Schatzi: My Fourth of July was spent doing a few of the traditional activities: participating in a cookout, eating kosher all-beef hot dogs, drinking beer, and socializing. I also baked a cake for the occasion, a very American cake, the Tunnel of Fudge Cake. The Tunnel of Fudge Cake is the cake that put the Bundt cake on the map and probably the recipe most associated with the Pillsbury Bake-Off—though it came in second place that year. (The first place winner of 1966 was Golden Gate Snack Bread, a yeast bread made with instant flour, processed cheese spread, dry onion soup mix and butter, which no one ever heard about again.) Once bakers saw the stunning Tunnel of Fudge Cake in Pillsbury ads, they went nuts for the cake—and the pan in which it came.
The Bundt cake is very representative of an American mishmash of cultures, starting out as an adaptation of Jewish and Central European baking by Scandinavians. David and Dottie Dalquist, founders of Nordic Ware, created the Bundt pan in 1950, based on a ceramic kugelhopf mold brought to them by some Hadassah ladies wanting a lighter weight metal version. They named it Bundt, from the German “Bund” or gathering, patented it, and that was that—at least until Ella Helfrich and the Tunnel of Fudge made the scene, making the Bundt cake a ubiquitous part of the America’s culinary landscape in the Sixties and Seventies: “By 1972 the grand prize winner in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest was a Bundt Streusel Spice Cake and eleven top winners also called for a Bundt pan; that same year Pillsbury sold $25 million worth of its new Bundt cake mixes.”[i] Everyone in America was baking with Bundt pans, producing all manner of cakes.
I remember baking with a few of those mixes as a small child, including a Tunnel of Fudge imitator. But since it was America’s holiday on Friday, I decided to try the original all-American Bundt cake recipe. Though Pillsbury discontinued the Double-Dutch Fudge Frosting Mix used in the original recipe, a scratch version was recreated in 2004, with the recipe is available online.
The cake has no leavening added, no baking powder or soda, no cream of tartar, and actually turns out more like a giant, gooey-centered brownie than a cake. Since you can’t do the standard doneness testing, be very careful to not overbake it. Watch for the top to look shiny and crackled—like a brownie. The large amounts of sugar (3¾ cups worth) keep the center from being fully baked, while the exterior cooks, which creates the fudgy tunnel.
With a total of 3¾ cups of sugar, 3½ sticks of butter, and six eggs, the Tunnel of Fudge is extremely rich, but delicious served slightly warm over vanilla ice cream. Note that the nuts are not optional, but an integral part of the cake’s chemistry. My only change was to substitute ½ cup brown sugar for regular white granulated, which enhances the fudginess of cocoa, and to not serve it with the glaze.
Tunnel of Fudge Cake
¾ cp granulated white sugar
3½ sticks butter, softened
2 cp powdered sugar
2¼ cp all-purpose flour
¾ cp unsweetened cocoa (not Dutched)
2 cp chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted for better flavor
¾ cup powdered sugar
¼ cp or unsweetened cocoa
4 to 6 teaspoons milk
1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt® pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and margarine; 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.
2. Bake at 350F 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 1½ hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.
3. 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.
[i] Jean Anderson, American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century, (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1997) 458.