Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your mother's or grandmother's slanty cursive.
Desserts fall out of favor. The pineapple upside-down cake and baked Alaska of the 1960s were abandoned for the Black Forest cakes and chocolate fondues of the 1970s, which in turn were slain by creme brulee in the 1980s.
These days, cupcake ardor has cooled and macarons only fleetingly had their day in the sun. But here's the interesting thing: What's old is new again. In much the way baby names cycle back around (Gertrude and Henry are cool now!) and comic book franchises get a fresh reboot, old-fashioned desserts re-emerge as swoonworthy.
A case in point: The Bundt is back. The cake's distinctive fluted ring shape, inspired by a traditional European confection known as kugelhopf, was the brainchild of H. David Dalquist. He invented the signature aluminum pan in 1950, calling it a "bund" pan for the German word for "bond" or "alliance." (No word on when or how that "t" got added.)
It went nuts in the 1960s — this was the cake you brought to the new neighbors when you wanted to start off on the right foot — but really blew up when a Bundt cake called the Tunnel of Fudge Cake placed second in the 17th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1966.
People loved the Tunnel, and now more than 70 million households have a Bundt pan. Dalquist's Nordic Ware, a Minneapolis-based cookware manufacturing company, added designs over the years, some merely more elaborate embellishments of the original die-cast aluminum flutes, some in the shape of flowers or fruits or even still life scenes. Unlike the Plain Jane tube pan, these cakes are party-ready even before you think about icing or candles.
"Bundts are the next big thing," said Maureen Funk, who with husband Chip owns the Nothing Bundt Cakes franchise at 1155 S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. "That was part of my attraction to the business. It's sort of nostalgic, and our core customer probably had them growing up. But it's also about introducing them to a new generation."
Not that Bundts ever went away completely: Nothing Bundt Cakes corporation just celebrated its 20th anniversary. It started in 1997 when Dena Tripp brought her friend Debbie Shwetz a Bundt cake as a hostess gift in their hometown of Las Vegas. We could make a business out of this, Shwetz said through mouthfuls of cake. They ran it out of their kitchens for a while and opened a storefront a few years later. The oldest franchise is 10 years old, many of them clustered in California, Arizona and Texas. At this point there are 270 franchises sold and more than 200 locations opened, the South Tampa one coming on board in April. (For a list of locations, visit nothingbundtcakes.com.)
"I did corporate I.T. for 32 years and I was looking around to see what to do next," Maureen said. "Someone mentioned Nothing Bundt Cakes and I was hooked when I looked at their website."
It's true, there is something old-timey and nostalgic about the packaging, printed materials, storefront and even the shape of the cakes, but all with a modern twist. Cakes are offered in four sizes: single-serve bundtlets for $4.29; 8-inch cakes that serve eight to 10 people for $22; 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people for $32; and tiny "bundtinis" sold by the dozen for $19.50. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti. Each is adorned with signature thick icing petals made of cream cheese and butter frosting, and there are 40 different decorated cake designs on offer ($33 to $43).
Best flavors? It's an eye-of-the-beholder thing, but my money is on lemon, with white chocolate raspberry nipping at its heels, the cakes themselves so rich and moist I found myself looking for the bites without the icing.
But Bundt cakes are not alone. I'm guessing it will be a while before Jell-O molds (especially those with suspended fruit and nonsense in them) roar back into vogue, but I've seen the resurgence of historic Southern desserts like shoofly and chess pies, the former a molasses crumb cake baked in a pie crust, the latter a sweet custard (really just flour, butter, sugar and eggs) baked in a crust. And I've seen new fervor for other retro gems like the Southern hummingbird cake, a marvelous spiced layer cake inflected with pineapple and banana.
Why are these retro treats coming back? Two reasons. First, baking is a science many of us didn't ace, the alchemy of butter and sugar a mystery that went to the grave with our grandparents. It's aspirational. And second: Perhaps we've fatigued of packaged food and sweets concocted by mad scientists in a lab. Yes, an airy wedge of angel food cake, still warm, will never be as Instagrammable as Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino, but so be it. With a blob of fresh whipped cream, that angel food is a little slab of heaven.
Oh, and a sonker? It's a North Carolina thing, a juicy fresh fruit dessert squarely between a cobbler and a pie. Look for it soon on a menu near you.
Contact Laura Reiley at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.
Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake
For the cake:
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ¾ cups butter or margarine, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups chopped walnuts
For the glaze:
¾ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
4 to 6 teaspoons milk
Make the cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt or fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan. In a large bowl, combine sugar and butter, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. Stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from sides of pan. Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 ½ hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.
Make the glaze: In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients, adding enough milk for desired drizzling consistency. Spoon over top of cake, allowing some to run down sides. Store tightly covered.
Serves 10 to 12.
Chef Art Smith's Hummingbird Cakes
Butter and flour, for prepping pans
For the cake:
3 cups self-rising flour, preferably White Lily brand
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped ripe bananas
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the icing:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 ounces butter, at room temperature
1 pound confectioners' sugar (about 4 ½ cups sifted)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Vanilla bean ice cream, for serving
Fresh seasonal fruit, for garnish
Make the cake: Position racks in the center and bottom third of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans, sprinkle evenly with flour and tap out the excess. (If you wish, butter the pans, line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper, then flour the pans and tap out the excess.)
Sift the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl. In a second large bowl, stir or whisk the bananas, pineapple, oil, eggs and vanilla until combined. Do not use an electric mixer. Pour into the dry mixture and fold together with a large spatula just until smooth. Do not beat. Spread evenly into the pans.
Bake until the cake springs back when pressed in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the cakes to wire racks and cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks. (Remove the parchment paper now if using.) Turn right side up and cool completely.
Make the icing: Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until combined. On low speed, gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar, then the vanilla, to make a smooth icing.
Place one cake layer upside down on a serving platter. Spread with about ⅔ cup of the icing. Top with the second layer, right side up. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. The cake can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and stored, uncovered, in the refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving. Serve slices with a scoop of ice cream and a fruit garnish.
Source: Art Smith, served at Homecomin' Florida Kitchen at Disney Springs