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The Bundt — that unmistakable round cake with the hole in the middle — has been a staple at bake sales, potlucks and backyard barbecues for decades. It's the subject of scores of cookbooks and had a pop culture moment in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

("It's a BUNDT!" the Midwestern mother of the groom tries to explain to her Greek hostess in the film.)

All of that, plus a little watercooler talk, led reader Tim Drake to wonder: Was the Bundt cake really invented in Minnesota? He sought answers from Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's reader-generated reporting project.

"My mom used to make a lemon-poppy seed Bundt cake, and we all loved it," said Drake, of Isanti, Minn. "It's one of my earliest memories."

The Bundt as we know it today dates back to 1950. And yes, it got its start in Minnesota. The style of cake originated in Europe, but the Bundt became a uniquely American creation via Minnesotan ingenuity. What started out as a request to replicate an Old World cake mold with a lightweight aluminum pan grew into a cultural phenomenon that earned a place in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Cranberry-Orange Bundt cake
Cranberry-Orange Bundt cake

Steve Rice / Star Tribune

And its simplicity was a dessert game changer.

"It's a one-and-done move because the pan creates the party," said author and baking expert Zoë François. "You don't have to do over-the-top decorations because the pan is so festive. It's an easy way to make something fun or elegant."

Basement beginnings

Just four years before the Bundt pan's debut, H. David and Dotty Dalquist launched a kitchenware company named Nordic Ware in the basement of their Minneapolis home. Nordic Ware began as a maker of specialty Scandinavian cookware products, such as rosette and krumkake irons, and ebelskiver pans, all still part of its catalog. The Dalquists moved the business from their basement to St. Louis Park in 1947.

The idea for the Bundt pan came from two Minneapolis women named Rose Joshua and Fannie Schanfield, said Susan Dalquist Brust, the company's vice president and the Dalquists' daughter.

In 1950, the women approached H. David Dalquist with an idea to replicate a cake mold they called a bund pan to fundraise for the local chapter of Hadassah, the Jewish women's organization, Brust said.

Original heavy-duty aluminum bundt pans sat on a shelf in Dottie Dalquist's Nordic Ware office in 2006.
Original heavy-duty aluminum bundt pans sat on a shelf in Dottie Dalquist's Nordic Ware office in 2006.

Jennifer Simonson / Star Tribune

"[Rose] wanted pans to give to her friends so they could bake the heavy cakes that she remembered from her native Germany," she said. "The term bund cake meant a cake for a gathering of people. The Hadassah women liked the restyled cast-aluminum fluted pan that we made for them, and we also started marketing the pan to major department stores."

Soon, nearly every member of Hadassah owned one of the pans. In 1966, Dalquist added the "t" to bund and trademarked the name.

Bundt cakes became a familiar sight in the Dalquist household over the years, and Dotty created recipes that would populate several Nordic Ware cookbooks as the company grew into a major player in the kitchenware industry.

The recipe that changed everything

As ubiquitous as Bundt pans are today, the fluted ring pan with the hallmark hole in the center was slow to catch on.

"After Nordic Ware first introduced the pan in the early 1950s, we almost discontinued it a few years later because it did not sell well," said David Dalquist, Nordic Ware president and son of the founders. "American bakers were not sure how exactly to use it because they didn't have recipes to match the pan."

That changed in 1966, when Ella Helfrich of Houston used the pan to create the Tunnel of Fudge cake. She entered it in that year's Pillsbury Bake-Off and came away with second place. The novelty of a dessert that mysteriously develops a "tunnel of fudge" filling as it bakes — and only calls for seven ingredients — won the hearts of busy cooks nationwide.

Ella Helfrich took second place in the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off for her Tunnel of Fudge recipe, launching the Bundt pan into home kitchens across the country.
Ella Helfrich took second place in the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off for her Tunnel of Fudge recipe, launching the Bundt pan into home kitchens across the country.

General Mills

The recipe, which came with a $5,000 prize, was featured in "The Pillsbury Busy Lady Bake-Off Winners" recipe booklet. Bundt pans instantly became a must-have kitchen gadget, spurring 200,000 requests asking for help in locating the sold-out pans, according to General Mills, which now owns Pillsbury.

The recipe's popularity also led to a line of Pillsbury Bundt cake mixes, sold in the 1970s through 1986, which Pillsbury promoted jointly with Nordic Ware.

"When their mixes hit supermarket shelves, it was hard to keep them in stock, and we couldn't make our Bundt pans fast enough," Brust said. "This was the beginning of a trend that continued for almost two decades."

'Like modern art'

Building on that success, Brust said, Nordic Ware experimented with other designs and introduced the Rose Bundt, which creates a cake in the shape of a single, intricately petaled bloom. That was just the tip of the Bundt pan iceberg. Customers started to request seasonal designs, and Nordic Ware created pans to meet demand.

There are now 80 designs in the year-round lineup, Dalquist said, and Bundt pans for holidays and every season. They make a Bundt pan in the shape of a sandcastle, a pan featuring a ring of small pumpkins and one adorned with a fleur-de-lis.

An array of Bundt pans hang on the walls of Nordic Ware's store in St. Louis Park.
An array of Bundt pans hang on the walls of Nordic Ware's store in St. Louis Park.


The company uses proprietary design tools to create the distinctively shaped pans, and produces sand cast aluminum molds for test baking to ensure the design translates to the cake. Then, permanent tooling is made and pans are put in production. The whole process takes about four months.

Throughout its nearly 75-year history, Nordic Ware has produced more than 75 million pans; the original fluted design remains the most popular. The new designs help the Bundt pan, which is still made at Nordic Ware's sprawling St. Louis Park headquarters, have staying power.

"They have all their original classic shapes, but then they have all of these other just absolutely stunning, beautiful pans, almost like modern art," said François, who has more than a dozen of the pans.

A long-lasting legacy

From the beginning, Dotty Dalquist understood that the Bundt was more than just a pan. She led the way with alternate uses of the pan as the author of the book, "Over 300 Delicious Ways to Use Your Bundt Brand Fluted Tube Pans."

Now cooks use the pans for meatloaf and to roast chicken. They also conveniently hold a cob of corn steady while removing kernels. They're pretty enough to hang on walls, too.

The Dalquists have their favorite ways of employing the pan.

David Dalquist said the pans work really well for egg bakes. Brust's family likes to make savory recipes, like Spaghetti Florentine, or hang suet-and-seed Bundts outdoors for birds. Jennifer Dalquist, the company's executive vice president of sales and the founders' granddaughter, uses the pans for festive punch bowl ice rings — freezing herbs and fruit in water.

It's a far cry from Dotty and David's basement workshop.

"In the beginning, I believe my parents thought the pan would provide an easy way to make a classic pound cake look extra special, nothing more," Brust said. "They'd be amazed to see what their humble pan has become."

And what about the reader who inspired the question?

"My mom was the best cook I know," said Drake, who is still trying to recreate her lemon-poppy seed Bundt cake. "I have the recipe, and I make the cake. It just doesn't taste the same."

How to prevent sticking

As simple as making a Bundt cake can be, the more ornate designs leave some bakers wondering: How can I keep it from sticking?

"That's what keeps people from using them daily, the intimidation of them sticking," François said. "Once you get the formula down, they almost never stick."

That formula relies on baking spray and time.

François cautions to be sure to use baking spray, which contains flour, not cooking spray. Use enough to coat the pan so the cake easily flips out, but not so much that it will pool in the bottom of the pan and become part of the recipe.

"You have to remember to flip your cake out after 12 to 15 minutes," François said. "You cannot let the cake cool completely in the pan, or it will adhere to the pan."

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