"Tunnel of Fudge Cake” was the second-prize winning recipe in the 17th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1966. Houston resident Ella Rita Helfrich invented the cake; Pillsbury promotions of the recipe helped to popularize the Bundt cake pan and Pillsbury dry chocolate frosting mix. Pillsbury discontinued the dry chocolate frosting mix, and Ell Rita Helfrich slightly changed her winning recipe.
The “Tunnel of Fudge Cake” is one of the best-remembered recipes of all the Pillsbury Bake-Offs.
The Bake-Off History
Seven decades of the Bake-Off® Contest
Since our first competition in 1949, more than 4,000 finalists have vied for the Grand Prize. Our first winner took home $50,000. Our next one will walk away with $1 million. Take a journey through 58 years of Bake-Off® Contests, and see how amateur cooks like you reflect and set trends in American cooking.
Pillsbury Bake-Off Recipes
Tunnel of Fudge Cake
This recipe, arguably the recipe most closely identified with the Bake-Off® Contest, mysteriously develops a “tunnel of fudge” filling as it bakes. Don’t scrimp on the nuts, or it won’t work!
Ella Rita Helfrich
Bake-Off® Contest 17, 1966
Makes: 16 servings
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 or Unbleached 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
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and margarine; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. 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.
2. Bake at 350°F. 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 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.
3. 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.
25 January 1966, Tucson (AZ) Daily Citizen, “Card Dealer’s Wife Wins Pillsbury Bake-Off,” pg. 6, col. 7:
SAN FRANCISCO—(AP)—A Las Vegas card dealer’s wife won $25,000 today for her Golden Gate Snack Bread in the 17th annual Pillsbury Co. Bake-Off.
The first prize winner, Mrs. John Petrelli, 31, of 1653 Parkchester Drive, Las Vegas, entered a snack yeast bread made with instant flour, pasteurized process creamed cheese, dry onion soup mix and butter.
Mrs. Carl Helfrich, wife of a Houston railroad machinist, won the $5,000 second prize for her Tunnel of Fudge Cake, which took only 15 minutes to make by folding nuts and double dutch frosting mix into a batter of flour, sugar, butter and eggs.
3 March 1966, Amarillo (TX) Globe-Times, “Over a Cup of Coffee” by Carolyn Jordan, pg. 23, cols. 1-4:
In Ell Rita T. Helfrich’s case, persistence paid off. She entered the Pillsbury Bake-Off for 12 consecutive years; in the 1966 cooking contest, Mrs. Helfrich received $5,000 for her original “Tunnel of Fudge Cake” judged second best of the 101 finalists’ recipes.
I telephoned the Houston homemaker to ask if there was a particular reason the mix-in-15-minutes cake be baked in a bundt pan. “Yes,” she said, “it comes out nicer...shiny and smooth.” Because the dessert features a fudge sauce center, she suggests reducing the baking time a few minutes if two layer cake pans are used.
TUNNEL OF FUDGE CAKE
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 12 1/2-ounce package double-dutch fudge buttercream recipe frosting mix
2 cups chopped pecans
Cream butter in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Gradually add sugar; continue creaming until light and fluffy. Stir in flour, frosting mix and pecans. Pour batter into greased, teflon-coated Bundt pan. Bake in 250-degree oven for 65 minutes. Cool 1 hour; remove from pan. Cool another hour before serving.
Mrs. Helfrich says proper blending of the ingredients is very important. For best results, “cream the butter, eggs and sugar with a mixer, then use a spoon when folding in the other ingredients. Just dump the dry frosting in the batter and mix.” The batter should be very stiff, she noted.
The $5,000 didn’t last long, Mrs. Helfrich noted. Most of it was used to purchase a new automobile; the remainder has been banked “for Uncle Sam” at income tax time next year.
Cooking with Texas Highways
by Nola McKey and Jack Lowry
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
Tunneling to Fame
Houstonite Ella Rita Helfrich’s recipe for Tunnel of Fudge Cake, which won second prize at the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off and created a furor across the nation, called for Pillsbury’s chocolate dry frosting mix to create the tunnel of fudge. When the company switched to canned frostings, Ella Rita received phone calls from people all over the country trying to find the discontinued product.
The recipe below closely approximates the original. It remains one of Pillsbury’s most often requested recipes. In 1999, it was inducted into the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest Hall of Fame, now a part of the Smithsonian Institution.
TUNNEL OF FUDGE CAKE
Note that nuts are essential to the success of this recipe, as they shore up the tunnel walls. Also, as the recipe can be a little tricky, be sure to check the cake frequently toward the end of the baking time. If the dough near the edge of the pan seems crusty (check with a toothpick), and your finger pushed gently into the dough no longer leaves an imprint, the cake is probably done. (Recipe follows—ed.)
Remembering the Era of the Bundt Cake
by Bonny Wolf
Weekend Edition Sunday, January 16, 2005 · The recent death of H. David Dalquist, inventor of the bundt cake pan, has reminded many cooks of the beautiful, easy cakes that quietly fell from fashion. Essayist and food afficianado Bonny Wolf has fond memories of the days of the bundt cake.
Bundt Cake Recipes:
Tunnel of Fudge Cake
This is the recipe Pillsbury offers for the prize-winning cake that started the bundt pan revolution. It is not exactly the same as Ella Helfrich’s because Pillsbury stopped making the double dutch fudge buttercream frosting mix she used in the original. Now you have to make the whole cake from scratch. Nuts are essential to the cake’s success. A “tunnel of fudge” mysteriously appears in the finished cake. This does make it tough to use the usual toothpick method of determining doneness
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ¾ cups butter or margarine, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 ¼ cups all purpose or unbleached flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups chopped walnuts
¾ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
4-6 tsp. milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan (or a 10-inch tube pan). In a large bowl, combine sugar and butter or margarine; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. 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 and spread evenly.
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 and cool at least 2 hours.
In 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.
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