Most Americans today will recognize a Bundt cake when it’s on the table. But for many, the fluted cake with the hole in the middle is particularly reminiscent of the 1950s and ’60s.
It was this kind of nostalgia that prompted Marci Hilt to revisit her Bundt pan collection after the death of the pan’s inventor H. David Dalquist in 2005. Marci began to bake tunnel of fudge cake, lemon Bundt and even a cake with white pepper, rediscovering the versatility and sense of community the pan has delivered throughout its history.
Dalquist was the founder of the Minnesota kitchenware company, Nordic Ware. In 1950, he was approached by Rose Joshua and Fannie Shanfield, members of the Minneapolis Hadassah, a Jewish women’s service organization. Joshua and Shanfield wanted a lighter version of an Austrian ceramic Kugelhopf cake pan. Dalquist designed the Bundt cake pan for them out of aluminum, and Hadassah sold this Nordic Ware pan to its members for $4 each.
But the Bundt pan and the flurry of recipes that followed didn’t really take off until the mid-1960s when Ella Rita Helfrich won the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off with her Tunnel of Fudge cake, perhaps the most famous in the Bundt repertoire, and the cake that Marci says was the biggest hit in her office.
A Bundt cake took the Pillsbury prize again in 1972, this time arriving as a streusel spice cake. That year, 11 other winners also used Bundt pans, and Pillsbury had a windfall on its hands. In 1972 alone, Pillsbury sold $25 million worth of Bundt cake mixes. The craze stuck around until home bakers began looking down their noses at both instant pudding and cake mixes.
Today, a Bundt cake might be considered “vintage.” But the sense of community it conjures has never gone out of fashion.
The name bundt is a variation on the German word bund which means “bond” or “community.” In order to trademark the word, Dalquist added the “t” and thus, the Bundt cake was born. In Marci’s office, her Bundt cakes became social centerpieces, something to share, rate and discuss — a regular kaffeeklatch. Another German word.
— Text by Nora Scheland
— Video by Daniel McCollum
In 1966, Ella Rita Helfrich won the Pillsbury Bake-Off with this cake. We've adapted this recipe from Pillsbury's site, which suggests that Tunnel of Fudge is the standard bearer of their famous contest. Two cups may seem like a lot of nuts, but apparently they are crucial to the cake's success. Note that the recipes calls for a "fluted tube cake pan" rather than a Bundt pan, which is trademarked.
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 cups butter, softened
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 4 to 6 teaspoons milk
Heat oven to 350 F.
Grease and flour a 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan.
In a large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. By hand, stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan; spread evenly.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from sides of pan.(Since this cake has a soft filling, an ordinary doneness test cannot be used. Accurate oven temperature and baking times are essential.) Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.
In small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients, adding enough milk for desired drizzling consistency. Spoon over top of cake, allowing some to run down sides. Store tightly covered.