Black Magic Chocolate Cake Made With Condensed Tomato Soup – A Mid-Century Recipe Re-Run

Posted on Sep 9 2015 - 12:24pm by RetroRuth

So, after last week’s prune-chili sauce-gelatin debacle, I think we all need some comfort food. Since that was arguably the worst recipe we have ever made, I’ve decided to follow it up with the BEST recipe we have ever made here on the blog. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. You will not be disappointed!

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.

4.7 from 6 reviews
Black Magic Chocolate Cake
  • 1¾ cups flour (or 1¾ cups plus 2 T cake flour)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Sift together first 6 ingredients.
  2. Add next 5 ingredients, and beat on medium speed for 6 minutes.
  3. Pour into a greased and floured 9x13 pan or 2 round cake pans.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 mins. (start checking after 30 mins if making rounds)
  5. *Note - This cake rises high, the batter almost doubles in size. Be sure to leave lots of room in your pans or cupcake tins or you will have a big mess on your hands!

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.

Vintage Birthday Cake Frosting


  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 lb powdered sugar
  • 2 pasteurized egg whites (I use egg whites from the carton, measured to equal 2 egg whites)
  • 2 T cake flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 T milk
  • Cream shortening and sugar well.
  • Add egg whites and blend well.
  • Add flour, vanilla and 1 T milk at a time until right consistency to spread.
  • Will frost a three-layer cake.
Old-Fashioned Chocolate Filling/Frosting
1/2 cup butter
3 ounces bitter chocolate
1/8th teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1/3 cup undiluted evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla
Melt the butter and chocolate together in the top of a double boiler.
Remove from heat and beat in the remaining ingredients.
Refrigerate for two hours or until chilled but not hard.
Beat with rotary egg beater (or mixer) until frosting is the consistency you desire.
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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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25 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Lassie September 9, 2015 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Making a note of this one!

    I love Tom’s t-shirt, I saw one like it some time ago and never went back to buy it.

    • RetroRuth September 10, 2015 at 9:51 am - Reply

      It’s one of his favorite shirts! 🙂

  2. Ellen September 9, 2015 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    I just made this last week after finding it on here! It’s a great cake, and I loved telling my guests what the secret ingredient was.

    • RetroRuth September 10, 2015 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  3. Zendelle September 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Have you ever come across a tomato soup cake recipe that wasn’t chocolate? Maybe a tomato soup spice cake or a tomato soup pound cake? I am extremely sensitive to caffeine and can’t have more than a bite of anything chocolate. But I know with this cake I wouldn’t be able to stop at just one bite!

    • Arlene September 9, 2015 at 11:08 pm - Reply

      Zendelle, I have a copy of “Cooking with Soup” (“a Campbell cookbook”) — no publication date that I can see, but by the drawings I’m assuming it’s from the 1960s. It’s spiral-bound and 200 pages. The cover is red with a photo of an oval casserole dish containing Glazed Fruited Pork Chops. If you google the book name and look at images, you’ll see the one I mean. Looks as if some of them are available on Amazon. This book has three versions of spice cake (no chocolate) with tomato soup as an ingredient: Rosy Chiffon Cake, Tomato Soup Cake, and Quick Tomato Spice Cake. The latter recipe even has several variations including Easy Fruit Cake, Mincemeat Cake, and Apricot or Prune Upside Down Cake. I would be happy to mail you copies of the relevant pages if we can figure out how to connect and exchange contact info. 🙂

  4. Fran Tieleman September 9, 2015 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    In August 1960 I was a Food Demonstrator at the Canadian National Exhibition for the Campbell Soup Company. We blended soups, made casseroles and other recipes that would be right at home on mid century menu! The piéce de résistance was …. the tomato soup cake. I am not sure I have ever made it since but it was a big hit then. Love this blog. Have you made a mayonnaise cake yet?

    • RetroRuth September 10, 2015 at 9:56 am - Reply

      Fran – That is so cool! I bet that was just a blast!

      I need to make the chocolate mayo AND a chocolate prune cake I saw recently. This might be the month of chocolate cakes!! 🙂

  5. Becky S September 9, 2015 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    I have been thinking about making this cake since I saw it on your website a few weeks ago. I remember my mom talking about a tomato soup cake years back.

    In this post, you write that you tweaked the recipe for the second run. What tweaks did you make?

    • RetroRuth September 10, 2015 at 9:58 am - Reply

      You should give it a try, Becky! It’s super easy.

      The tweaks were using cake flour instead of regular all purpose flour and baking it in round layers instead of the 13×9 pan that is recommended. Both didn’t make any real difference at all in the finished cake. 🙂

  6. Arlene September 9, 2015 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    There’s also a link to a similar spice cake recipe that I found in the FB comments for this post. It was on a Campbell’s site. Seems you might be able to search for this and other versions online.

  7. Janice September 10, 2015 at 12:10 am - Reply

    I made a chocolate tomato sauce cake from a recipe in Chocolatier magazine in the early 1980s. The chocolate frosting contained tomato sauce and sweetened condensed milk, and it was VILE. You could taste the tomato sauce in both the cake and frosting. Even my husband wouldn’t eat it. Maybe tomato soup versus tomato sauce made your version more palatable, as well as the absence of the frosting. I swore I’d never try something like that again, but you may have persuaded me if I can figure out a gluten-free version (celiac disease).

    • RetroRuth September 10, 2015 at 10:04 am - Reply

      I think the chocolate tomato soup cake may have been trendy for a short time in the 80’s, so that sounds about right.

      It also sounds bad. I am certain that tomato sauce mixed into chocolate frosting is a horrible mistake. The cake didn’t stop smelling like tomatoes until after it was baked, so I am assuming that the baking process is essential.

      I wonder if tomato sauce could be used in the cake, but maybe in a lesser amount? The soup would be a “diluted” tomato flavor. Maybe mixing buttermilk with pureed tomatoes? If you come up with something, I would love to hear it! 🙂

  8. Julie Armstrong September 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    I use coffee in chocolate cake as part of the liquid required; it gives ordinary cocoa powder cupcakes a great depth. But the tomato soup chocolate cake? Sorry, I’ve never liked it. Maybe it tastes too salty to me. Nonetheless, it is a favourite recipe among family and friends.

  9. Christian September 11, 2015 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    I made this cake a while ago and I can confirm, it is excellent! If you want a super easy, tasty basic chocolate cake this is 100% a go-to. I bet it would be perfect for kids’ birthday cakes and stuff – and it’s priceless telling people it has tomato soup in!

  10. S. S. September 17, 2015 at 1:59 am - Reply

    I made it and announced it was “Cake Surprise!”. It’s so delicious and also passes the let’s-serve-it-to-others-without-telling-them test.

  11. Melissa October 20, 2015 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    As you said, best cake I’ve ever had. Best cake my mom has ever had. We’re the only two who have had some so far but I have no doubt everyone will agree. I used a flour based frosting from tasty (look it up, it’s the best frosting I’ve ever had.) and on the inside I used a quick chocolate creme I make with 1 package of Jello Chocolate Fudge Pudding Mix and 2 cups of heavy cream, whip it together, it’s glorious.

    BEST cake I’ve ever had.

  12. Laurie K January 16, 2016 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    I found your recipe last month when searching for a tomato-soup cake recipe for a relative’s 79th birthday. He wanted a spice-type cake, so that’s what we made (he has dementia, and his mom used to make it for him). Funny what we remember!

    Now it’s MY birth month, and this is the cake I’d like to make! Thank you for including the recipe for frosting . . . I’m awaiting your chocolate frosting/filling recipe. If it’s not forthcoming, I’ll try Melissa’s filling. Thanks so much!

  13. Randi January 23, 2016 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    I’ve been making the original version( with coffee) for over 20yrs. I always add choc. chips. The cake always gets rave reviews too. I’ll have to try this version, I have a can of tomato soup in the pantry.

  14. Nichole May 8, 2016 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    This is a question; do you use “natural” cocoa powder, or “dutch processed?” We are going to try this next weekend!

  15. Tallinheels September 10, 2016 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    Dental floss. Wrap it around the middle of each layer and pull it tight. Voila! Clean layers!

  16. Camille February 7, 2017 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    This recipe is, hands down, the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made. No one will suspect that it’s made with tomato soup. People are kind of puzzled when I tell them about the secret ingredient, they are sure they can taste it, but they can’t.

  17. Jenny June 4, 2017 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    I made this cake, and another tomato soup cake from the Campbell’s Soup Cookbook another commenter mentioned. Both were excellent! Here’s an interesting article about the history of tomato soup in cakes.

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