Black Magic Chocolate Cake Made With Condensed Tomato Soup – A Retro Recipe Test

Posted on Apr 25 2012 - 6:00am by RetroRuth

I cannot resist cakes with weird ingredients. I just can’t. So, when I came across a recipe for a chocolate cake that had, as the “secret” ingredient, a can of condensed tomato soup, I knew I was going to have to make it.

The recipe came from a recent Salvation Army score comprised of ALL handwritten recipe cards and recipe clippings, sans boxes. There were about five or six collections of cards from different women, spanning the 1950’s-1990’s and I managed to snag them all for only $2. In this stack of wonderfulness, I came across the recipe for this Black Magic Cake with tomato soup twice; once handwritten from the 1970’s and another was a clipping from a grocery store handout from 1994.


I did some research for this cake, because I was convinced that it must have it’s origins in a mid-century Campbell’s recipe. But I hit a dead-end. I even asked Sharon from the Flickr group, “Gee, That Food Looks Terrible” and she couldn’t put her finger on it, either. But what I know so far is this:  Cakes made with tomato soup are very common in Depression cooking, and are also common in mid-century cooking. Even though I can’t lock down the source or the exact year, this recipe could very well be from the 1960’s or even earlier. This recipe is also very similar to Hershey’s Black Magic Cake, which uses a cup of cold coffee instead of tomato soup, and I think the debut year for that recipe was 1934.

But I have to tell you I don’t care exactly where the recipe came from.  I know this is usually the part of the post where tell you how I felt while I was making the latest dish and trying to keep the end result a surprise, but this time I am letting the cat out of the soup can early and telling you that this cake was amazing.

I know, I am ruining this post, but I don’t care. This cake was just that good.


I even made this cake twice in one week, because that is how good it was. I originally made the recipe exactly with no substitutions according to the rules here on the Mid-Century Menu, and I made it in a 13×9 pan because I was lazy and didn’t feel like frosting a layer cake.


And the batter smelled bad. It smelled really bad! I have to admit that I didn’t have high hopes at this point. But then…


It came out of the oven and the finished cake smelled so good, and it was so moist and delicious. And Tom kept eating so much of it.

“This cake is so good.”

“I know!”

“I am getting another piece.”

“No don’t! This is your third piece already. And it isn’t even 10:00 am yet!”

“I want it!”

“We have to get rid of this thing. It’s like tomato-chocolate-crack.”

Finally, we agreed that we had to send the cake away to be eaten by Tom’s co-workers, otherwise we were going to eat the whole thing by ourselves in two days.

But we couldn’t stop thinking about the cake. We daydreamed about it. We pined for it. We cursed the decision to give it away. And so, when our neighbors invited us over for dinner that Saturday, we knew exactly which cake we were going to make to take for dessert.


Oh yes. It’s back!

This time I tweaked it a little, and it ended up being even better than the first one. It was moist, very chocolately, had an excellent depth of flavor provided by the tomato soup and it was very stable. I was easily able to bake it in two 8 inch layer pans, turn the cakes out with no problems AND split each layer with no turntable and just a serrated knife. The layers took quite a bit of flapping back and forth as I filled the cake, and never once cracked or crumbled. And this sucker stayed moist, too. Three days later I got an email from our neighbor who took leftover cake home, exclaiming on how moist the cake still was.

Total success.

But you don’t have to take just my word for it. You can also check out Tom’s face.


From the first taste-test and…


From the second tasting.

The Verdict: Amazing! Tom has decided this is his new favorite chocolate cake, and I am never to make a different one again. Ever.

*Note – The layer cake is frosted with Vintage Bakery Frosting, and filled with a vintage chocolate frosting/filling that I will be posting soon!

Black Magic Chocolate Cake Made With Condensed Tomato Soup

Black Magic Chocolate Cake Made With Condensed Tomato Soup

A wonderful, chocolately cake that stays moist for days. Is stable enough for a layer cake, but has a nice crumb. Loved it!


  • 1 3/4 cups AP flour (or 1 3/4 cups plus 2 T cake flour)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  • Sift together first 6 ingredients.
  • Add next 5 ingredients, and beat on medium speed for 6 minutes.
  • Pour into a greased and floured 9x13 pan or 2 round cake pans.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 mins. (start checking after 30 mins if making rounds)



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I love everything retro, vintage, mid-century, kitsch and all things atomic! A 21st century housewife just trying to fit the 50's. I have a passion for vintage recipes and an enormous vintage cookbook collection that I keep testing, even though by now I should know better. Creator of Mid-Century Menu (, No Pattern Required (, and I Ate The 80's (

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83 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Laura April 25, 2012 at 6:27 am - Reply

    I’m so happy to have discovered your blog! So interesting!

    I didn’t know they used to use tomato soup in chocolate cake, it sounds really strange but the result looks so amazing! I’d like to try it!

    • RetroRuth April 25, 2012 at 9:11 am - Reply

      You totally should try it, Laura! It’s great!

  2. Charlotte April 25, 2012 at 7:46 am - Reply

    Tom needs a moment alone with the cake – haha! A former co-worker of mine once brought a tomato soup cake to work and it apparently was terrible on a legendary level. I’m glad (and intrigued!) to hear this one turned out so well. I might have to give it a try!

    • RetroRuth April 25, 2012 at 9:12 am - Reply

      You just might have to, and undo all the tomato soup stigma from your workplace as well! 🙂

  3. ae April 25, 2012 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Other than the way it looked in the mixer, this cake looks delicious!

    • RetroRuth April 25, 2012 at 9:13 am - Reply

      I have to admit, I was pretty grossed out by the mixer myself. However, I must say I wasn’t tempted to try the batter!

      • P'Gell May 3, 2012 at 9:49 am - Reply

        Yeah. The “Mixer Cam” pic was disgusting. But, I bet it’s good. I’ll have to try it. I made tomato soup bread a few times, from an old recipe. It was wonderful. It was a yeast bread, and it was…. red. Pretty cool.

        I can’t wait to try this cake.

  4. veg-o-matic April 25, 2012 at 10:29 am - Reply

    How nice–and unusual–to see that expression of utter serenity on Tom’s face.
    Annnnnnd….once is enough, really. Could you please hurry back to grossing him out? Kthnx.

  5. Sara In AZ April 25, 2012 at 10:35 am - Reply

    This looks awesome, I’m SO going to try this and not tell anyone what’s in the cake until after they have had it!!! 🙂

  6. Sean April 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    The trick is to have a party and serve this and the mayonasie cake – then after everyone is finished make the guests guess which is mayo and which is tomato…

  7. Laura April 25, 2012 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    I remember a tomato soup cake in a community cookbook my grandmother used; it was a spice cake or gingerbread cake though. The cookbook had recipes in it that were “older than dirt,” and that may true of this one, since Campbell’s started producing condensed tomato soup in 1897! Now I want to track down that spice cake recipe…..

  8. Mia April 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I printed the recipe & will be baking this sucker…

  9. fifi April 25, 2012 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    I made this cake in the 1970s. It is kind of oddly amazing. I’ll have to try it again.

  10. Jenny April 29, 2012 at 9:01 pm - Reply

    This mix looks so yucky but the end result looks so good I am keeping it up my sleve for my next dinner party 🙂

    • ReJeanne May 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm - Reply

      I have been looking for that recipy for years….we use to make when i was a kid and yes i am child of the 60…just one thing use Campbell soup and nothing else or it will not come out right…thanks.

  11. Jenny (VintageSugarcube) May 7, 2012 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    I can’t wait to try that cake out, especially after the rave reviews from your hubster!

  12. Karen May 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    I’ve heard rave reviews of “Tomato Soup Cake”, which I think is a spice-type cake, but never heard of a chocolate cake made with it.

    I once tried a chocolate sauerkraut cake, just because of the weird factor. It turned out to be fantastic, oddly enough, so I guess I should give this recipe a try, too.

    What a great find at Salvation Army! You’re bound to have a lot of fun with that collection.

  13. veg-o-matic May 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    Hey, Ruth, when you made the cake did you use actual buttermilk, or did you go the lemon-juice-in-sweet-milk route?

    • RetroRuth May 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm - Reply

      Hey Veg! I used real buttermilk!

  14. Becky June 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Hi there – I need to tell you the story of my encounter with the tomato soup cake.

    I attended a depression era/mid century pot luck a couple weeks ago and was looking for something to bring. This sounded interesting, so I tried it. Everyone there LOVED it!

    Fast forward a couple days – I was at work – I teach middle school – and I was telling my students about the cake and how good it was. Surprisingly, they begged me to bring it in for them. So yesterday, I did. I made 2 9×13 pans of it, frosted it with the chocolate icing recipe you recommended, and they absolutely devoured it! Several kids wanted seconds. Some kids came in during their lunch hour to see if I had leftovers because word had gotten out about the cake. I even had kids ask for the recipe so that they could have their moms make it!

    So there you go – you know it’s good when teenagers will eat it even when they know what the ingredients are!!!

    • RetroRuth August 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm - Reply

      Becky!! That is a fantastic story! I am SO glad everyone liked it. 🙂

  15. Holly G July 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    I just made homemade tomato basil soup, googled for magical properties of tomato soup and this popped up. I am SO making this. What will it do to my waste line? 😉

  16. Mia August 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    Hi, I am ready to make this cake could you tell me what size can of tomato soup to use I have the larger size 400g is this ok or should I use the smaller size 🙂

    • RetroRuth August 1, 2012 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      Hey Mia!

      You should use the smaller can. I think it is about 10 oz or so? Good luck!

  17. Katie October 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    What type of oil do you use?

    • RetroRuth October 31, 2012 at 12:08 pm - Reply

      Hi Katie! I just used vegetable oil.

  18. Kimberly January 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Hi….I stumbled across your page trying to find a recipe for Tomato soup. I just finished baking your tomato soup!! I can not wait to try it…I’m sure it will be delicious! thanks so much for posting! I love all things Retro and shared your page and recipe with my friends! I’m sure they will not believe that I used tomato soup…haha. 😉

    Thanks again!


  19. Kimberly January 26, 2013 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    …Tomato soup *Chocolate Cake. 🙂

  20. Cristina February 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    I am making this tonight! I hope it tastes as good as it looks!

  21. Evelyn February 24, 2013 at 1:57 am - Reply

    I’m so glad I found this website.This cake was delious! I have viewed some other recipes and I can’t wait to try them!

  22. Silvercat February 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    I made this for a party. It’s so good, but it’s RICH. Almost too rich.

  23. Rachel March 7, 2013 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    I’m planning on making this on Sunday – do you just use Campbell’s condensed tomato soup or is there a specific kind?

    • RetroRuth March 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm - Reply

      Hi Rachel –

      You can use any condensed tomato soup, but the cake really tastes the best when you use Campbell’s.

  24. R March 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    My lovely neighbor Shirley Bloom used to bake this for us in the early 60s I believe. I have missed it ever since! She frosted it with chocolate

  25. Rachel May 15, 2013 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    We made this today and it was WONDERFUL, just…WONDERFUL! This has to be the best looking chocolate bundt cake my mother has made since I can remember. It tastes good, too. It cuts so cleanly.

  26. Frank Goodhue May 31, 2013 at 5:49 am - Reply

    After I read this post, I remembered a Live Journal post that had an original ad for Campbell’s Soup. It showed the cake, and said to find the recipe in the Campbells Cook Book. You could write for a free copy, looked to be the 1950’s. The cake was a pan cake, with white frosting.

  27. Frank Goodhue June 12, 2013 at 6:13 am - Reply

    I made this cake as part of a recreated TV Dinner menu. The cake was a hit, big time. I’ll definitely make it again.

  28. sara July 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    hi, i was wondering if anyone made this with “sour milk” instead of buttermilk?

    • sara July 11, 2013 at 10:37 pm - Reply


      • RetroRuth July 12, 2013 at 8:38 am - Reply

        Nice, sara! Soooo glad you liked it and that it turned out for you. And that frosting sounds amazing!

        • sara August 24, 2013 at 9:50 pm - Reply

          ruth, i call it my 3 pound frosting…1 pound of powdered sugar (sifted), 1 pound butter , 1 pound cream cheese, 1 tablespoon vanilla…to make it cherry / vanilla, i use the “juice” from maraschino cherries. yum yum yum. it makes a TON, but leftovers can be frozen…so you always have some yummy frosting ready to go.

  29. Baker Bill July 4, 2013 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    This cake is AMAZING!……A M A Z I N G!!!!!!! I have had maybe one or two chocolate cakes in my life that I thought were really amazing. This recipe blows anything else away!!! Sublime! I made it 3 times in 2 weeks… is just that good! Thank you for sharing it. Just a couple of questions……….if it’s baked in a glass baking dish, how should the temperature and baking time be adjusted? Can you also use this recipe for cupcakes? Any info would be helpful. Thanks again. MAKE THIS CAKE TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • RetroRuth July 7, 2013 at 10:18 am - Reply

      Hey Bill! See Sue-on-the-farms comment below for the glass pan adjustment!

      For cupcakes, make sure that you only fill the cupcake liners HALF full instead of the normal 3/4 way full. This recipe raises a LOT. The cupcakes are done then you touch them in the center and they spring back, and I usually start testing cupcakes for doneness after 20 mins. Good luck!

  30. Sue-on-the-farm July 7, 2013 at 1:07 am - Reply

    Baker Bill: Rule of Thumb for a glass pan, lower the oven by 25 degrees fahrenheit. [I also raise the oven rack by one or two notched if using a “regular” [not convection] oven]. I was always leery of baking with my glass pan as I have scorched a few cakes that way, until I started using a convection oven – which makes me wish I had more than one glass cake pan it works so well.

    Any cake recipe can be baked as cupcakes, start testing for doneness at about a third of the way through the full cake baking time. Sooner if it’s for a big cake, like a bundt cake, wait til about half time if it’s for a sheet cake [ala 13 x 9]

  31. celia September 26, 2013 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I baked the one you linked to made with coffee and it was amazing. So easy and it stayed moist and awesome for TWO WEEKS in the fridge. i could not believe it. I didn’t even think it needed frosting. I did stir the cocoa powder into the hot coffee since I knew that would bloom the cocoa powder and make it more flavorful.

  32. Tarte Framboise November 4, 2013 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    I’ve just made this cake and was a little bit anxious because of the conversions ( I’m French ). Moreover I’ve made a big BIG mistake : tasting the mixing = horrible and I was afraid of the tomato coulis ( 200gr ) I’ve put in it.

    After the baking and the tasting: delicious ! I’m pretty amazed by the moist of this cake but I’ll try with more chocolate and a little bit of coffee the next time.

    So, thank you for this recipe =)

  33. Minifig January 12, 2014 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Just want to say a quick thank you for posting this recipe. We tried it over the weekend and it lived up to all our expectations. The batter was as grim as advertised, and the end product is sublime.

  34. Road-trippin' Granny January 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    In 1962 I was given a recipe box filled with recipes from friends and neighbors. One of the recipes was for Tomato Soup Cake, and the friend who gave it to me said it came from WWII, when many cooking ingredients were scarce, and they made-do with substitutions. I made this cake several times, and loved it. During the ensuing years and a number of moves, my precious recipe box has gone missing, but I am finding similar ones on the internet.

  35. Laureen February 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    Oh I so want to make this! I wonder if I could do it gluten free as I am celiac. I’m sure I could do the rest of the cake with substitute flours but Campbell’s tomato soup has wheat in it.

    • PattieJune April 5, 2014 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      Laureen, My middle name is Maureen. Make with fresh tomatoes your own tomato soup, process tomatoes with a blender or just mash well,cook tomatoes in a sauce pan mash after cooked, on a medium heat, stir a lot as they will burn, when they are cooked down some they are ready. Add a little of the sugar from the cake recipe as this balances the acid. If you can have dairy add just enough to be creamy, I prefer half and half as it is creamy already and does not have foreign ingredients in it. Hope this helps.****

  36. Sean Martin February 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    I’m 60, and I remember my grandmother making this fifty years ago. I have no idea where she got it; she kept all her handwritten recipes in a tin box. Yes, it is totally awesome, and I am so glad to have found your website and this recipe in particular. Thank you!!!

  37. Maureen February 14, 2014 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    Happy Valentine’s Day! I have this cake cooling on a rack right now!! I’ve always wanted to try it and this seems like the perfect time. It smells delicious. I made the frosting on the confectioner’s sugar box, which I haven’t made in probably 15 years. I loved it as a kid, and made it all the time, but I lost the touch when I got older 🙂 Seems to have come out this time, yay!

    Why does it take so long for a cake to cool????

  38. lucy April 21, 2014 at 10:18 am - Reply

    wow came across this recipe, and wanna try it, will cupcakes work ?

    • RetroRuth April 21, 2014 at 11:57 am - Reply

      Hi Lucy – I haven’t tried cupcakes, but I think other people have and they did turn out. Just make sure you only fill them half (or less than half) full, this batter rises a lot! Good luck!

  39. Sovie Mary May 2, 2014 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    this was ny favorite birthday cake as a child,love it with walnuts and golden raisens in it you have a recipe for jello molds with cream cheese balls in it?Or a basic moist yellow cake with boiled maple syrup icing?

  40. Melina P. Patterson May 6, 2014 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    Made it & love it! Thanks:)

  41. CP July 22, 2014 at 5:42 am - Reply

    I have been wanting to make this cake since I stumbled onto this recipe in May. Was gonna make it for my mom for Mother’s day but didn’t have any cocoa or buttermilk. 🙁

    Made the spice cake version though and she liked it. Got cocoa this time and it’s her birthday this weekend, so guess what mom’s getting for her birthday? Hope it’s good!

  42. CP July 27, 2014 at 6:43 am - Reply

    Success! The cake turned out awesome and your tomato-chocolate crack description certainly was apt! And I did all the mixing by hand, didn’t even use a mixer. Mom loved it and the cake went like gangbusters. Even I had to stop and say wow when I tasted it. Well done Ruth, this is going in the recipe box!

  43. Jordon Harriman November 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    Mmmmmm! I stumbled on this site and cake while looking up Jell-O monstrosities of yesteryear (and I mean that in a good way). Oh my heavens, this cake is so delicious! My wife and one son couldn’t get past the knowledge that there was tomato soup in the cake, and didn’t like it. The other three sons and I loved it! I am going to make this a lot!

    Ruth, your whole site is amazing, and now bookmarked. Great writing style, great recipes. Thank you!

  44. Marjorieo January 11, 2015 at 1:32 am - Reply

    My grandmother used to make this in the 1960s and I’ve been looking for a good recipe ever since. And guess what? My grandmother was in the Salvation Army. So I’ll take that as a sign and try this for sure. Thank you for posting it!

  45. Cassandra Carbee January 26, 2015 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    I made this tonight and frosted it with Jiffy fudge frosting. It blew my mind! Do you have any vintage recipes for the chocolate cake that uses mayonnaise?

  46. Laura February 3, 2015 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    This reminded me of a recipe called Thunder Cake. It appears in a children’s book of the same title by Patricia Polacco and is a recipe her grandmother used to make. This recipe is made with fresh tomatoes.

  47. Susan March 19, 2015 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    What about the recipe for the filling? It looks delicious. Thanks.

  48. Lana April 26, 2015 at 11:20 am - Reply

    I notice that you said you would post the recipe for “the vintage chocolate frosting/filling that I will be posting soon” but I am not seeing the link yet. Can you post your recipe for the chocolate filling?

  49. Assonta Wagner June 6, 2015 at 9:02 am - Reply

    This cake….. Oh this cake. My family talks about it. We had to have silence while eating so we could enjoy it without distraction.

  50. Adam September 8, 2015 at 2:28 am - Reply

    I came across your website in that most wonderful of ways… I fell down the Pinterest hole which led me to the larger internet hole. I haven’t baked a cake from scratch before and when I saw this recipe I knew this was THE cake I had to make first. The only change to the recipe, as posted, was the use of Hershey’s special dark cocoa. Knowing this cake has a strange power over the minds of we poor mortals, I decided to bake the cake and take it to work with me tomorrow.
    I planned not to taste it myself but…when I realized I’d forgotten to put some toothpicks in the cake to hold the Saran Wrap up… I ended up with a bit of cake on the wrap… Since I was replacing it anyhow I figured a small taste wouldn’t hurt. I licked the small bit of cake off the wrap and had to fight the urge to devour the entire thing. This cake is crazy, amazing good!! I cannot wait to see the look on my co-workers faces tomorrow

    • RetroRuth September 8, 2015 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      How FUN! Let me know how it goes, and glad you like the cake!!!! 🙂

  51. Anders Svensson February 29, 2016 at 9:47 am - Reply

    I made tomato cake for our family in winter birthday party. The taste was fantastic. I used a cherry vanilla cream to make the tomato soup. I make tomato cake every time for any occasion. Thanks for sharing great recipe.

    • Wendy July 15, 2017 at 12:06 pm - Reply


  52. Marie April 28, 2016 at 9:24 am - Reply

    Hiiiii, I am soo excitedd to male this recipee but I don’t want to screw it up. When you say one can of condensed tomato soup, how many ounces do you mean??

  53. Wendy July 15, 2017 at 11:06 am - Reply

    Chocolate!? Thank you for postingI have the spice cake recipe from my campbells cook book. I like both versions! I was so happy to know we can do it in a chocolate version! We made these as cupcakes for Independence day! I made some cream cheese frosting to top!So moist! Even better to enjoy within the week after too! I will make this chocolate one today for my mother in-laws bday, they twisted my arm. ;D

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