The Little Cake Pan That Could
Want is the mistress of invention.
When H. David Dalquist died in 2005, many people remembered that somewhere in the house they had one of the classic pieces of bakeware that he'd invented—a long unused Bundt pan.
Why did we stop making Bundt cakes? They were so easy and so beautiful. The cakes were perfectly shaped, evenly browned, and consistently moist. You could make anything with a Bundt pan, a cake mix, and some instant pudding. More than 45 million Bundt pans have been sold, making it the top-selling cake pan in the world.
Sometime after the Bundt pan heyday in the 1970s, we became food snobs. No more casseroles with cream of mushroom soup. No more Bundt cakes with instant pudding mixes. We put our Bundt pans out of reach on the top shelf.
For my mother's ninetieth birthday party, I took mine down. I had made plum tarts and pear tatins, and I decided to throw in the chocolate-pistachio Bundt cake she used to make to rave reviews. It calls for cake mix, instant pistachio pudding mix, and chocolate syrup. After the party, that was the recipe all my guests wanted.
Mr. Dalquist's death definitely touched a culinary nerve. Newspapers published stories about the Bundt pan phenomenon and the Internet was lit up with Bundt pan exchanges. I did an essay for National Public Radio on the Bundt pan, and the people who track these things told me 1,125 people e-mailed the piece to someone else.
NPR also got a number of letters such as the one from Jan Frank in Bloomfield, Minnesota. The recipe for the chocolate-pistachio cake mentioned in the radio essay was the same one Jan had eaten as a child. It had appeared in the 1975 Leonhard Elementary School's PTA cookbook. "It remains the most worn, most ingredient-soaked page of that cookbook," she wrote. "That cake never failed to satisfy. Sunday afternoon, my twelve-year-old son and I dragged out the cookbook and the Bundt pan and started a new generation of pistachio cake lovers."
That recipe was a particular favorite of my mother and her best friend, Leah. You could be pretty sure if you ate at their houses, there would be a chocolate-pistachio Bundt cake for dessert. It was the dessert I made when I was newly married. Our friend Wayne would come from New York to our New Jersey apartment—what he called a trip to the country—just for a piece of that Bundt cake.
The existence of the Bundt pan is the happy result of a fortuitous Judeo-Scandinavian cultural exchange.
Dave Dalquist and his wife, Dotty, invested five hundred dollars in a basement business in their Minneapolis home in 1946. They produced rosette irons, ebelskiver pans, krumkake irons, and other Scandinavian bakeware. Nordic Ware has been in business ever since.
After they had been open for four years, the Dalquists received a visit from the ladies of the local chapter of Hadassah, the national women's Zionist organization. The chapter president had a ceramic kugelhopf pan in which her German grandmother had made a dense cake filled with raisins, fruits, and nuts. She wanted one in metal. So Mr. Dalquist, a metallurgical engineer, made his first Bundt pan in cast aluminum, with fluted sides and a center tube, like a kugelhopf pan.
The pan's name comes from the German word bund for "gathering," a cake suitable for a gathering. Mr. Dalquist added a t, trademarked the name, and the Bundt pan was born.
Things were pretty slow in the Bundt pan business until 1966, when Ella Helfrich of Texas won second place in the seventeenth annual Pillsbury Bake-Off for her Tunnel of Fudge cake, made in a Bundt pan. (First place went to a Nevada woman for a recipe for snack bread using processed cheese spread and dry onion soup mix.)
Bakers went nuts. Pillsbury got more than two hundred thousand letters from people wanting to know where they could get a Bundt pan. The Dalquist factory ramped up production and the Bundt-cake era began. Home cooks had found a way to bake the perfect cake—simple, sculpted, and evenly cooked. As a bonus, frosting was optional. Bundt cakes are so pretty, they don't need more than a sift of powdered sugar or a drizzle of simple syrup.
For a while, everyone made Bundt cakes—blueberry cream cheese, walnut rum, even one with 7-Up. The Harvey Wallbanger Bundt cake—the first fancy dessert I learned to make—used yellow cake mix, vanilla pudding mix, eggs, oil, orange juice, vodka, and Galliano liqueur, just like its namesake cocktail. The margarita cake involved margarita mix, orange liqueur, and tequila.
In 1971, Pillsbury launched a line of Bundt cake mixes, and Dorothy Dalquist wrote a cookbook called Over 300 Delicious Ways to Use Your Bundt Brand Fluted Tube Pan. It includes recipes for cakes and other desserts, breads, entrées, and salads. The Bundt pan was originally used for pound cakes so there are many of those in Mrs. Dalquist's book. There are cakes made from scratch and cakes made from mixes. Bread recipes call for ingredients such as beer, cheese, and saffron. A recipe for Bean Bread uses a can of pork and beans and a package of hot roll mix. Entrées include Elegant Pressed Chicken (in aspic), Frosty Lime Seafood Salad (with lime and apple gelatin; a can of tuna or crab, and French dressing), and various meat rings with mushroom soup, peanut butter, or canned pineapple.
In 2004, Nordic Ware published a new book called Bundt Entertaining with one hundred recipes "for all meals of the day and for all times of the year," a sign that the Bundt pan was back.
I have gone to five weddings recently for which the bride and groom have registered for Bundt pans as gifts. Besides the classic original, Bundt pans now come in more than thirty shapes and sizes. There are flower pans wrought as daisies, roses, sunflowers, wildflowers, and chrysanthemums. Others come in the form of hearts, stars, fleur-de-lis, and Christmas trees. There's even one shaped like a Gothic cathedral. Bundtlette pans make six muffins and mini-Bundts make tiny individual Bundt cakes. Cupcake, loaf, pound cake, popover, and shortbread pans have all joined the classic Bundt pan, available in two sizes.
I hadn't thought about a Bundt pan in years until I saw the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002. In one hilarious scene, the groom's mother brings a Bundt cake to a party given by the bride's mother. The Greek woman stares in bewilderment at the "cake with a hole in it." She solves the problem by putting a potted geranium in the center. With a Bundt, you can do anything.
CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO CAKE
Makes 12 to 14 servings
1 (18 1/4-ounce) box white or
yellow cake mix
1 (3 1/2-ounce) box pistachio instant pudding mix
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
4 large eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup chocolate syrup
Confectioners' sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan (or a 10-inch tube pan).
In a mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, orange juice, water, eggs, oil, and almond extract. With an electric mixer, blend at low speed until moist. Beat for an additional 3 minutes at medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, until well blended.
Pour about two-thirds of the batter into the pan. Add the chocolate syrup to the remaining one-third of the batter. Mix well. Pour over the batter in the pan. Run a knife through the batter to marble it.
Bake for 1 hour. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Loosen cake with a blunt knife and turn onto a cake plate. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, if desired.
AUNT GEORGIE'S POUND CAKE
This recipe comes from my friend Bill's aunt Georgie. His family thought so highly of the cake, they served it at Aunt Georgie's funeral. It's a classic pound cake using no leavening agents. The first pound cakes were made with a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, and a pound of flour, hence the name. While slightly modified from pound cakes of the 1700s, this one is still plenty rich. It works very well in a Bundt pan. Cake flour produces a lighter cake. Have the butter, eggs, and milk at room temperature.
Pound cakes are easily flavored. Substitute a little lemon zest and lemon juice for the vanilla for a lemon pound cake. Add some cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg for a spice pound cake. The combinations are limitless. Pound cake is good toasted for tea, covered with fruit and whipped cream, used in a trifle, or just eaten plain.
Makes 14 to 16 servings
3 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups cake flour, sifted
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Cream the sugar and butter well. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Add the vanilla. Mix well. Pour into a 12-cup Bundt pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
When the cake has cooled, put it on a serving plate and sift confectioners' sugar over the cake.
OLIVE AND GRUYÈRE SODA BREAD
This bread is adapted from a recipe in Bundt Entertaining, and is printed by permission of Nordic Ware. It's made in a sunflower-shaped pan (which has no tube), giving it a pretty pattern.
Makes 16 servings
4 plus 1 3/4 cups unbleached,
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
3/4 cup pitted, chopped Kalamata olives or other ripe olives
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour a sunflower or other 10-cup Bundt pan.
In a large bowl, mix 4 cups of the flour, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter. Mix until crumbly. Stir in the cheese and olives.
Mix the egg with the buttermilk. Slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until blended and a soft dough forms, adding the remaining flour one-quarter cup at a time.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 3 to 4 minutes. Pat the dough into a 91/2-inch circle; place in the prepared pan.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until dark golden brown. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.
Copyright © 2006 by Bonny Wolf. All rights reserved.