H. David Dalquist, a metallurgy expert who unwittingly secured a place in culinary history when he cast the first Bundt cake pan in 1950, died Jan. 2 of heart failure at his home in Edina, Minn. He was 86.
Dalquist made the Bundt pan -- a ring form with a center post and elegantly fluted sides -- for the Minneapolis chapter of a Jewish women’s society whose members sought to reproduce a cake their European mothers had made.
Sixteen years later, the confluence of a baking contest, changes in women’s lives and the rise of convenience foods made the pan a kitchen staple and put Dalquist’s Nordic Ware brand on the baking world’s map.
His Minneapolis-based company has since sold more than 45 million Bundt pans and inspired a host of imitators, making the distinctive cake mold one of the most popular in the world.
It was not his only first. Dalquist also pioneered a carousel that rotates foods during microwaving, microwave splatter covers, microwave egg poachers and other products that worked in both conventional and microwave ovens. But none of these innovations made him as famous as the humble Bundt pan.
A native of Minnesota, the state that also gave the world Bisquick and Spam, Dalquist trained in chemical engineering and served as a Navy radar technician in the Pacific during World War II before entering the plastics business with his brother.
In 1948, Dalquist and his wife, Dorothy, purchased Northland Aluminum Products and began manufacturing bake ware under the Nordic Ware name. It proved to be a smart move in the postwar boom years as women returned to domestic routines, including home baking.
In 1950, Dalquist was approached by members of Hadassah, the Zionist women’s volunteer society, who wanted to re-create the dense cakes their mothers made. One of the women provided as a model a ceramic dish that her German grandmother had used to make the ring-shaped bread called kugelhopf. They asked if Dalquist could make one of these pans in a modern material.
Dalquist, whose motto was “If you can sell it, you can usually make it,” produced the pan in cast aluminum for the Hadassah members. He also made some to sell in department stores and called this early model a bund pan, borrowing a German word that means an alliance or bond. Later, in order to trademark it and perhaps avoid association with the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization active in the 1930s and 1940s, he added a T.
The pan languished in relative obscurity until 1966, when a Texas woman named Ella Helfrich used one to win second place in the 17th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off contest.
She received $5,000 for a nutty chocolate cake with a gooey center that used only half a dozen ingredients, including a Pillsbury frosting mix that seemed to magically transform the cake’s core into a delectable chocolate pudding.
Dubbed the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, her concoction looked impressive and was easy to prepare, a combination that appealed to a generation of women who were going back to school and starting careers.
After Helfrich’s success, Bundt pans flew off store shelves. Pillsbury was flooded with 200,000 queries from women wanting to know where they could find the pan.
Dalquist put his factory into round-the-clock production, eventually churning out 30,000 Bundt pans a day. By 1970, he had licensed Pillsbury to produce special Bundt cake mixes and sold the pans in a package with the mix.
“No matter how many pans Pillsbury ordered,” Dalquist recalled in a 1997 Washington Post interview, “the amount was underestimated.” Bundt mania raged through the next two decades. With the introduction of novelty Bundts in shapes including a rose, a star, a cathedral and a Christmas tree, annual sales climbed to 1 million pans.
For years, a grateful Dalquist gave the Minneapolis Hadassah chapter his production seconds. The pans became a goldmine for the group, which sold them and used the proceeds to pay for schools and hospitals in Israel.
“Who could have imagined that a simple aluminum cake pan, invented more than a half century ago, could have become a fundraising vehicle for an organization that today boasts more than 300,000 members across the country?” National Hadassah President June Walker said in a statement issued after Dalquist’s death.
“With that homey little baking pan, Hadassah women built the most advanced medical center in the Middle East, the Hadassah Medical Center at Ein Kerem,” she said. “We thank David Dalquist for his contribution.”
Dalquist enjoyed making Bundt cakes with his wife of 59 years, the former Dorothy Staugaard, who survives him along with four children and 12 grandchildren.
She did her part to sustain the pan’s popularity by writing a book with 300 Bundt recipes. But none rivaled the Tunnel of Fudge cake, which remains the most-requested recipe in the 56-year history of the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
Pillsbury’s own Bundt cake mixes fared less well and were eliminated from the product line in the late 1990s, a move that may have contributed to a decline in Bundt pan sales. By 2002, according to the market research firm NPD Group, the specialty pan could be found in only 15% of American households, down from 21% in 1993. A baking industry expert suggested that the downturn was due to trends that favored snack cake mixes and store-bought goodies.
Some signs, however, suggest a revival in the offing.
On websites catering to people who bake, tributes to Dalquist and his pan have abounded. On egullet.org, for instance, some cooks reported that news of the inventor’s passing caused them to dust off an old Bundt pan or buy a new one. They whipped up Banana Mini-Bundts and Bundt cakes of sour cream and dried cherries and posted photos of their creations in honor of Dalquist, who was buried Friday.
One chef was so moved by Dalquist’s legacy that he rushed not to his kitchen but to his desk to compose this verse:
Regarding the casket,
May I be blunt?
Screw the coffin,
And bake me in a Bundt!
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Recipe for success
Ella Helfrich’s Tunnel of Fudge cake, which won second place in the 17th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1966, gave H. David Dalquist’s Bundt pan national exposure and made it one of the most popular baking pans in the world. Pillsbury no longer makes one of the original ingredients and offers this revised version of the much-requested recipe.
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups margarine or butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose Flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups chopped walnuts*
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 to 6 teaspoons milk
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and margarine; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. By hand, stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan; spread evenly.
Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from edge of pan.** Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours; invert onto serving plate. Cool for at least 2 hours more.
In small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients, adding enough milk for desired drizzling consistency. Spoon over top of cake, allowing some to run down sides. Store tightly covered.
*Nuts are essential for the success of this recipe.
**Since this cake has a soft filling, an ordinary doneness test cannot be used. Accurate oven temperature and baking times are essential.
High altitude: (Above 3,000 ft.)
Increase flour by 3 tablespoons. Bake as directed above.
Los Angeles Times