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If you know anything at all about baking cakes, you know about the Tunnel of Fudge. This cake has become a legend for the way it took an obscure cake pan and turned it into a household phenomenon. Even though elegantly designed Gugelhupf tube cake pans had been made since at least the 19th century, it wasn't until the 1950s that Nordic Ware produced their own cake pan and trademarked the name "bundt" to go with it. And at first, no one cared. This odd cake pan sold poorly and Nordic considered discontinuing it altogether. Then, in 1966, one particular cake recipe took the country by storm and created the biggest baking fad seen since Baked Alaska. Thanks to the Tunnel of Fudge, a bundt cake pan is considered a necessity in any kitchen where anyone does serious baking.
|"Enter Mrs. Ella Helfrich of Houston, Texas. In 1966, she came in 2nd place in the annual Pillsbury Bake-Off competition with the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, a chocolate-nut bundt cake that seemingly magically baked with a fudgy center. Helfrich lost out to Mrs. Mari Petrelli’s Golden Gate Snack Bread, but her recipe became one of Pillsbury’s most requested recipes. Over 200,000 letters poured in, not only requesting the recipe but information about where to purchase the unique cake pans."|
– from The American Table: Tunnel of Fudge
And yet, this is also one of the most diffcult cakes to successfully make. If you look here on YouTube today, you'll see NONE of the popular cooking channels have successfully made a tunnel of fudge. And when I set out to make the tunnel of fudge, I found out why it's nearly impossible to find this cake on YouTube.
My first attempt at making the tunnel of fudge was…not so successful. For the second attempt at making this, I tried using a successul trick used with cast iron baking, by preheating the cast iron cake pan in the oven. It still didn't work. Then for the third attempt, I actually followed the original recipe and let the cake cool in the pan for a full hour and a half before flipping it. And the result was…
Pans needed: Very large bowl for mixing dry ingredients. Large mixing bowl for mixing the wet ingredients, and adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Double boiler for melting chocolate, or a metal/glass bowl to hold over a pot of boiling water. Small bowl or cup to mix the baker's goop.
Unlike a number of recipes, it is important to add the ingredients together in the order they are presented here. This is a "fragile" recipe, and deviation from it will affect the results. Just as important, it is essential to whisk the dry ingredients after each additional ingredient is added. This is important, as it will incorporate air into the dry ingredients. Notice this cake does not use typical leaveners such as baking powder or soda, which is why whisking air into the dry ingredients is essential. (The cream of tartar in the wet ingredients is meant to support the eggs and keep the cake from falling, rather than rise the cake.)
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven is heating, chop or crush nuts. Remove eggs from container and let them come to room temperature. Prepare bowl or double boiler to melt chocolate, by adding water to the bottom bowl. Measure 3 to 4 ounces dark chocolate, and place it in the top bowl of the double boiler; but don't melt the chocolate yet.
In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients, starting with flour. Whisk the flour to lighten it and add air, then add the nuts and stir them in with the whisk until the nuts are completely coated in flour. Add confectioners' sugar, and whisk again. Add cocoa, and whisk again until everything is blended. Add salt and whisk it all together yet again.
Start heating up the water for melting the chocolate. At this point, prepare the cast iron pan. In a small bowl, prepare a mixture of baker's goop:
Stir everything together until well combined, and you have a dark, sticky substance. Use a basting brush to coat the entire inside surface of the bundt pan with a generous amount of baker's goop. Make sure every bit of the inside of the pan is covered. Once the pan is coated, place it aside and prepare the wet ingredients.
In a large bowl, beat the wet ingredients together: butter, sugars, cream of tartar and vanilla together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Break eggs into a small bowl or cup, one at a time, and mix in each egg one at a time. As the cake batter is mixing, bring water in bowl to a boil and melt the chocolate, whisking the chocolate as it melts. Take melted chocolate off the heat and let it cool slightly, then mix the chocolate in with the wet ingredients. When everything is well combined, reduce mixer speed to low and slowly beat in the mixed dry ingredients (chocolate mixture) to mixer, a little at a time, until everything is mixed together.
The finished batter will have a consistency very different from a typical cake batter. It will be thick and spongy, similar to a meringue. Using a rubber spatula, scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan and gently tap the pan on the work surface to settle the batter.
|The cake batter is different from typical batter because the original tunnel of fudge recipe used Pillsbury's powdered cake frosting mix as its main ingredient, rather than flour, eggs and sugar. In the 1970s Pillsbury discontinued its powdered frosting mix and has not made the mix since then. Bakers across the country screamed in outrage, and this was enough for Pillsbury to release a recipe that gave an equivalent to its original frosting mix. This is why this cake uses a lot of sugar, and no typical leaveners such as baking soda or baking powder. I added cream of tartar to this recipe myself, as a way to support the beaten eggs and keep the cake from falling as it rests after baking.|
Place the cake into the oven. Bake the cake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top feels springy with pressed with a finger, about 45 to 55 minutes. For my own oven, I used a compromise and baked the cake for 51 minutes.
When the cake comes out of the oven, let it stand and cool for an hour and a half, or 90 minutes. You must let the cake wait for that long. This is necessary for the cake to settle and for the inside to thicken. If the cake is flipped out after the usual 10 to 20 wait, it will collapse immediately. Therefore, be sure to wait a full hour and a half before flipping the cake out of the pan.
After the cake is out of the pan, the last step is preparing a glaze! This is a basic glaze that is easy to put together…however, again, it is important to whisk the dry ingredients before adding the wet ingredients (milk and vanilla extract)
Add powdered sugar and cocoa powder to bowl or deep dish. As with the cake batter, you must whisk the sugar and cocoa powder to loosen them and incorporate air into the powder. If you simply dump these into the bowl and then add milk, the resulting glaze will be lumpy and clumpy.
After whisking the powder, add a little of the milk, about 2 tablespoons. Whisk briskly, and it will begin to form a thick syrupy glaze. Add more milk a little at a time, until all the dry powder is incorporated into the glaze. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Keep whisking until the glaze is thick and syrupy. Pour glaze over the cake, and let it settle for at least half an hour before serving.