Sauerkraut and tomato soup — in your cake? A little food fun for April Fools’ Day

sauerkraut, potato chips, tomato soup

Sauerkraut, potato chips and tomato soup can put a little harmless April Fools’ Day fun on your dessert table. Photo by Laura Groch

As April Fools’ Day approaches, we’ll see plenty of ideas from clever, creative sorts for cakes, cookies and other foods transformed into things they are not, the better to turn the tables on folks. Such as cakes turned into what looks like, oh, scrambled eggs or hamburgers, or cookies turned into carrots, and the like.

Such “Fooler Foods” bring to mind some of our efforts at the now-defunct Times Advocate newspaper, precursor to the also-now-defunct North County Times.

Our Food Department was me, whichever feature reporter was free at the time, and anyone else in the newsroom we could rope into helping with a story. We had no test kitchen, so if we needed actual baking or cooking, we did it ourselves at home and brought the results in to be photographed, tasted and written about.

For an April Fools’ Day story one year, we decided to make some recipes that contained “fooler” ingredients and write about them. Some of these were from the Depression and/or World War II era, when ingredients were scarce and home cooks improvised with what they had on hand. Others were the ideas of public relations folks who were pushing their company’s products in any shape or form.

Like the famous (or infamous) Mock Apple Pie, also known as Ritz Cracker Pie, created with, yes, Ritz Crackers. Ritz in the crust, Ritz in the filling. This recipe goes far back and evidently can also be made with saltines. Anyway, we baked one and were astonished that the filling actually did taste like — well, fruit, if not apple. (I thought it was kinda like peach.)

Another was the Sauerkraut Cake, which called for well-rinsed kraut added to the chocolate batter. How someone could even conceive of this was amazing enough. But — the sauerkraut ended up tasting like coconut and the cake was well-received.

A third was a brownie recipe that called for pureed garbanzo beans (chickpeas), perhaps an early version of those recipes adding black bean and/or prune purees to stand in for some of the fat. This one never made it to the office, because the recipe just said “garbanzo beans,” and the reporter who gamely volunteered to make it didn’t realize the recipe was calling for cooked beans. He bought uncooked ones, put them in the blender as per the instructions, and nearly destroyed the appliance. So, no beany brownies. But we did get a good laugh out of his inadvertent April Fools’ surprise.

(That brings to mind another recipe we made — Cinnamon Christmas Ornaments — for a different story. These were created from a dough of Elmer’s Glue and lots of cinnamon (which, after all, is a kind of sawdust), rolled out and cut into holiday shapes with cookie cutters. Dried, decorated and hung as ornaments, they gave off a lovely cinnamon scent. After the photo shoot, we left them on a tray in the office for anyone to take home. One reporter wandered by, picked one up and sampled it. “These cookies are really pretty, but they’re kind of dry,” she announced. We quickly removed the tray. I don’t think we told her what she’d just chewed on, either.)

Then there was the Tomato Soup Cake. This one is from Campbell’s, and goes back to at least the 1960s. The home economist who thought it up created several variants, including an “Easy Fruitcake,” a “Steamed Pudding,” and “Rosy Rocks” cookies (like oatmeal cookies). I baked the cake myself back in the day as part of a Home Ec assignment, because it sounded so weird. Turns out Tomato Soup Cake tastes like spice cake; with a white or cream cheese frosting topping it, no one would ever guess the mystery ingredient.

Until you tell them. And that’s the innocent fun of these recipes — telling folks the “fooler” ingredient. (Little kids especially may enjoy springing the surprise on people.) No harm done, since the ingredient isn’t anything nasty, like grasshopper parts or fish scales. (I’m sure you can find recipes with that kind of thing online, though.)

This recipe is from “Cooking With Soup, A Campbell Cook Book,” my mom’s copy, shown in the photo. No copyright date in it, but it had to be the early ’60s. People online are still raving about this cake. The link is to the recipe’s current version, which is slightly different.

2 cups sifted cake flour or 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup hydrogenated shortening (I’m sure my mom told me to use butter)
1 can (10.5 ounces) condensed tomato soup
2 eggs
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch round layer pans. Sift dry ingredients together into large bowl. Add shortening and 1/2 can soup. Beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes (150 strokes per minute by hand). Add remaining soup and eggs. Beat 2 minutes more, scraping bowl frequently. Pour into pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand in pans 10 minutes; remove and cool on rack. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting or use your favorite white frosting. Makes 1 cake.
Here’s an even easier version:
QUICK TOMATO SPICE CAKE
1 package (about 1 pound, 3 ounces) spice cake mix
1 can (10.5 ounces) condensed tomato soup
1/4 cup water
Mix cake as directed on package, substituting soup and water for liquid. (Add eggs if called for.) Bake as directed on package. Frost, if desired.
These recipes are from “The Best of Taste,” a compilation cookbook produced in Illinois around 1984 by Alpha Delta Kappa, the International Honorary Society for Women Educators. I’ve reproduced them pretty much as they were written.
This one is from Dorothea Nevins of the Alpha Chapter. “Makes a kind of imitation coconut cake,” she wrote.
SAUERKRAUT CAKE
2/3 cup sauerkraut
2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup butter or oleo
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup water
Wash sauerkraut thoroughly; drain and dry with paper towels. Then cut or chop into short lengths. Sift next 4 dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and beaten eggs. Add flour mixture and water alternately. Add sauerkraut. Mix well after each addition. Bake in 9-inch-by-13-inch greased and floured pan for 30 to 40 minutes in 350-degree oven. When cool, cover with frosting.
This recipe is from Louise Lindsey of the Delta Chapter.
POTATO CHIP COOKIES
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 cup crushed potato chips
1 cup chopped nuts
Cream together sugar, shortening and eggs. Stir in flour, soda and vanilla. Mix well. Add chips and nuts. Mix well to distribute evenly. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 350-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 9 dozen cookies.
This cake is from Marilou Huber of the Zeta Chapter. Our test kitchen did not make this one, but I include it because of its unique ingredient.
MASHED POTATO CAKE
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
7 tablespoons cocoa
2/3 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup nuts (walnuts)
Cream shortening, add sugar; cream. Add eggs, potatoes. Add dry ingredients alternately with liquids. Add vanilla and nuts. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
(c) copyright Laura Groch 2015
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