Cake had not waned in popularity since the Twenties; if anything, it was more popular. And that popularity now had (pseudo)-scientific backing. A 1931 booklet from K. C. Baking Powder notes “cakes are no longer considered too rich for daily consumption; in fact, cake is now known to be an exceedingly well balanced food product.”
One of the newest and most popular cakes was 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 name product—frosting made from Philadelphia brand cream cheese.
Mystery Cake, Campbell’s Soup
Cooking with condensed soups (usually Campbell’s but Heinz and Hormel also were popular) had really taken hold in the 1920s, but this recipe was one of the first departures from the sauce/aspic oeuvre.
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon or mace
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup seedless raisins, coarsely chopped
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 (15-ounce) can condensed tomato soup
Philly-Vanilly Frosting (below)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices together in a medium-size bowl. Toss the raisins to coat with ¼ 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 and floured 8-inch layer pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Frost with Philly-Vanilly Frosting.
Makes 1 cake
1 (8-ounce) package Philadelphia brand (of course) cream cheese
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon 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.