It’s been hard not to notice the abundance of tomatoes in season lately. I’ve seen vibrant varieties of colors and shapes at farmers markets, grocery stores and gardens of green-thumbed friends. They whisper that summer is sneaking away as the magic of autumn awaits us. They offer a burst of life and color while the sky gets a little bit darker each day.
Juicy, tangy and sweet, seasonal tomatoes make it obvious that they’re fruits and not vegetables. Eating one recently, I noticed that it almost tasted like a berry, and I wondered why we make sweet treats from pumpkins and zucchini but hardly ever from tomatoes, at least not that I’ve seen or tasted. Now was the time.
Tomato Spice Cake (makes a 9 x 13” cake; 16-24 slices, depending on size)
Just under 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (I used very ripe multicolored heirloom tomatoes)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 teaspoon salt
2.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2.5 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9 by 13” cake pan with parchment paper; grease parchment and inner sides of pan. Wash the tomatoes and cut the stem spot off each of them, then slice into fourths and place in food processor. Puree until liquidy and even in consistency; little flecks of colored skin are welcome. Measure out 2 and 2/3 cups; set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, molasses and sugar until smooth and even in color. Beat in the oil until incorporated. Sift all remaining dry ingredients over the egg mixture. Begin to fold in the dry ingredients, gradually adding the measured tomato puree. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with spatula; mix until batter is even. Pour into prepared pan, smoothing top with spatula. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until center tests clean with a toothpick and no longer jiggles. Let cool completely in pan, then transfer to a large plate or cutting board.
For an easy, pretty icing like the one shown here, whisk together ¾ cup powdered sugar, a few dashes of spice, and 1-2 tablespoons lemon or orange juice added gradually (don’t let it get watery-thin). Drizzle diagonally over cake using a fork, pastry bag, or plastic bag with a small hole cut in its corner. Let icing dry before serving. Alternately, spiced cream cheese frosting also works wonderfully.
Sweet, spicy, and full of fall flavors, this colorfully-flecked cake offers a mild hint of tomato flavor that might not even be detected by those who don’t know it’s there. When I brought it to my office and asked tasters to guess the main fruit/veggie ingredient, pumpkin and persimmon were the top choices by far. Most people simply called it moist and delicious, and everyone seemed happy to be given a slice of fresh, homemade cake at the end of a long week.
*Feel free to increase spices to your taste preference, and/or add others like allspice or cardamom. Raisins and/or nuts would also be a welcome addition to this recipe, as would the finely grated zest of a lemon or orange.
Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers where this post first appeared.