Tunnel of Fudge cake went viral before invention of Internet

Mar 11 2013 - 3:42pm

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Valerie Phillips photo
The Tunnel of Fudge cake recipe dates back to 1966.
Valerie Phillips photo
A variety of Bundt pans are on sale at a cookware store in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minn.
Valerie Phillips photo
The Tunnel of Fudge cake recipe dates back to 1966.
Valerie Phillips photo
A variety of Bundt pans are on sale at a cookware store in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Tunnel of Fudge story should lift the spirits of anyone who's been discouraged after competing in a contest. This cake recipe -- which DIDN'T win the Pillsbury Bake-Off -- is proof that judges aren't always right.

I was reminded of this story last week as I made a Tunnel of Fudge cake for my daughter's 22nd birthday. Amy has a thing for Tunnel of Fudge cake, ever since we made it together while I was doing a story on Bundt cakes a good 10 or 12 years ago.

In 1966, Ella Rita Helfrich won a spot in the Pillsbury Bake-Off with a ring-shaped chocolate cake that had a gooey, fudgy center. It was baked in a round, fluted "Bundt" pan that, up until that time, very few people had heard of.

In later interviews, Helfrich said she submitted 30 different recipes to get into the bake-off. At the time, Pillsbury had a line of dry frosting mixes, and Helfrich experimented with them. Her final entry, the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, used a Double Dutch Fudge Buttercream frosting mix. To bake it, she used the specialty tube pan that her kids had given her for Christmas.

The judges declared Golden Gate Snack Bread the $25,000 grand prize winner. It was flavored with cheese spread and onion soup mix, trendy ingredients of the day.

Helfrich's Tunnel of Fudge ended up with a second prize of $5,000 -- awarded by the masters of ceremonies Pat Boone and former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur.

But the cake with the molten fudgy center captured America's interest. It was easy to make, yet the impressive appearance and lava-like middle gave it an elegant cachet. You could say the Tunnel of Fudge went viral at a time when there were no Internet websites, no Facebook and no Pinterest. Recipes were shared person-to-person and through Pillsbury's printed recipe booklets.

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