Even in the darkest timeline, there will always be reasons to celebrate. Babies are born. Birthdays roll around—again. The wedding happened anyway, bless your livestreaming hearts.
Or maybe you managed to take a shower and a walk around the block for the first time in a week. Whatever the case, a cake can make anything feel festive.
If you’re wondering which type of cake is guaranteed to pack the biggest celebratory punch, consider the immortal words of Harriet Miller in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “It’s a Bundt.”
This is a cooking project for the exhausted but aspirational home cook—easy enough to toss together in under half an hour, but sophisticated-looking enough to erase that sourdough bread disaster from everyone’s minds (and palates). Bundts are not the lighter-than-air—and hard to create—stuff of angel food: these are cakes that lean toward the moist, dense side, which makes them keep well on the counter, ready for days of stroll-by sliver-taking. The slices even freeze well, too—should you ever have any left over, however unlikely that may be.
If there’s even a small reason to celebrate in your life at this moment—and dear God, let’s hope there is—here are some reasons a Bundt can be a good choice for where you’re at right now.
To get well and truly Bundted up, I called the Minneapolis, Minnesota, headquarters of Nordic Ware, the kitchenware company behind the iconic pan. I chatted with Jennifer Dalquist, executive vice president of sales and marketing and the grandchild of Nordic Ware’s founders, Dotty and Dave Dalquist, who started the company in 1946.
Sometime in the late ’40s, a local Jewish women’s group asked if Nordic Ware could make a pan for a round, fluted Central European yeasted cake called a Gugelhupf. Traditionally, Gugelhupf pans were made from cast iron, but the one Nordic Ware designed was made from lightweight aluminum. The Dalquists called it a Bundt, from a German word for “gathering.” “The Bundt pan, which was first brought to market by my grandfather in 1950, was a slow-selling item for a long time,” Jennifer Dalquist says. “People weren’t familiar with the shape or with what type of recipe could be used in the pan. At one point, my grandparents considered dropping it from our product line.”
That all changed in 1966 when Ella Rita Helfrich’s Tunnel of Fudge Cake won second place at the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Pillsbury received 200,000 letters from home cooks who wanted both the recipe and a recommendation for where to buy the pan needed to make it. Nordic Ware employees worked around the clock to satisfy the sudden demand. The company has sold 70 million Bundt pans worldwide since.
“Any novice baker can use the Bundt pan and make a beautiful cake,” Dalquist says. “The recipes usually call for ingredients you already have at home, and you don’t need any special skills with icing or decorating, because the design is baked right into the cake.” As old-fashioned as it may seem, Dalquist is confident this is one dessert with of-the-moment appeal: “Bundt cakes are always Instagram-worthy,” she says.
Professional chefs are getting wise to the wonderful ways of Bundt, too. Hadassah Patterson is the owner and chef at Triangle Gluten-Free, a bakery in Durham, North Carolina. “As someone with a small, boutique-style business, the more energy and money I can save, the better, and Bundts let me do that,” she says. “The Bundt molds make cakes festive and appealing with the least amount of expense and time to decorate. All kinds of colors, glitters, and drizzles work with Bundts.”
In 2014, four grad students met in a bioinorganic chemistry lab at the University of California-Irvine, and the world of Bundtology would never the same. All enthusiastic home bakers, they began participating in Bake From Scratch magazine’s Bundt of the Month club challenge. Inspired, they started an Instagram account, Bros That Bundt, as a showcase for their baking, including their recent attempt to recreate the flavors of Girl Scout cookies in Bundt form.
The Ph.D. “bros” (Victoria Oswald, Ethan Hill, Jon Paretsky, and Sam Mann), are now scattered all over the country, but they conduct bimonthly Zoom meetings to discuss new ideas and plan themes for the account. They pick up on hot trends like mini pancakes served like cereal or seasonal themes like gin and tonics, then adapt them to Bundt form. They’re currently partnering with mystery writer Ellie Alexander, creating recipes tied to the upcoming publication of her new book, Nothing Bundt Trouble.
“It’s given us a way to keep meeting regularly and bond over our love of baking,” Paretsky, whom the group appointed as its “spokesBundt,” says. Why Bundts in particular? “With a Bundt, you have the ability to make something that has a really cool design. And then if you can nail a basic recipe, you can do more things like marble it or include a ribbon of cheesecake inside.”
The Bundt pan isn’t one of those gadgets that serve only one highly specific purpose. It has depth, it has range, and it can help you make plenty of things besides cake. Vertically Roasted Chicken uses a Bundt pan in a place that many a beer can has gone before. Spaghetti Florentine Bundt gives a new twist to the classic Italian timbale. You can switch up the format of your favorite bread recipe with Cornbread Bundt with Savory Cheese Filling or Giant Sandwich Bread for “Bundtwiches.”
Bundts offer beverage hacks, too. Tanya Peres Lemons of Tallahassee, Florida, is an archaeologist who studies and writes about ancient foodways. The two Bundt pans she owns are certainly not historic, but definitely vintage. She makes cakes with them, but she’s gained notoriety for the way she brings Bundts to the punchbowl. “I have a dented, aluminum oldie that I use to make ice rings for punches,” she says. “It’s so retro, and I’ve become infamous for my alcoholic punches and ice rings.”
The greatest pitfalls of your Bundt journey lie at the start and the end of the process, Nordic Ware’s Dalquist says. “Be sure to thoroughly grease and flour all the pan’s surfaces, including the cone,” she says. Avoid regular cooking spray, because its cookware-specific formulation is incompatible with nonstick bakeware and can contribute to sticking. “Our favorite is Baker’s Joy, a baking oil spray that already has flour in it,” Dahlquist says.
The second pitfall can happen after baking, if you fail to remove the cake from the pan at the proper time. “Let it cool for about five to ten minutes, but no longer,” Dalquist says. “Otherwise, the sugars will solidify and the cake will ‘glue’ itself to the pan.” (Check out Nordic Ware’s video, Baking the Perfect Bundt, for more tips.)
Traditional cake recipes can be converted to the Bundt shape, Dahlquist says, but not all cakes are Bundt-able. “Recipes that are denser and more like the consistency of pound cake will do best in a Bundt,” she says. “Don’t try a chiffon cake or a classic layer cake, because they have so much leavening to make them fluffy that they will tend to fall apart.” If you don’t already have a favorite recipe, Dalquist recommends Cardamom Cream Bundt Cake or Orange Jubilee Cake, both from the Nordic Ware website.
And, in case you’re feeling nostalgic, here’s the recipe for the Tunnel of Fudge Cake that started it all.