Behold the Bundt cake, still going strong

By Rick Nelson
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)
Today, Nordic Ware says that 70 million households worldwide are equipped with a Bundt pan. (Anna Shepulova/Dreamstime/TNS)


The made-in-Minnesota Bundt pan and the Star Tribune’s Taste section have enjoyed a long, fruitful relationship.

The earliest Bundt recipe to appear in Taste was published on Nov. 24, 1969, nine weeks after the section’s debut. It was part of an interview with Elsa Rosborough, a representative from Butter-Nut Coffee (fun fact: “Midwesterners who brag about their strong, black coffee might be surprised to learn that coffee companies ship their weakest blends to this part of the country,” reads the story). The article included recipes for upside-down coffee cakes; one of them, “Sour Cream Somersault,” called for chopped pecans, a box of yellow cake mix, cinnamon, sour cream and a Bundt pan.

In the intervening years, dozens and dozens — and dozens — of Bundt cake recipes followed: “Mrs. Lyndon Johnson’s Famous Lemon Pound Cake.” “Date Beer Cake.” “Painted Peach Cake.”

Very few of them embraced chocolate. At least until Valentine’s Day in 1988, when Taste published a revised version of the Tunnel of Fudge cake.

At the time, this baking juggernaut was probably the country’s most famous cake. It also boasted deep local roots. The recipe came out of the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off, back when American culinary trends were shaped by the Minneapolis-based company’s closely scrutinized cooking contests.

Contestant Ella Helfrich of Houston found baking inspiration from three sources: the pecan tree in her backyard, a box of Pillsbury’s Two Layer Double-Dutch Fudge Buttercream Frosting mix and what was then a kitchenware novelty, a fluted and scalloped aluminum tube pan produced by Nordic Ware in St. Louis Park.

Curiously, Helfrich’s cake took second place that year; the winner was Golden Gate Snack Bread, which requires processed cheese spread and dry onion soup mix and hasn’t exactly endured as the decades have passed. Meanwhile, Helfrich pocketed $5,000 (that’s roughly $39,000 in 2019 dollars) and lasting fame because her recipe went viral, a pre-internet sensation that also kicked off a blazing demand for what was then the relatively obscure Bundt pan.

(Nordic Ware founder H. David Dalquist started manufacturing the pans in 1950, based on a request from a member of the Minneapolis chapter of Hadassah, who wanted to replicate the deep, heavy cakes pans of her native Germany. By the way, bund is German for association, and Dalquist added the “t”).

Today, Nordic Ware says that 70 million households worldwide are equipped with a Bundt pan.

Some recipes could be filed under “O,” for “Oddities.” Consider “Orange Coffeecake,” which requires a cup of coarsely crushed cornflakes. Or the prune Bundt. Or a mincemeat version, glazed with a jar of butterscotch sauce.

Here's a classic from the archives.



Serves 12.

Note: Published in the May 11, 1977, issue of Taste. Bibbi Grodahl of Wayzata, Minn., shared the recipe in the Taste Exchange column. The icing recipe was shared by Mrs. G.A. Stillwell of Rosemount, Minn.

For cake:

2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus extra for pan

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan

1 1/4 cups sugar

8 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

For icing:

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature

Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons cream, plus more if needed

To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, and reserve.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

In another bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat egg yolks until light and lemon-colored, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks and vanilla extract to butter-sugar mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.

Reduce speed to low. Add flour to batter in thirds, alternating with milk and starting and ending with flour. Add lemon zest and lemon juice and mix an additional 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Remove pan from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Cool for 20 minutes, then invert the cake onto a wire rack. Cool completely before icing.

To prepare icing: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low. Add powdered sugar and mix until creamy, about 1 minute. Add lemon zest and lemon juice and mix until thoroughly combined. Add cream, plus more if needed, to reach spreading consistency. Spread on cooled cake.