Recently one of my good friends had a birthday. She loves lemon, but I didn’t want to make a lemon-frosted layer cake because I just didn’t have the time. I pulled out Ye Olde America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (of which I am a huge fan due to their scientific approach to cooking) and perused the cake section for something suitable. There were two possibilities:
1. Lemon chiffon cake
2. Lemon bundt cake
Now, chiffon cake is one of those mysterious cakes that everyone’s heard of but few people have made. My southern family has made dozens, nay, hundreds of Angel Food cakes, a chiffon cake relative. But I’ve never known anyone inside or outside my family who has made a chiffon cake. It’s leavened with steam beaten into egg whites, just like Angel Food, but also contains oil to enrich it. It seemed a bit dicey to risk my first ever chiffon cake (at altitude, mind you, which is always a crap shoot) on a good friend’s birthday, so I opted for the safe choice: Bundt cake.
Bundt cake has a long, anything-but-sordid culinary history. It’s derived from ring-shaped German and Austrian cakes, perhaps including one called the gugelhupf, made in a coffee-cake style for special occasions.
This wikipedia entry sums it up pretty well, but suffice it to say that the Bundt cake that Americans know and (sometimes) love originated in the upper midwest when some ladies of Germanic/Nordic descent asked for a ring-shaped pan that was neither delicate nor heavy, unlike the old ceramic and cast-iron versions. H. David Dalquist, the founder of Nordic Ware, obliged, and the modern American Bundt was born.
Coincidentally, Nordic Ware’s logo on the side of this grain bin must be seen to be appreciated. As my (Germanically-derived) friend Ed Nowicki opined, “Nordic Ware: “Lo there do I see the bundt cake of my father. Lo there do I see the bundt cakes of my mother, my sisters and my brothers. Lo there do I see the bundt cakes of the line of my people, back to the beginning…”
After languishing for a few years in the obscure kitchen gadgets section of cookware stores, someone dreamed up a “Tunnel of Fudge” recipe for the Pilsbury bakeoff employing the Bundt pan that won the top prize in 1966. America has never looked back.
The cake has taken a lot of good-natured teasing over time (Nia Vardalos’s mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding can’t figure out what to do with the hole and ends up placing a potted plant there) but here’s the thing about the Bundt: it’s pretty fool-proof, and thanks to the specially shaped Bundt pan, the cake pretty much decorates itself. Even at altitude, two different Bundt recipes I have used rose perfectly. I opted for a lemon glaze (which had its own problems, even with ATK’s careful testing: it was way too runny and ended up pooling around the base. I have made a note to use less liquid next time), but even a dusting of powdered sugar looks great (be careful to add this only at the last minute if you live in a damp climate).
The cake came out splendidly, although I had to let it sit out overnight to cool, which in Colorado’s climate I think dried it a bit too much. Nevertheless, it was acceptably moist and rich, and the lemon flavor was good and not overpowering. In spite of consistency problems with the glaze, it was bright and tangy, as it should be. Here’s the recipe.
I had one other issue. I got the super-duper amazing 50th anniversary version of the original Nordic Ware pan for Christmas one year, and it has a non-stick coating that practically repels air. Nonetheless, ATK wanted me to make a paste of flour and butter and grease the pan with it. I tried, but it just wouldn’t coat evenly and made the cake come out a bit splotchy. Based on the characteristics of my own pan, next time I think I’m going to go for it in the buff! Woo woo! Who says the Bundt isn’t sexy? : )