Tunnel of Fudge Cake

I had not heard of the Tunnel of Fudge Cake until I began doing research while writing Tradition of Deceit (the 5th Chloe Ellefson mystery), which celebrates Minnesota’s flour milling history and the Mill City Museum. As soon as I heard the name, I knew Chloe would love it. When I heard it was probably the most popular recipe in the history of Pillsbury’s famous Bake-Off, I knew I wanted to include it in the book.

The recipe was developed by Ella Helfrich of Houston. In 1966 it placed second in the Bake-Off, but was chosen to grace the cover of that year’s recipe booklet.  Baked in a bundt pan, the cake emerged with a molten center. The recipe was a sensation.

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It also made the bundt pan, invented in 1950 by H. David Dalquist (who with his brother founded Nordic Ware) a sensation. His lightweight version of a heavier European ceramic version had seen disappointing sales, but after the Tunnel of Fudge Cake became a phenomenon, sales boomed. Pillsbury alone received 200,000 requests for the pan.

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Original cast-aluminum bundt pan, now in the Smithsonian Institution collection.

The original recipe called for Pillsbury’s Double Dutch Frosting mix. Great consternation ensued when, some years later, Pillsbury stopped production of the packaged mix.

Pillsbury has produced an updated recipe, available HERE on their website. Their photo (below) shows a gooey center completely surrounded by chocolate cake.  That’s the recipe I decided to try.

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(Pillsbury.com)

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I of course used Pillsbury BEST flour.

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As directed, I did not skimp on the nuts.

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I baked the cake the allotted time, and let it cool as directed.

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I finished it off with glaze—a new twist in the updated version.

All seemed good, so at long last and with great anticipation I cut a slice of cake.

The expected tunnel of gooey fudge was not in evidence. At all.

I reviewed the recipe. I’d measured ingredients exactly. I’d even checked the oven temperature with a thermometer.

However, I had strayed in one regard. The recipe calls for using an electric mixer to blend butter, sugars, and eggs, and then stirring in flour, cocoa, and nuts by hand. I have limited hand strength, and so always use my mixer on lowest speed when recipes call for stirring something in by hand. It’s never presented a problem before.

Since I couldn’t see where else I might have gone wrong, however, I started over. This time the appropriate ingredients were duly stirred by hand.

tunnel of fudge cake

Cake #2 cooling in the pan.

tunnel of fudge cake

I decided to skip the glaze this time.

The recipe calls for cooling the cake in the pan for 1-1/2 hours, then on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Bloggers don’t agree on the best route to true gooeyness—some said the rest time is essential; others, that the fudge factor is highest if the cake is not allowed to cool completely. I was impatient by this time, so I decided to cut the cake after it came out of the pan.

tunnel of fudge cake

This time there definitely was a gooey center surrounded by a cakey edge. It didn’t look nearly as pudding-like as the photos showed, but it tasted good.

Would the tunnel have been more pronounced if I’d let the cake cool for another two hours? Perhaps. I don’t pretend to understand the chemistry involved. Pillsbury’s test bakers say the nuts are essential; a few bloggers claim success without including nuts. The cake is very rich and sweet, but I didn’t tinker with the quantities (I often cut sugar in recipes by as much as half) because that, too, affects the chemistry.

For the moment I’ve declared victory, but I do intend to try again. If you try the recipe, or have memories of it, I hope you’ll let me know!

The Mill City Museum occasionally features the recipe in their baking lab. I’ve never been able to visit on Tunnel of Fudge day, but I expect that many question could be answered there. The next Baking Memories:  Tunnel of Fudge Cake event is coming up on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

 

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4 Responses to “Tunnel of Fudge Cake”

  1. Pamela Says:

    Who would have thought such a small change in mixing would make a big difference in the cake’s structure! I, too, am always making changes–amount of sugar, etc–this gives me pause.
    Thanks, Kathleen.
    Oh, yes, and great photos.

  2. Mickey Says:

    I love this version of the tunnel of fudge cake: http://www.recipelink.com/msgbrd/board_2/2005/FEB/15974.html

    whenever I make one, it doesn’t last long!

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