close up side view of two small bundt cakes

Bundt pan science & A chocolate Bundt cake

Have you ever made such an artsy Bundt cake? One of those round cakes with a hole in the middle, often with a lot of intricate designs? Which can be a hassle to get out of the form if you don’t get it right?

Ever realized that the name Bundt is actually a trademark and has somehow become quite generic over time? 

There’s quite a bit to talk about when it comes to Bundt cakes. Not just the name and how to release it properly, but on where it comes from and why it bakes so quickly.

History of the American Bundt pan

Before we dive into some history, it’s good to know that the term Bundt cake is an American name for this round cake with a hole in the middle. It seems to have its several centuries back though in Germany & Austria, where similar cakes were called Gugelhupf or Bundkuchen (here‘s a great bit of history, written in German). In the Netherlands these types of cakes are called ‘tulband’ which translates as turban in English.

Why and when the Americans started calling these tall cakes with a hole in the middle Bundt (note the extra t) cakes isn’t well known. As is the case with a lot of food facts/discoveries, there isn’t a specific time it was ‘invented’. We do know it was used in several cookbooks in the early 20th century.

Trademarking Bundt

At the time though, the term Bundt can’t have been that widely used since a company called Nordicware managed to trademark the term for their Bundt pans. Generally, companies aren’t able to trademark generic terms since they aren’t unique. It would be strange if someone could nowadays traemark the term ‘hamburger’ or ‘house’ since it clearly refers to a specific generic term.On March 24th, 1966 though Nordicware managed to trademark the Bundt pan.

Why a Bundt cake cooks quickly

When you bake a cake the whole batter in your cake pan needs to raech a certain minimum temperature for it to be cooked through. At this temperature proteins coagulate and starch cooks. The limiting factor in baking time is the fact that the heat from the oven needs to travel through the cake into the center. It takes time for the whole cake to heat up and the outside heats up first. Over time the heat travels through the cake.

The shorter the distance the heat has to cover, the quicker the cake bakes. This is why muffins cook a lot faster than a huge cake. It is also a reason why layered cakes are often baked separately instead of baking one large cake which is then cut into pieces. The large cake just takes a lot longer to bake.

So some smart people came up with the great idea to just make it easier for the heat to reach the whole cake. They made a hole in the middle of their cake pans. Whether this was actually done for speed, or had a completely different reason, I wouldn’t know, but it certainly does speed up cooking time.

two small bundt cakes, madeira and chocolate

How a Bundt pan is made

While researching the history of pan I started wondering how these are made. Of course, this depends quite a bit on which brand of pan you’ve bought. Since we just discussed Nordicware pans though, we’ll stick with those for now (especially since there’s a great YouTube video, see below, which shows their production process).

Most manufacturers will tell you what the pan is made of and in some cases it will tell you how it’s made. In the case of our Bundt pans, it states that they’re made from cast aluminium. Quite a lot of baking pans are made of aluminium since aluminium conducts heat very well. Steel is often used in combination with aluminium since it helps to strengthen the pan.

Aluminium casting

You will notice that cast aluminium pans are very sturdy and not flexible at all. This can be achieved thanks to the casting process. You can see it in the video below, but essentially you melt aluminium and pre this under a high pressure in a mold. This is done at very high temperatures, about 650-700C (1200-1300F). The mold itself exists of two parts, a bottom of a top. Once the aluminium has been casted and cooled sufficiently, these two sides release and the pan can be taken out.

Finishing it off

Once the pan has cooled down it is smoothened on the sides and any excess aluminium is removed. They can then spray it with a non-stick coating. The coating is dried at high temperatures to stabilize and strengthen it and then the pan is ready for use!

How to release a bundt cake

The way these Bundt pans are made allows for a lot of variations in designs, some more intricate than others. However, these intricate designs look best when the cake comes out easy and smooth. You can’t really line these pans with parchment paper, so how to you release them properly?

We tried a few ways and ended up with the following recommendations:

  • Give your pans a generous brush of butter. We would normally not put on as much, the pan shouldn’t turn white, but you should cleary see the butter.
  • We tried dusting the buttered pan with flour, however, that did not work any better for us. Intead, the cake turned out a little white (due to the flour) and still didn’t release that well. Just stick with butter.
  • Do not fill the pan until just before you’ll be putting it in the oven. If the batter is in the pan for too long it seems to destroy those layers you put on to prevent it from sticking.
  • Don’t try to take out the cake straight from the oven. At this point it is still a little weak and prone to breaking apart. Wait some 5-10 minutes before turning it over.
  • Don’t wait too long either though. Once it has cooled down the moisture will start condensing and it might stick to the tin again.
buttered bundt pans
Yield: 1 small (1,2l) cake

Chocolate bundt cake

Chocolate bundt cake

A true chocolately chocolate Bundt cake. Don't bake it for too long, or it will get dry.

This recipe is for one small Bundt pan (5 cups = 1,2 l). It will overflow just a little with this size (cut off the excess if you want it perfect or cut down on the baking powder and bring it down to 3/9tsp), so using a slightly larger pan won't be a problem at all.

The recipe is based on one from David Lebovitz.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Ingredients

40g dark chocolate roughly chopped up 15g of cocoa powder (using too much will make the cake dry)* 40ml cream (high fat content) 40ml strong coffee (we use freshly made espresso)** 40g butter 60g sugar 1 egg 70g flour 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp baking soda pinch of salt

  • 40g dark chocolate roughly chopped up
  • 15g of cocoa powder (using too much will make the cake dry)*
  • 40ml cream (high fat content)
  • 40ml strong coffee (we use freshly made espresso)**
  • 40g butter
  • 60g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 70g flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Grease the Bundt pan well with butter and set aside.
  2. Add the chocolate, cocoa powder, cream, coffee and butter in a small saucepan. Place on a low heat on the stove and warm up while stirring regularly until all the butter and chocolate have melted. Do not heat it any further than you need to to melt the ingredients.
  3. Mix in the sugar. Adding the sugar will help cool down the mixture before adding it to the flour & eggs. LEave to cool further if required until it's just above body temperature.
  4. Add in the egg (you don't want the egg to cook! so take care the mix cooled down enough)
  5. Stir in the remaining ingredients, all at once. As soon as you've mixed in the dry ingredients, the baking power & soda will start to work and bubble up. Therefore, if you're not planning to bake immediately, only mix in the dry ingredients when you're ready for baking.
  6. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan.
  7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C (=350F) for 30 minutes or until cooked. It's better to take it out just before it is fully cooked than after, you prefer it being slightly moist versus dried out.
  8. Leave to cool down slightly before attempting to take it out of the Bundt pan.

Notes

*The type of cocoa powder you use will greatly impact the flavour of your cake. So, choose one you enjoy!

**The nice thing about using coffee in a chocolate cake is that it doesn't necessarily make it taste like chocolate, but it brings a lot of depth of flavour.

Sources

United States Patent & Trademark Office: the registration for Bundt by Nordicware, link

Culinary Lore, What happens when trademarked food names become generic, Nov. 12, 2015, link

The national museum of American history, Bundt pan, link

Washington Post, Marcy Goldman, The birth of the bundt (pan with a past) 1997, link

Some quick facts about aluminium casting.

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