The Tunnel of Fudge Cake is somewhat of a legend in cake making land and precursor to the now-hot restaurant dessert of individual chocolate cakes with a oozing, under baked center that looks like a thick sauce. Tunnel of Fudge was a Pillsbury Bake
Off Winner decades ago and has never lost its appeal.
The cake’s story is like a culinary confluence of the perfect recipe and the perfect pan. The Bundt pan was invented in the 1950s by a man named H. David Dalquist. The pan was based on a traditional European ceramic baking pan with a similar ringed shape. Though Dalquist’s version was lighter and easier to use than the clunky previous version, sales were disappointing.
Then, in 1966 in the era before women’s liberation and women identified themselves by baking (now nicknamed the Mad Men era), a woman named Ella Helfrich took second place in the annual Pillsbury Bake-Off with her recipe for Tunnel of Fudge Cake made with Pillsbury flour and box of Double Dutch Fudge frosting mix (yes, there was an era before canned frosting).
The walnut-filled, chocolate-glazed cake had a ring of gooey fudge at its center. Eating a slice was reminiscent of indulging in under-baked brownie batter and Helfrich’s cake was an overnight sensation. 1966′s “Pillsbury Busy Lady Bake-Off Recipes” is the cookbook that introduced the world to the Tunnel of Fudge Cake that’s been a hit ever since. When you learn to bake cakes, this is in the list of must dos and you have to have the right pan to do it in.
And the chocolate cake was not only delicious, but beautiful as well. Beautiful means it was the first cake mix designed specifically for the then-new-to-the-kitchen Bundt pan and probably contributed to the many pans being sold just to make this cake. Pillsbury received more than 200,000 requests inquiring about the pan she used for the Tunnel of Fudge, the bundt pan, and Dalquist’s company went into overtime production to meet the sales. Today, more than 50 million Bundt pans have been sold around the world and every baker’s kitchen has at least one pan, which now comes in a dozen designs. But the Tunnel must be made in the original Bundt pan, not one of the more intricate patterned pans.
When their commercial mix line and dry frosting mix that were essential to making the cake was discontinued, the Pillsbury test kitchen was deluged with requests for a from-scratch Tunnel of Fudge cake recipes. It was as close to a riot as bakezillas protested and demanded a replacement for their favorite cake with the beautiful fluted shape and addictive flavor.
In 1986, Pillsbury finally developed and published a from-scratch version for the diehard home baker. The recipe is quite precise and does not take to being tampered with to get the proper results. Be sure to include the nuts, as they are essential to this recipe. The cake has a soft center, so the traditional method of testing for doneness with a cake tester inserted into the center doesn’t work here. So pay close attention to the oven temperature and timing, both critical, to get it right.
I add a dash of chocolate extract, one of those killer secret ingredients, an elixir that accents/intensifies the cocoa powder without changing the recipe proportions; it is optional so don’t fuss if you don’t have it. Chocolate extract is available through Williams-Sonoma
Here is the original from-scratch recipe, still a popular home baked goodie after almost fifty years.
Tunnel of Fudge Cake Recipe
- 1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) salted butter, softened
- 1 3/4 cups granulated cane sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups powdered sugar, stirred to lighten and smooth out (no substitution)
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (your favorite)
- 1 tablespoon chocolate extract (optional)
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract (optional)
- 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons warm milk
Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease and flour a 12-cup standard Bundt pan (not one of the more intricate designs) and set aside.
In the work bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. On low speed, add the eggs, one at a time. Gradually add the powdered sugar, blending well. Add the flour, cocoa, extract, and walnuts until just combined.
Scrape the batter into the bundt pan and smooth the top. Bake on the center rack 58 to 62 minutes; cake will not be done in the center, but be dry on top and separate slightly from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and let stand in the pan on a rack for 1 hour. Remove from the pan by inverting the cake onto the rack; cool completely.
Combine the glaze ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a whisk until smooth. Place a sheet of waxed paper or a large plate under the rack to catch the drips. Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Let stand to set the glaze, then transfer carefully to a cake plate. Store in the refrigerator.
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