Why Should we Put Tomatoes in Thunder Cake?

I had forgotten about Thunder Cake —the book written by Patricia Polacco, until our littlest little one announced that her kindergarten teacher’s son was planning to make a Thunder Cake for her class.  Memories of the story and of making Thunder Cake, at least once, for my oldest daughter’s kindergarten or first grade classes slipped slowly in.  Thunder Cake?  That’s the chocolate cake made with tomatoes, right?  We decided to both make Polacco's Thunder Cake recipe to submit as letter T in our Blogging from A to ZChallenge—and consider why anyone would put pureed tomatoes in chocolate Thunder Cake!

What is Thunder Cake?  For those of you who have not heard of Thunder Cake, it’s actually a story written by Patricia Polacco about a little girl battling a fear of thunderstorms and her grandmother who helps her face that fear while baking a chocolate cake from cupboard and garden staples on hand.  The book includes the recipe for Thunder Cake—which many teachers use as a fun activity while teaching spring weather safety and the lessons offered in Thunder Cake.  But--even chocolate cake loving kids balk at one ingredient in the recipe:  tomatoes.

Why would you put tomatoes in Thunder Cake?  Should you? I don’t think anyone knows for sure why the author opted to include tomatoes in her Thunder Cake book and recipe—but, there are some possibilities.  As the child in the story feared the approaching storm, gathering tomatoes outside in the garden, forced her to face the darkening skies and sounds of the bad weather—and the addition of the tomatoes does very little to alter the taste of the cake.  Is there an advantage to adding tomatoes to a cake?  There may actually be a small scientific basis to the use of tomatoes in the cake.  Tomatoes are mildly acidic—similar to apple cider vinegar—but more mild.  Vinegar is frequently used in cake batter to join forces with baking soda to lighten the batter.  Perhaps tomatoes offer a similar benefit?   

Thunder Cake taste test:  Will the kids eat it? If the Thunder Cake baker uses peeled, pureed tomatoes in the recipe—there should be no clue that the chocolate cake contains tomatoes!  My littlest one said that the Thunder Cake she sampled still had bits of skin or tomatoes intact after baking.  She said that the cake was good—after she picked out all of the tomato.  (I'm guessing the tomatoes were not pureed!) Our girls helped make the cake—right down to the addition of the tomatoes.  The middle one wasn’t sure that she wanted to try it—but, the lure of the chocolate frosting won her over in the end.

Tips for making your own Thunder Cake. Use pureed, ripe, peeled tomatoes to avoid texture issues in the finished cake.  Put the effort into really beating the egg whites into stiff peaks and folding them into the batter.  I recommend adding the tomatoes and water before the egg whites so that you are able to be little less gentle with the batter when mixing in the tomato puree.  Try not to over bake the Thunder Cake so that it keeps the light texture that you worked so hard to create in the batter!

Although the reason for tomatoes in Thunder cake is up for debate--the results of the recipe are pretty yummy!  Enjoy!

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  1. Just read the book and had to know why the tomatoes! This post answered my question. Now to try it out :)

  2. There is also a high amount of monosodium glutamate in tomatoes so that could act as a mild flavor booster



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