After a hot dry June, we finally got some rain yesterday in the form of a couple of thunderstorms, so in honor of the rain, I made Thunder Cake from the recipe in Patricia Polacco’s books of the same name which is a sweet story of a grandmother helping to ease her granddaughter’s fear of storms as they gather ingredients for a cake that Babushka insists must be in the oven before the storm hits.
I was intrigued by the recipe’s secret ingredient: tomato puree, but I had trouble with the recipe from the start.
Predicament#1: cake flour. I don’t generally use it, so I had to go out and buy some. I could have substituted regular flour mixed with corn starch, but felt I should stick with the listed ingredients—at least the first time I tried it.
Predicament #2: tomato puree. As I had never heard of tomato puree and my usual groceries did not carry tomato puree, only tomato paste, tomato sauce and tomato catsup, I made my own puree by blanching a tomato and then blending it in my food processor.
Predicament #3: when to fold in the egg whites. According to the recipe, the beaten egg whites are folded into the creamed mixture, and then the dry ingredients are added. In my past baking experience, beaten egg whites are added last of all, so as to not deflate the volume created by beating them. By adding the dry ingredients after adding the beaten egg whites, volume is lost.
I finally decided to follow the recipe as written the first time through, and then make adjustments if necessary.
I did, however, make one small change: I added sliced fresh strawberries between the layers, which I felt would only enhance the overall taste experience. And because I was in a hurry, I took one shortcut: I used—gasp!—canned frosting.
The tomato puree gave the cake a slight reddish tint, but as far as my taste buds could tell, did not add any significant flavor dimension to the cake. And none of my tasters could guess the secret ingredient either. The cake was very crumbly; after just a few forkfuls, a big chunk fell off and the rest of the piece fell over.
So, all in all, what did I think? Well, you can’t go wrong with the combination of chocolate and strawberries, but the tomato puree didn’t seem to add anything to the taste and the cake itself was pretty crumbly. Final grade: B-.