If you bake cakes at home, chances are pretty good that you own a Bundt pan. Two out of three American households do. Chances are also pretty good that you don't know much about the history of this elegant, broadly fluted circular baking pan.

You may think, for instance, that the Bundt pan's a traditional European shape, around for centuries. Wrong. The pan as we know it was designed in 1949, in Minneapolis. But the story of the Bundt pan is made no less interesting by its recent origin.

It was in 1946 that a young engineer, H. David Dalquist Sr., returned to Minneapolis from his World War II naval duties and with his brother started a small company, Northland Aluminum Products, in the family basement to cast aluminum into industrial products. As he developed his expertise in aluminum casting, he began to branch out into a few consumer products, including cake pans that he sold by mail order through advertisements in decorating magazines.

One day in about 1949, Dalquist, now 78, recalls, a trio of "very nice ladies" from the local Hadassah chapter of Minneapolis approached him. They described a handmade ceramic baking mold that the chapter's president had inherited from her European grandmother. It was used, they said, to make Bundkuchens, party or "gathering" cakes, and was round and scrolled and, like several other traditional European baking pans, had a tube running up the center of the mold the better to bake big, dense cakes. Could he possibly make them such a thing in metal?

He could and he did, in heavy cast aluminum. Hadassah was pleased with the eight-lobed fluted mold and so was Dalquist, who added it to his "Nordic Ware" line of bakeware. He had a lot of faith in his elegant pan and decided to trademark it. But he couldn't trademark the common German noun Bund, so he added the "t."

"Fluted tube pan," Dalquist says, "is the generic name for such a pan." And even though some companies, particularly European manufacturers, still call some of their wares "bund" cake pans, legally only Nordic Ware is permitted to advertise and label its pans as Bundts.

The pan did fairly well from the beginning, David Dalquist Jr. says, mostly because women's-magazine editors used the pan for pretty cake photos. But sales really began to take off 20 years after the Bundt's launching, when Dalquist Sr. devised a way to make a "formed" aluminum pan. "The technology for forming aluminum is more difficult and expensive," Dalquist Jr. explains, "but once you get there, you have a lightweight, inexpensive product." Before the lightweight Bundt existed, there were maybe half a million Bundts in households across the country. "With the lightweight, that's when you get to the 40 million pans out there today," he says.

Of course, Northland Aluminum was no longer in anyone's basement. Nordic Ware today has a 270,000-square-foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facility with 14 molding presses, 16 metal-forming presses and six high-production coating lines.

Two other things happened that put Bundt on the baking map. In 1966, Texan Ella Helfrich took second prize in the Pillsbury Bake-Off with her Tunnel of Fudge Cake, baked in a Bundt pan. And the Dalquists began entertaining hotshots from the Minneapolis-based Pillsbury at home, serving up elegant Bundt cakes for dessert.

"There was a trend out there in the magazines," Dalquist Jr. says, "and we certainly pointed it out to them."

The effort worked. Pillsbury created an entire line of Bundt cake mixes -- Chocolate Macaroon, Chocolate Eclair, Black Forest Cherry and Chocolate Caramel Nut Bundt were a few -- promoting the cake mixes together with the Nordic Ware pan. Pillsbury was buying the Nordic Ware Bundt pans to sell in "combination packs" with its cake mix. But, says Dalquist Sr., "No matter how many pans Pillsbury ordered, the amount was underestimated." For about 18 months in the early 1970s, in a kind of Bundt-mix mania, Nordic Ware was working to capacity, manufacturing 30,000 Bundt pans daily to keep up with the demand. According to Pillsbury, the company got some 200,000 requests at one point for the elusive pans, as housewares departments nationwide were gleaned of their stock.

Earlier this year Pillsbury elected to take the Bundt cake mixes out of their product line, 25 years after their mad dash to domestic fame (the company still includes Bundt pan instructions in its regular cake mixes). Pillsbury spokesperson Marlene Johnson speculates that the Bundt cake mixes declined from their sales in the l970s as consumers shifted from large family-style cakes to smaller convenience mixes that were "snackier" (such as the current Snackwell's mixes, and myriad cookie and brownie mixes now on the market).

Fortunately for those who adored the Bundt cake mixes or are terrified of scratch baking, Nordic Ware debuted its own Bundt Gourmet Cake Mixes at the International Gourmet Show held in San Francisco this spring. And as Dalquist Jr. still likes to say around the Nordic Ware office, "You don't have to be a fancy baker to bake a fancy cake."

(Nordic Ware puts out a "Bundt Cookbook," more than 200 cake, bread, muffin, entree, dessert, salad and sauce recipes all calling for Bundt pans. It's $4.95 plus $2 for shipping from Nordic Ware Kitchen, Highway 7 and 100, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55416.)

Recipes that call for Bundt pans can also be baked in a 9- or 10-inch tube or angel-food cake pan. What these pans have in common is their 12-cup batter capacity (denoted by recipes calling for between 2 and 4 cups of flour) as well as a center post or tube that, aside from being decorative, adds support to a rich or heavy batter. Baking times may differ when using tube or angel-food cake pans; usually cakes made in these pans take 5 to 10 minutes longer. Any 12-cup Bundt pan recipe can be made in two 6-cup Bundt pans. Also, 6-cup fluted tube pans are a nice respite from the usual loaf pans.

Even if the Bundt or fluted tube pan you use is touted as nonstick, it is wise to prepare it for baking with a light brushing of shortening or a nonstick baking spray. For a cast mold (only Nordic Ware offers nonstick cast molds), make sure you grease the pan generously (especially in the fluted crevices).

One last note: For chocolate cakes, which are sometimes resistant to being unmolded, let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then place on a stove burner set on medium heat. Shuffle the cake back and forth over the heat for a couple of minutes to cajole some additional release (actually the fat in the cake will begin to melt and promote the release) and then try unmolding the cake again. NEW-WAVE CHOCOLATE TUNNEL CAKE (Makes one 12-cup bundt cake, 14 to 16 servings)

This cake, second-place Pillsbury Bake-Off winner in 1966, helped put Nordic Ware's Bundt pan on the map. I've reworked the recipe to update it to 1997. It's dramatic, elegant, easy and a real crowd pleaser. This time the "tunnel" is a generous ripple of sweetened cream cheese and chocolate chips. (This cake freezes well and keeps several days, covered, at room temperature.)

Vegetable shortening for the pan

FOR THE CAKE:

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup oil

2 large eggs, beaten lightly

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa, measured then sifted

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup warm coffee

FOR THE TUNNEL FILLING:

1/4 cup sugar

8 ounces cream cheese, softened (reduced-fat is okay, but do not use nonfat)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

FOR THE GLAZE:

1 cup confectioners' sugar

3 ounces (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Very generously grease a 12-cup or 10-inch Bundt or tube pan with the vegetable shortening, making sure the fluted wells are well coated.

For the cake batter: In a standing mixer, combine the white and brown sugars with the oil and eggs and beat for 1 minute until smooth. Add the vanilla, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and coffee and beat on medium for 2 to 3 minutes (use a whisk if doing by hand). Set the cake batter aside.

For the filling: Cream the sugar with the cream cheese, then add the vanilla, egg and chocolate chips and blend until smooth.

To assemble the cake: Ladle half the batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the filling evenly over this layer. Cover with the remaining batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 70 minutes or until the cake tests done (the top should spring back when gently pressed).

Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes before removing it from the pan. If the cake sticks, place it on a warm burner to melt the fat a bit and help release it. Handle the cake gently -- it will firm up as it comes to room temperature.

For the glaze: Combine the confectioners' sugar, chocolate and butter to form a pourable glaze, thinning with hot water if necessary. Pour over the cooled cake.

Per serving (based on 14): 576 calories, 8 gm protein, 74 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 8 gm saturated fat, 318 mg sodium RHUBARB-APPLE BUNDT CAKE (Makes one 12-cup Bundt cake, 12 to 14 servings)

A great Bundt cake for spring or summer -- fresh or frozen rhubarb spruces up apples for a sweet and tart coffeecake.

Vegetable shortening and flour for the pan

FOR THE FILLING AND TOPPING:

4 teaspoons cinnamon

5 tablespoons sugar

3 cups sliced apples

3 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb, cut in 1/2-inch dice

FOR THE CAKE:

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon orange zest, finely minced

4 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Very generously grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with the vegetable shortening, making sure the fluted wells are well coated. Lightly dust with flour.

For the filling: Toss the cinnamon, sugar, apples and rhubarb together. Set aside.

For the cake: Whisk together the white and brown sugars with the oil, vanilla, buttermilk and orange zest. Stir in the eggs. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, flour, baking powder and nutmeg, then fold into the egg mixture.

Spoon 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Cover with half of the apple-rhubarb mixture. Spoon another 1/3 of the batter over the fruit, cover it with the remaining fruit and then add the rest of the batter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour or until done. Shake the pan gently to loosen sides and bottom before inverting onto a plate for serving.

Per serving (based on 12): 487 calories, 6 gm protein, 71 gm carbohydrates, 20 gm fat, 71 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 86 mg sodium BUTTERY MARBLED BUNDT CAKE (Makes one 12-cup bundt cake, 12 to 14 servings)

This cake is great with or without the glaze.

Vegetable shortening for the pan

FOR THE CAKE:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

2 1/4 cups sugar

5 eggs

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups milk

Zest of 1 orange, finely minced (optional)

3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

FOR THE CHOCOLATE PASTE:

4 tablespoons cocoa

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup finely grated semisweet chocolate, or miniature semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

FOR THE GLAZE:

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 12-cup Bundt pan, making sure the fluted wells are well coated.

For the cake: Beat the 1 cup melted butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl often. Blend in the eggs and stir in the vanilla, milk and orange zest, if using.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder and add to the egg mixture. Set the batter aside.

For the chocolate paste: Place the cocoa and 3 tablespoons melted butter in a small bowl and blend well. Add a drop or more of melted butter if the mixture is too stiff. Set aside.

To assemble the cake: Transfer 1/3 of the batter to a smaller bowl and combine this smaller amount of batter with the chocolate paste. When thoroughly mixed, add the grated chocolate or miniature chocolate chips to this batter.

Using a spatula or soup spoon, add alternating portions of the plain and the chocolate batter to the prepared pan. To further marbleize the cake, run a butter knife through the batters and gently swirl the plain and chocolate together.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes until the cake tests done, i.e., the cake seems firm when gently pressed. Let it cool for 15 to 20 minutes in the pan before inverting onto a wire rack. If not using the glaze, dust the cake with confectioners' sugar.

For the glaze: Stir together the confectioners' sugar, cocoa and vanilla with 4 tablespoons of water to make a thick but pourable glaze, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. Drizzle over the top of the cake.

Per serving (based on 12): 518 calories, 8 gm protein, 75 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 142 mg cholesterol, 13 gm saturated fat, 194 mg sodium JAVA AND BANANA BLUEBERRY CAKE (Makes one 12-cup Bundt cake, 12 to 14 servings)

Adapted from a coffee liqueur recipe book, this statuesque creation is an elegant banana cake. The blueberries can be omitted, but they are a nice touch.

Vegetable shortening for the pan

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup strong coffee

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut

3/4 cup chopped toasted macadamia nuts

1 1/2 cups semi-frozen blueberries

Confectioners' sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with the vegetable shortening, making sure the fluted wells are well coated.

Cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl to blend the batter evenly. Then add the vanilla, milk, coffee and bananas.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir the flour mixture into the batter. Fold in the coconut, nuts and blueberries and gently mix to make a smooth batter. Try not to break up the fruit.

Spoon into the prepared baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes until the cake tests done. Cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Garnish with sifted confectioners' sugar.

Per serving (based on 12): 497 calories, 7 gm protein, 64 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 113 mg cholesterol, 12 gm saturated fat, 229 mg sodium CARROT-PINEAPPLE CAKE WITH CREAM-CHEESE DRIP ICING (Makes one 12-cup Bundt cake, 14 to 16 servings)

A great, moist classic carrot cake in a Bundt pan. The lemon-scented cream-cheese icing is more of a thick glaze, and is lighter and less sweet than a typical cream-cheese icing. For the orange oil, available through the King Arthur Baker's Catalogue or Williams-Sonoma or other specialty stores, you can substitute pure orange extract, but the oil is lighter and more naturally citrusy.

Vegetable shortening for the pan

FOR THE CAKE:

1 1/4 cups oil

2 1/4 cups sugar

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon orange oil

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups grated carrots

3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup diced pineapple, well drained

1/2 cup yellow raisins, plumped and well drained

FOR THE ICING:

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (reduced-fat is okay, but don't use nonfat)

1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 teaspoons each, finely minced lemon and orange zest

2/3 to 3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

Toasted slivered almonds, for garnish

Cinnamon, for garnish

Shredded carrots, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with the vegetable shortening, making sure the fluted wells are well coated.

For the cake: In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar and eggs. Stir in the vanilla, lemon juice and orange oil. In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Fold the dry mixture into the egg mixture, then add the carrots, nuts, pineapple and raisins, stirring well. Spoon into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cake springs back when gently pressed, about 60 to 70 minutes. Remove from oven. Let the cake cool for about 15 minutes, then remove it from the pan and allow it to cool thoroughly.

For the Icing: Cream the cream cheese and butter together. Stir in the lemon juice, vanilla and citrus zests. Fold in the confectioners' sugar to make a soft, drippy glaze. Drizzle over the cooled cake (recoup the excess and drizzle it again over the cake). Allow the glaze to set.

Per serving (based on 14): 523 calories, 6 gm protein, 63 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 71 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 185 mg sodium Marcy Goldman is a professional baker and food writer based in Montreal. THINKING OF BUYING A BUNDT? HERE ARE SOME OF YOUR OPTIONS

In the market for a fluted tube pan? Nordic Ware still makes its two original models, a cast-aluminum professional-weight Bundt pan, the Pro Cast, as well as a nonstick- coated formed-aluminum version. The Pro Cast is for the baker who demands professional quality in bakeware. Available with either a nonstick or a cast-aluminum interior, the Pro Cast is about the heaviest you can find, and it produces exceedingly evenly baked, well-crusted cakes. The cast-aluminum pan is also available in a 6-cup pan, a 6-mold jumbo-muffin Bundt pan and a 12-mold mini-muffin Bundt pan.

The Mirro WEAREVER Company just introduced its fluted tube pan, the trademarked Crown Burst Mold (available at cookware shops, or contact Mirro WEAREVER, 1-800-527-7727), with a nonstick substantial -weight aluminum interior and a porcelain exterior. It proved an excellent choice when testing these cakes. Its weight is between Nordic Ware's top-of-the-line cast pan and the lighter-duty molded-aluminum model.

Other options include a line of durable, heat-resistant glass fluted tube pans from the Czech Republic by Kavalier Glassworks of North America Inc., available through the King Arthur's Baker's Catalogue (1-800-827-6836) or Star Crest Products (909-943-2011). This beautiful, unique, imported pan has exceptionally good release qualities, and it does double duty, baking savory dishes and casseroles as well.

Sur La Table (1-800-243-0852) offers the Bundt line as well as a ribbed Bundform, a heavy-gauge-steel, 12-cup-capacity pan made by Kaiser with two layers of nonstick coating.

In addition, the Lodge company makes an heirloom cast-iron pan (which must be preseasoned). And most recently, the Calphalon company introduced its version of a Crown Bundt Pan (available through the Chef's Catalogue 1-800-338-3232), with a nonstick interior on what is billed as a professional- or commercial-weight pan (heavy-gauge spun aluminum).

-- Marcy Goldman