American

The Unlikely Origins of the Most Iconic "American" Cake Pan

February  6, 2017

If you feel in your bones a certain unshakable warm-fuzziness upon using the word "Bundt" in a sentence, you're not wrong (and if you feel in your bones a little bit like a Texan who just won a baking contest, you're not wrong either). Coined by one H. David Dalquist of Minneapolis in the 1950's, the word Bundt is actually a riff on the German word bund, which translates to "association."

Dave hoped Bundts would always evoke the idea of a gathering together of people, which they indisputably do.

Photo by James Ransom

After all, he had a vested interest in seeing to it: As the founders of Nordic Ware—a Minneapolis-based, family-run business that's been around now for 71 years—Dave and his wife Dotty are very much to thank for introducing Bundts as we know them into the American baking tradition.

Today, we're launching six original (and all American-made) Nordic Ware designs in the Food52 Shop, including the iconic ridged Bundt that started it all, pictured above. I spoke with Jenny Dalquist, Dave and Dotty's granddaughter and the current EVP of Sales & Marketing, to learn a little bit more about how Bundts came to be.

Dotty & Dave Photo by Nordic Ware

Minneapolis, 1945

Dave Dalquist arrives home from World War II, having served as a radar technician for the US Navy, and marries his girlfriend Dotty without delay. She's the the daughter of Danish immigrants who settled in Iowa just a year before she was born. While Dotty isn't entirely unfamiliar with life in the Midwest, Minneapolis is a new city for her nevertheless.

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Top Comment:
“This article couldn't have been more timely because I just ordered yet another Bundt pan (the beautiful Star Bundt pan) even though I already have several, including my original aluminum one from the '70s that still does a great job even though the cake details aren't as sharp as the newer pans (I was amused to read that mentioned in the article). I've been a big fan of Bundt cakes since the Tunnel of Fudge fad because the cake was easy to serve, didn't really need frosting and was impressive-looking. The advent of box cake mix + pudding mix really made Bundt cakes easy to make, and the Harvey Wallbanger was a sure-fire hit, as was the Kahlua cake. Learning the history of Nordic Ware really added to my appreciation of the Bundt cake. Thanks!”
— SophieL
Comment

Their union was a long time coming: Dotty and Dave met before the war, during a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. Dave had swooped in to take a photo of Dotty and her friend by the museum's famous bronze lions (he spared them from a fate of selfies, as Jenny tells it), and they proceeded to bump into each other at every exhibit in the museum.

Newly wed, the couple sets their sights on starting a business together. Dave had a degree in chemical engineering, with a specialty in metallurgy; Dotty had a family tree's worth of Danish recipes and a very good idea: They'd make bakeware.

Specifically, they'd make Rosette and Krumkake irons and Platte Panne and Ebelskiver (stuffed pancake) pans. The essentials—for any Scandinavian home cook.

Dotty with a pair of rosette irons, circa 1949. Photo by Nordic Ware

In 1946, the year Dave and Dotty founded Nordic Ware, Minneapolis was host to a vibrant immigrant community—and no competitors in their market. But even so the products were niche, and Jenny described the business as "fledgling" during those early years. Dave settled on using cast aluminum as their material of choice, due to its excellent and even conductivity, and a foundry was built in downtown Minneapolis. Life was quiet, but good.

For a while.

Early Nordic Ware workers and their designs. Photo by Nordic Ware

The Early 50's & An Unusual Request

About five years into the business, Dotty and Dave are approached by the Minneapolis chapter of the Hadassah Society, a local Jewish women's group, about adding a new design to their inventory. The women are looking for a traditional, old world cake pan (Jenny says that many of their members were of European descent), round and deep with a hole in the middle to prevent a jiggly center, but made of modern materials.

In places like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and parts of France, such pans were used to make light, yeasted cakes called gugelhupf (sometimes spelled kugelhupf), but the Hadassah women called them "bund" cakes as a nod to how they were often served to a group.

In the early years, however, all Nordic Ware products were sand cast—a process that required every single-use sand mold to be made by hand. Bringing on a new shape was an investment, and a risk.

The original Bundt, amongst other Nordic Ware offerings in a catalogue from 1948. Photo by Nordic Ware

But serving niche, local baking needs was Dave and Dotty's bread and butter. They said yes.

Dave designed a version of the gugelhupf pan with alternating, regular ridges on the base to make cutting perfectly even slices a cinch, and added a "t" to the end of the word to make it their own before trademarking and patenting it—just in case.

Such measures were likely protocol for Dave, as Nordic Ware was producing all kinds of pieces that the American cooking market had never seen. But he might have felt silly even bothering with this one: With little to no idea how to market them upon launch, early retailers watched Nordic Ware's Bundt pans sit on shelves collecting dust. Sales were consistently pitiful in the years that followed, so much so that Dave and Dotty considered dropping them from the product line entirely. Not much changed for the next fifteen years.

The original Nordic Ware foundry, which they bought from Maid of Scandinavia.

Texas, 1966:

In a land far from Minneapolis, a local Texas woman decides to find a slightly more American use for the Nordic Ware Bundt pan that has (somehow) come into her possession. She whips up a "Tunnel of Fudge Cake," featuring a filling of Pillsbury frosting, and submits it to the annual Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. To the joint envy and delight of bakers all over the country, she's awarded 2nd Place prize, and everyone goes nuts over the recipe. "A worldwide sensation!" is how Jenny described the reaction.

Nordic Ware's wise post-contest advertising. Photo by Nordic Ware

Lucky for Dave and Dotty—and for their son David, who had assumed the role of company President as Dave's health declined—a Bundt pan was required to make this cake. (Otherwise the ooey-gooey center would never bake off properly.) A molten chocolate creation, it was a far cry from the light, yeasted gugelhupf—but nobody eating it was complaining. In all reality, the public probably didn't pause to consider that the pan was an Old-World-European-by-way-of-Hadassah-women-via-Dotty-and-Dave design. They just wanted one.

Immediately, demand for Nordic Ware's Bundt pans soared—they were the only company making them! (Pillsbury turned one out ASAP, but not in time to stifle Dotty and Dave's wave of success.) Jenny says they sold "millions and millions" of Bundts over the months and years that followed the Tunnel of Fudge Cake's publicity.

Modern Bundts

With soaring sales throughout the 60's and 70's, the company was able to dramatically expand their processes and offerings.

In order to market some pans to discount retailers (as the hand-cast pieces were fairly expensive), they developed a way to form aluminum, a process by which a solid sheet of metal in a coil shape is spun into a rough Bundt design before being stamped with that with the classic fluting. "Still bakes a great cake," Jenny says, "but with slightly less crisp design detail." (Due to their popularity, Nordic Ware still produces a formed aluminum line, which can be found at places like Target.) They also rolled out new sizes: a 6-cup half Bundt, and tiny, adorable 1-cuppers.

They also eventually abandoned the inefficiencies of sand casting to make way for die casting, a far more precise and controlled process that replaces the one-time-use sand molds with a single, long-lasting steel mold that can be used countless times. Still, die cast pans have to be tumbled, shot-blasted, machine-routed, washed, finished with a PFOA- and PTFE-free nonstick coating, and checked for quality after they're cast. Jenny estimates that they're touched by ten sets of hands in the process of being made.

The initial foundry burned down in the late 50's but they were able to rebuild across town, a site Nordic Ware still occupy today. It's since expanded to a whopping 250,000 square feet of manufacturing and distribution space, with offices next door. Jenny loves that she can walk through a door and into production in minutes. "Over the decades, the city has been built up around us."

The modern factory, at the site of the old one.

The late 90s saw a second surge in popularity of Bundts, due in large part to a rose-shaped pan that was submitted by a company designer in a yearly contest. And another 10 to 15 million Bundt pans were shipped out their doors by the early 2000s. Jenny admits that as with any baking fad, the pan comes and goes in popularity, but says, "it never really goes away because it’s so much a part of the American baking tradition."

They're seeing another surge now, which she chalks up to a return to simple, classic ways of cooking after "the trend of fussy stuff like cupcakes and cake pops and highly decorated cakes" (though I personally think it's probably because they're so dang Instagrammable).

Stunning citrus Heritage Bundt by @madelinemhall. Happy sunny Sunday! #regram #bundtstagram #heritagebundt #citrus

A photo posted by Nordic Ware (@nordicwareusa) on


The two Nordic Ware Bundts we've just launched in our shop are the Heritage shape, with dramatic swoops to its design, and an Anniversary pan, featuring the classic alternating ridges. Both are entirely American-made right down to the PFOA- and PTFE-free nonstick coating, and will pop out perfect cake shapes—no sticking or burning chunks left in the pan. (They do still recommend coating it with a flour-based cooking spray, or preparing it with butter and a layer of flour, before pouring in your batter, as added insurance.)

But as our co-founder Merrill, they're pretty close to perfect even if you don't:

I tested this pan on my favorite applesauce cake, without buttering or flouring it before I added the batter. I was a little nervous before turning it out but with almost no effort on my part, out plopped a perfectly golden cake—beautifully ridged and completely intact. And it was cooked perfectly and evenly throughout!

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article mis-stated Jenny's title—she's the EVP of Sales & Marketing, not the current owner.

Shop our new line of American-made, die cast pieces from Nordic Ware (including Bundts!) in our shop. And let us know in the comments your favorite Bundt recipe!

35 Comments

Shari W. April 12, 2017
Bundt pans will always remind me of my mother's rum cakes. I think the original recipe was from a Bacardi rum magazine ad. She started making these rum cakes in the 70's, and became locally famous for them. Mom is no longer with us, but my daughter & I keep up the tradition!
 
Amy P. February 13, 2017
My turning-three son requested a "chocolate donut cake" for his birthday last year, so I made a chocolate bundt with a chocolate ganache glaze and texted my brother to pick up some timbits (Canadian donut holes) on his way to the party to fill the center. My son loved it and keeps saying we should make it for his next birthday this spring - and that Uncle Matt has to remember to bring the timbits again to fill his giant chocolate donut cake! :)
 
Sonya M. February 9, 2017
Love bundy pans! I have 8 of them plus the several mini pans. One even helped my daughter get an A in a school project
 
Bee February 10, 2017
Congratulations to your daughter! If you don't mind, WHICH pan style did she use and what did she bake? I was in 4-H when I lived on the farm and I loved going to the county fair for contests and showing off all those lovely baked items. :D
 
judy February 9, 2017
Great story. Thank you. I love bundt cakes! Can't bake them because they are always raw in the middle. But I love them and love to see all the variations that people come up with. Thanks again for a great story.
 
Erica February 8, 2017
OMG. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. While I don't remember my grandmother ever baking a bundt cake, I started baking them over 30 years ago. I use what I think is the Vintage Star bundt pan, and have wanted the Swirl shape forever. I treat my pan like a newborn, it has a special bag it lives in! I have made it a point to NOT buy another cool bundt pan in the name of ...too much kitchen stuff! Now I have gone down this rabbit hole of looking online at all the other available shapes, and reading about all of you who have a bunch of them...and I'm freaking out!
 
Lynn R. February 8, 2017
Buy at least another one! They have some really cute ones. I have the swirl, cathedral, fluer-de-lis, castle, rose, and quite a few more. They are just fun!<br />
 
Bee February 9, 2017
Erica: RUN, don't Walk, toward your next Bundt pan! Life is too short, darling, to limit yourself to just one of these wonderful pans! After all, you don't want engraved on your tombstone: "Couldn't justify owning more than ONE Bundt Pan." LOL<br /><br />A fantastic place to get GREAT ones is ebay! That's where I've purchased the bulk of mine, most of them vintage, rarely used and super strong. These are all the unloved pans that come out of cupboards of senior citizens, old bridal gifts never used, etc. The old ones are the BEST, in my opinion, because they had thicker walls and sharper details. I've picked up some for less than $5.00!<br /><br />Now, "GO! Get yourself another Bundt pan! Think how lonely that solitary pan has been the past 30 years!"
 
Lynn R. February 7, 2017
My mother and I developed a bundt pan fetish, I have a ton of them now and still want to add more. Mom bought me a few different designs for my birthday and Christmas and I inherited her's when she died. I'd say I have at least fifteen pans if not more.
 
Bee February 7, 2017
I don't feel so guilty for my collection, now. I'm so happy to read that for some other bakers, one Bundt pan is never enough.
 
Vicki H. February 7, 2017
Oh yeah my favorite Bundt, 7-Up cake.
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. February 7, 2017
Tell me more about this bundt!!
 
Vicki H. February 7, 2017
Loved this article! Thank you! I have used a Bundt pan ever since I started baking when I was a little girl. That little grew up to be a pastry chef. I adore my Bundt pans. I own the aforementioned rose Bundt and several others. Two years ago, for my birthday, my Greek best friend had a cake made for me: sheet cake depicting the Greek flag topped with a Bundt filled with a flower pot!😂
 
Bee February 7, 2017
What a friend! BEST Happy Internet story that I've read today! Congratulations on following your passion and sharing your inspiring story. <3
 
Noreen F. February 7, 2017
A tip to pass on. If you're baking a chocolate bundt, use cocoa instead of flour on the inside of the pan. More flavor and no white streaks on the cake!<br />
 
Bee February 7, 2017
I've always done that and it works out great! Also, I use powdered sugar to "flour" a buttered pan vs. flour. The powdered sugar disappears once it's baked and also doesn't give you that "flour-y" taste.
 
SophieL February 7, 2017
This article couldn't have been more timely because I just ordered yet another Bundt pan (the beautiful Star Bundt pan) even though I already have several, including my original aluminum one from the '70s that still does a great job even though the cake details aren't as sharp as the newer pans (I was amused to read that mentioned in the article). <br /><br />I've been a big fan of Bundt cakes since the Tunnel of Fudge fad because the cake was easy to serve, didn't really need frosting and was impressive-looking. The advent of box cake mix + pudding mix really made Bundt cakes easy to make, and the Harvey Wallbanger was a sure-fire hit, as was the Kahlua cake.<br /><br />Learning the history of Nordic Ware really added to my appreciation of the Bundt cake. Thanks!
 
Bee February 7, 2017
It's so nice to hear from a few Bundt pan collector! I have an entire shelf in my pantry dedicated to my ever-growing collection of Bundt pans from the Rose, Cathedral, Snowflake, and of course, my 45 year old "Poppy" coloured original Bundt cake pan. Who doesn't love a Bundt cake?! :D
 
Faith A. February 7, 2017
I love those Bundt pans...nice job
 
Bee February 7, 2017
As a native Minnesotan who grew up 2 blocks away from the Maid of Scandinavian foundry, their products and Nordic Ware's wares have been in my life since my birth. I inherited my Gran's original Rosette, Krumkake irons and Ebelskiver pans, which are still in use by myself.<br /><br />This was a very fascinating article and I like that you had SO many photos attached to it; it brought a lot of memories flooding back to me. :D<br /><br />But, you are missing another Key Recipe that made the Bundt Cake pan a must: the infamous Harvey Wallbanger Cake! This cake came out in the dawn of 1970 when I was a young 18 year old bride, and because of it's popularity, I received no less than 8 Bundt cake pans as wedding gifts! LOL The Tunnel of Fudge may have started the epic sales but the follow up phenomenon of the Harvey Wallbanger Cake can't be forgotten or dismissed. It was served at every occasion that a good Lutheran Church Lady could come up with: baby showers, bridal showers, birthdays, holidays, heck, even for kaffeeklatsch ! Because most Lutheran women were Tea Totallers, making this cake with all the booze was thought of as VERY NAUGHTY and I recall these pearl-clad women whispering about "How I feel a bit tipsy!", from eating a single slice of that cake. :D<br /><br />I don't know if you want to amend your article or not to include this wickedly popular cake from the 70's, but I just needed to add it to comments, since it's part of both MY and the Bundt pan's history.
 
Bee February 7, 2017
I forgot to add, this cake was NEVER made "from scratch"! It was made with Duncan Hines yellow cake mix, period. Many websites are offering a "from scratch recipe" but that's revisionist history, like trying to make SPAM from fresh ham...just DON'T! If you want the authentic Tipsy Cake, it must be made from a box mix, preferably Duncan Hines.
 
Hannah M. February 7, 2017
I completely hear you, Bee! Who knew that the "Old-World-European-by-way-of-Hadassah-women-via-Dotty-and-Dave" cake pan plus a Duncan Hines mix plus some other goodness could make such a splash at a gathering? <br /><br />I owe a lot to the Bundt — many sweet memories, friendships made, and I even got a job after mentioning that I loved making them. It's only right I know the history. Thanks, Amanda!
 
Lynn R. February 8, 2017
Your Lutheran Ladies were a bit different than mine growing up! My mother was a good Lutheran Lady and made wine or rum bundt cakes quite often. I really liked the rum one. Our Lutheran softball team went out for beer after the games unlike the Baptist team I'd been on previously!
 
Bee February 9, 2017
Where was YOUR Lutheran Church? The ones in Minnesota were as strict as Babtist's! No drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no cussin'. Just hard work and prayers. Have you ever heard of Garrison Keillor and "Prairie Home Companion?" He was my brother's best friend and stood up for him at his wedding. We hail from Anoka, Minnesota and 100% of EVERYTHING on his radio program came from our area. The only reason why Lutheran Church Ladies would put booze in cakes is that they were "guaranteed by the pastor that it would burn off like your sins in front of Jesus!" LOL
 
Lynn R. February 9, 2017
My churches are in SE Minnesota! They're ECLA so a little more loose! The baptist one I went to as a child was in Iowa and it was as strict as your Lutheran church, must be Missouri or Wisconsin synod.
 
Ann L. February 6, 2017
I enjoyed this article and would love to see similar features on other iconic kitchen brands.
 
Stephanie February 6, 2017
Great read! I love getting a glimpse into the history of things/dishes/etc. Hungry for more articles like this!
 
andreabakes February 6, 2017
I enjoyed reading this.<br />Using Great American Desserts made me a Bundt cake fan! I now have at least a dozen, now I have my mom's & her recipes. I love using them - every time I've made one the result is perfection!
 
vanniannie February 6, 2017
My favorite bundt is the New York Times Chocolate Dump-it Cake. Best cake ever.
 
Can I. February 8, 2017
It is fantastic! I have never been disappointed by any of Amanda Hesser's family recipes.
 
HalfPint February 6, 2017
Did the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" have any effect on bundt pan sales? Because I can't see "bundt" now without recalling that hilarious scene with the bundt cake.
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. February 7, 2017
And now, I can't either!
 
Nancy H. February 7, 2017
My bundt pan started with Tunnel of Fudge, and I still have the tiny recipe book that came with the pan. Alas, the frosting mix is no longer available. Is there a modern version of the ToF cake. Do you have a recipe book available? Thank you!
 
Kristen M. February 7, 2017
Check out Shirley Corriher's Tunnel of Fudge Cake! It's come up in my Genius Desserts cookbook research. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017578-tunnel-of-fudge-cake
 
Ali S. February 12, 2017
We have a recipe for Tunnel of Fudge on our site! Here you go: https://food52.com/recipes/57919-tunnel-of-fudge-1966