The made-in-Minnesota Bundt pan and the Star Tribune’s food 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.”

 

 

Pear-Spice Bundt Cake Star Tribune photo by Anna Shepulova

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, Minnesota.

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.

Helfrich’s brownielike cake – which has a gooey chocolately filling, hence the name – encountered a wrinkle in the late 1980s when Pillsbury quit manufacturing boxed frosting mixes as consumers became more interested in ready-to-spread canned frostings. As a result, the company’s kitchens developed a cake from scratch. (Find it at startribune.com/taste.)

CONVENIENCE FIRST

Here’s how mainstream the Bundt pan became, post-Tunnel of Fudge Cake: Pillsbury produced its own line of Bundt cake mixes, and they were as popular as Nordic Ware’s harvest gold and avocado green color palette, which gave way to Reagan-era almond and poppy.

Many Bundt cake recipes – especially those dating from the 1970s and 1980s – are a reflection of an era when timesaving convenience products were all the rage.

Witness the May 1973 headline, “Where pudding, cake meet,” a how-to on finding Bundt cake nirvana by pairing white cake mix with instant pistachio pudding mix and crème de menthe. Other dubious formulas include a marriage of yellow cake mix, coconut-pecan frosting mix and sour cream (a 1974 classic), and a 1976 blend of cherry-chip cake mix, instant coconut pudding mix and maraschino cherries. The list goes on and on.

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.

Or a 1972 entry, supplied by a long-gone Bloomington, Minn., restaurant, that fortifies a yellow cake mix with a sauce of canned pears – puréed in a blender – and ends with a flourish of rum-laced Cool Whip.

Instead – because everything comes back in fashion, right? – look to its made-from-scratch counterpart, published in 2008, where bakers are asked to produce a pear sauce that’s folded into a spice cake batter. Dense, buttery and redolent of cardamom, ginger and nutmeg – and topped with a tangy cream cheese glaze – the final product looks and tastes like the Bundt pan should have been invented for it.

PEAR-SPICE BUNDT CAKE

Adapted from “Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook” (Clarkson Potter, 2005). “This is a slight twist on applesauce cake, relying instead on a homemade pear sauce,” writes Stewart. “The cake can be made a day ahead. Keep it at room temperature.” Apples can be substituted for pears, and while Stewart specifies Bartlett pears, Anjou, Comice and Bosc are also suitable. Just before serving, garnish with either a dusting of powdered sugar or the Cream Cheese Glaze.

Serves 12 to 16

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 1/2 pounds (about 5) ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan

3 cups flour, plus more for pan

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

Powdered sugar for dusting, optional, or Cream Cheese Glaze (see recipe), optional

In a medium saucepan, spread the granulated sugar in an even layer. Cook over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the sugar around the edge of the pan melts and begins to turn golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir until all the sugar has melted and mixture is translucent and golden (alternately, move the sugar around by swirling the pan).

Add pear chunks and stir to coat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until pears are very soft, about 6 to 8 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally. Using a potato masher, mash the pears until they are broken down but still slightly chunky. Continue cooking, covered, 5 minutes more, stirring frequently (the final consistency is thick and somewhat chunky; if liquid remains, keep cooking a few more minutes). Remove from heat, let cool completely, and reserve.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, baking soda, pepper and nutmeg, and reserve.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and honey and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add the reserved pear sauce and mix to combine, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth with a small offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until cake is a deep golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes (different pan shapes will yield different baking times). Remove pan from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Cool for 20 minutes, then invert the cake onto a wire rack set over a piece of wax or parchment paper. Cool completely.

Once cake is cool and ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar. Alternately, pour the Cream Cheese Glaze (see recipe) over the top of the cake, letting some drip down the sides.

CREAM CHEESE GLAZE

Makes enough for 1 (10-inch) Bundt cake.

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted to remove lumps

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low, add the powdered sugar, and beat until combined, about 2 minutes. Add the salt, lemon juice and milk, and mix until smooth. If the glaze is too thick to drizzle, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.

TUNNEL OF FUDGE CAKE

Perhaps the most famous Bundt pan cake recipe of all time was published in the Star Tribune on Feb. 14, 1988. In her “Ask Mary” column, Mary Hart wrote that “Nuts are essential to the success of the recipe. Because the cake has a soft tunnel of fudge, ordinary doneness tests cannot be used. Accurate oven temperature and baking time are critical.” The recipe is from Marlene Johnson of the Pillsbury Co., and it’s a remake of a Pillsbury Bake-Off sensation. “The popular tunnel cake won a $5,000 (that’s about $39,000 in 2019 dollars) second prize at the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off,” wrote Hart. “Originally the recipe called for only five ingredients, plus a box of chocolate frosting mix. Over the years, consumers became more attracted to ready-to-spread canned frostings than they did to the boxed frostings. Pillsbury stopped making the boxed frostings, so the company’s kitchens were asked to develop a cake from scratch.”

Serves 12

FOR THE CAKE:

1 3/4 cups butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

6 eggs

2 cups powdered sugar

2 1/4 cups flour, plus extra for pan

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups chopped walnuts

FOR GLAZE:

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons milk

TO PREPARE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add powdered sugar; blend well.

Stir in flour, cocoa powder and walnuts until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared pan and, using a spatula, spread evenly. Bake for 58 to 62 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack for 1 hour. Invert cake onto serving plate and cool completely.

TO PREPARE GLAZE: In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, cocoa powder and milk, and whisk until well blended. Spoon over top of cooled cake, allowing some to run down the sides.

GERMAN BUNDT CAKE

This was the first Bundt cake recipe to appear in Taste. Published in the Nov. 24, 1969, issue of the food section, it was part of a story on coffee cakes. Have all ingredients at room temperature for two to three hours before starting to bake.

Serves 12

1 cup butter, plus extra for pan

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup powdered sugar

4 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

Juice and freshly grated rind of 1 lemon

3 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 cup milk

4 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Whole almonds in skins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12-cup Bundt pan (do not flour).

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute.

In a medium bowl, sift together granulated sugar and powdered sugar. Reducing speed to medium, gradually add sugars to butter and mix until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add unbeaten egg yolks, 1 at a time, and mix until smooth. Mix in vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon juice and lemon zest.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt 3 times. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add flour to batter in thirds, alternating with milk and starting and ending with flour. Using a spatula, fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Place a dab of butter – about 1/2 teaspoon – into the bottom of each crease in the pan, then embed a whole almond in each dab of butter. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 60 to 75 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.


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