The Beauty of Bundt

They're easy. They're delicious. They're Minnesotan. It's time to show your Bundt-cake pride.

Short is a preacher's kid who grew up among an extended family of farmers, some dairy, some corn and soybean, in the Battle Creek, Michigan, area. In a lot of ways it was an ideal childhood. Short's parents loved kids and being around them, and would do things like invite all of Short's friends for a sleepover on the night before an expected snow day, so a full day of Bundt cake eating (starting off with a Bundt-pan cinnamon roll loaf, called Bubble Loaf) and cross-country skiing could follow. Of course, adulthood made things more complicated. "I was the first woman in my family to go to college, to move away, to go to Europe, to marry a girl," Short told me. "Not all of those were seen as positive developments."

Years of creating a non-farm-girl adult identity followed, years when she went to sophisticated urban dinner parties with nary a Bundt cake in sight. She worked as a clinical social worker, adept at crisis intervention, often in domestic violence cases. Then came a brain aneurism, which by all rights could have killed her, but from which she miraculously recovered. Then came the Bundts. "It was like: I'm not dead!" Short said, laughing. "So it's time to celebrate myself. I realized: I went to college, I married a girl, and guess what? I like Bundt cake—that's who I am. Deal with it."

Once she embraced her Bundt cake past, Short told me, basic ideas about the nurturing role of cooking became ever more important to her. "I love complicated cooking, and I have friends who are fabulous cooks but basically make one blowout meal four times a year. I know people who are like, 'Oh, we never eat sweet corn without truffle salt,' but that's not me. I think it's important to get dinner on the table every night, and the experience of making food in the real world is what's important."

Heavenly: A cathedral-shaped bundt cake from a Nordic Ware pan
courtesy of Nordic Ware
Heavenly: A cathedral-shaped bundt cake from a Nordic Ware pan

When Short was growing up, her mother always cut extra portions of Bundt cakes for her children to deliver on plates to elderly neighbors, an experience that Short treasures, and which has little in common with the truffle-salt trends of today. Now Short bakes and caters for her church. "Bundts, for me, are a symbol of a way of cooking that everyone can participate in. They were invented because people who came from really far away wanted to make this culture their own. They're beautiful; they're not hard to do. Any 10-year-old can make one." Short's own 10-year-old frequently does.

"The Bubble Loaf I make for my kids is the same one my mother made for me," Short said, "and I'm just softhearted enough to hope they'll want to have kids of their own and make it for them. If it's inconvenient for me sometimes to bake—I'm busy, I'm tired—so what? That's what your life is, the things you do when you're tired that are worth doing, that show people you care. It makes me kind of sad sometimes now, we have a church potluck and everything is from Kowalski's. But for me, it's been an enormous relief to realize, no, I don't have to choose between my contemporary self and my past self. It's not an either-or.

"It's funny, during the last presidential campaign, when all that nasty advertising [opposing gay marriage] was going on, this older man at my church came up to me and said, 'You know, Susanna, I want you to know, when I see you I never think, oh, there's the gay caterer. I think, oh, there's Betsy and Susanna. I wonder what sort of Bundt cake you're going to bring to the deacon's supper.'" Short paused and stuck a fork in the innocently simple apricot-almond pound cake she had baked for my visit. "That's Bundt cakes," she told me. "It feels great to do what I love and be who I am and not worry about what it is magazines think I should do."

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