When it comes to the divide between sweet and savory, the line that separates the two is becoming thinner and more difficult to distinguish with every passing year. Palates are opening up, eaters from all walks of life are growing more adventurous, and chefs are gleefully pursuing their wildest culinary dreams. Such reckless innovation inevitably comes at a price, paid in disappointing or sometimes downright repulsive new tastes (I’m looking at you, cappuccino potato chips) but it’s a gamble well worth taking. In a world with such a vast array of flavors, there must still be countless winning combinations merely waiting to be discovered.
In my eyes, this one wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination. Tomato soup cakes have been around since the turn of the century as a thrifty way of making something sweet in the times of rationing. Originally dubbed “mystery cake” as a way of concealing the secret ingredient, perhaps acknowledging that unwitting diners might be scared off by the novel concept, the processed tomato product was merely an extender, filling in the bulk of the cake without using eggs, only to be covered up in heavy gingerbread-like spices. You’d never know there was ever a tomato present in the tender crumb, which is both the beauty and tragedy of this classic recipe.
Taking inspiration from these humble origins but with the desire to celebrate the bold, beautiful tomatoes now in season rather than bury them in an avalanche of sugar, it seemed high time to revisit the idea of a tomato cake. Now with 100% more tomato flavor! I can just picture the vintage advertisements and their hyperactive proclamations now.
Indeed, you can truly taste the tomato in these fiery red cupcakes. Not only that, but the unassuming beige frosting holds yet another surprise taste sensation: A tangy punch of balsamic vinegar, tempered by the sweetness of the rich and fluffy matrix that contains it. Trust me, it’s one of those crazy things that you’ve just got to taste to believe. Although it may sound like an edible acid burn, that small splash is just enough to brighten up the whole dessert.
While tomatoes are still at their peak, sweet as ever and available in abundance, now is the time to experiment and try something new. Don’t call it a secret ingredient this time around and finally let them shine when the dessert course rolls around.
Tomato Cakes with Balsamic Frosting
2 Cups Diced Fresh Tomatoes, Roughly Blended, or 1 14-Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Vegan Margarine
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Reduction
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Up to 1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 15 – 16 cupcake tins with papers.
Combine the blended (but not completely pureed) tomatoes, olive oil, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed before adding in the wet ingredients. Mix everything together with a wide spatula, stirring just enough to bring the batter together and beat out any pockets of unincorporated dry ingredients. A few remaining lumps are just fine.
Distribute the batter between your prepared cupcake pans, filling them about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 17 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly, with perhaps just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not wait for the tops to brown, because the centers will be thoroughly overcooked by then. Let cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, place the margarine in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat briefly to soften before adding in the confectioner’s sugar, balsamic glaze, and vanilla. Begin mixing on low speed until the sugar is mostly incorporated, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Turn the mixer up to high and slowly drizzle in non-dairy milk as needed to bring the whole mixture together. Continue whipping for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Apply to cupcakes as desired.
Makes 15 – 16 Cupcakes