiment.
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
12 average size pieces of cake
- 2 cups (250 grams) flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup (120 g) butter, softened
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 (11-oz.) can tomato soup, condensed
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- 1 cup raisins (optional)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
- Set oven to preheat at 375 degrees. Oil and flour two round baking pans. I did the old-fashioned way with oil and flour instead of a spray, as the old way is sure to keep the cake from sticking.
- Stir flour, baking powder, soda, and spices together. Set aside.
- Cream together sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in eggs. This is where I would also add vanilla extract, if I so choose to do next time. I think I will.
- To the sugar/butter mixture, add in the flour and soup by thirds, alternating.
- Mix well. Add raisins and nuts, if you wish. I didn't.
- Divide batter into the two baking pans. The original recipe says to bake for 35 minutes, but test after 20. Insert a toothpick in. When it comes out clean, the cakes are ready. Mine were ready in only 23 minutes.
- Let cool for about 5 minutes. Take a knife and insert around the edge of the cake, moving all the way around to ensure that cake doesn't stick. Carefully turn pans over and plop out cakes onto racks to cool.
- When cakes are completely cool, spread with cream cheese frosting.
Read More From Delishably
Notes About the Batter
I must say that when I added in the tomato soup, it looked kind of gross. I hurriedly mixed in the soup before tasting the batter. Surprisingly, the batter tasted great, and I had to try it again! It was salty and sweet at the same time. Quite an interesting flavor!
The recipe didn't call for vanilla extract, but I think I'll add that next time. The recipe did call for raisins, while some versions call for prunes and some kind of nut, such as walnuts or almonds. I don't like raisins or nuts in cake, so I opted not to include them.
Cream Cheese Frosting for Tomato Soup Cake
The frosting for this cake looks to be similar to the type of homemade frosting my mom made while I was growing up. I cheated on this first endeavor, as I was busy at the end of the semester and didn't have a lot of time for cake-baking after grading a mountain of papers. I bought the ready-made cream cheese frosting this time.
Here is the creamy looking frosting recipe that I will try the next time I make this delightful dessert.
- 16 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 pinch salt
- 5 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
- The cream cheese and butter should be at room temperature; sometimes I soften them for a few seconds in the microwave when necessary.
- Mix together these two ingredients into a creamy mixture. Mix in vanilla and salt. Add in sugar a little at a time. Beat until smooth.
The Results? Review of Sylvia Plath's Tomato Soup Cake
So, how did this recipe go over with my English Department cohorts? Well, let's just say that I had to sneak out a piece to take home for myself. A few brave souls, after looking at the notecard labeled "Sylvia Plath's Tomato Soup Cake Recipe," went ahead to try a sliver. Word got around, the room abuzz with this strange but savory cake, with some coming back for more or for pieces to take with them.
Some said the cake reminded them of carrot cake. That's the closest thing we could come up with, but I actually like it better. I've never been a big fan of carrot cake except for the cream cheese frosting. Plath's cake has a firmer texture and a flavor that is more savory and less sweet. I describe the flavor as "darker," even, an odd word to describe flavor but perhaps appropriate for a baker who wrote dark poetry.
I think I've found a new signature potluck dish. Sylvia Plath's tomato soup cake not only offers a unique and tasty dessert, but it sparks interesting discussion about one of my favorite poets. This recipe was fun to make—and share!