Tunnel of Sugarplum Cake, 1968 – A Vintage Christmas Recipe Test

Posted on Nov 29 2017 - 6:17am by RetroRuth

In honor of #fruitcakeweek on our social media, I thought I would whip up a fruitcake! Well…sort of.


This is Tunnel of Sugarplum Cake!

Tunnel of Sugarplum Cake
  • 1½ cups soft unsalted butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped candied cherries
  • 2 cups slivered almonds
  • ½ cup flaked coconut
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ½ package Pillsbury "Purely Simple" frosting mix (plus ½ of the butter it calls for)
  • 1 (4 serving) package of instant lemon pudding mix
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream all the butter ( including the butter called for in the mix) at high speed with mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add sugar; continue creaming at high speed until light and fluffy.
  3. By hand, fold in flour, cherries, almonds, coconut and raisins; then fold in frosting mix and pudding mix. Pour batter into well-greased and floured Bundt pan or 10 inch tube pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 65-75 minutes. (Less if you want your cake gooey). Do not invert.
  5. Cool for two hours (or longer, if you left your cake gooey). Cool completely before serving.

Tunnel of Sugarplum Cake - Pillsbury's Best Pamphlet, 1968

I came across this recipe a few weeks ago, and I got really excited. Why? Cause I freaking love the Tunnel of Fudge cake. (If you need more history on this cake, check out my post about it.) Now, this Sugarplum cake not really a true fruitcake, but cut me some slack. I really wanted to try this. And it was a good excuse for me to attempt to close the Tunnel of Fudge cake circle.

There have been some developments in the 6 (!) years since I first tried to recreate the Tunnel of Fudge cake. Well, just one, really. Jiffy has DISCONTINUED their frosting mix due to lack of customer demand. Which doesn’t sound right to me at all, because I’m pretty sure I demanded enough of that frosting mix to keep that line afloat for years. However, we who cook vintage are not strangers to ingredient substitutions, so after crying for a only a few days, I got myself together and started looking for frosting mixes.

Pillsbury has a newish line of “Purely Simple” mixes, and I was excited to try them out with the Tunnel of Fudge recipe. Except when I got them home and was able to actually examine them, it turned out that the mixes were basically just powdered sugar. You need to add butter to them to make them into frosting, which was not the case with the original Betty Crocker mixes and the Jiffy mixes. They had shortening incorporated into them, much like Bisquick Baking mix, and required only water. Since the from scratch version of the Tunnel of Fudge cake doesn’t quite cut it, I have been wondering if it’s the shortening based mixes that help to make the tunnel in the cake. But to be sure, I had to do some testing.

And, as with all great scientific roads of inquiry, that was when disaster struck.

Alex came down with the flu. And not just any kind of flu, some crazy, 7-day flu that beat off our flu shots and knocked her out for the count. The poor kid was really sick. And once one goes down, as you all know, the rest soon follow. Currently I am sitting here, all stuffed up and half alive, while a very sick little TJ is attempting to play lethargically at my feet.

I complained to my friend Carolyn (of the Aspic Aquarium and Mt. Fuji King Crab Salad) of my thwarted attempts to do research and, like a true scientist, she was willing to take up the slack and science on.

“I can totally make that cake for you. Just tell me what to do. Plus, I want to make some fruitcake for my Dad anyway.”


So, over the next couple of days, we traded ingredient lists and strategies, until the day had arrived and she was ready to bake in my stead. All of the photos here are the ones passed back and forth between my sick house and Carolyn’s kitchen.


First off, I gave her my “shortening in the frosting mix” theory.

“So,” I concluded, “According to my theory, you should probably add the extra butter that the frosting mix calls for into the cake. Just to make sure that it accounts for the fat that is NOT in the mix.”

“Got it.”

“Also, you need to only use half of the frosting mix package. Because I think the new mixes make enough to frost two layers, and you only need one.”


“Got it.”

“Also, don’t forget to grease your pan, cause those Tunnel of whatever cakes stick like crazy.”


“Got it.”


“And don’t forget to let it sit for the two hours. So it doesn’t collapse.”

“Got it.”

I took a two hour nap, and then contacted her again. “So, how did it go?”

“Ummm…I got goop.”

“What do you mean, you got goop?”


“Oh, crap. You got goop.”

“Don’t worry,” she messaged me, “I’ve got this. I’ve got enough stuff to try again tomorrow.”

“No, biggie,” I replied, “We’ve got time. Plus, I’m still really sick and taking TJ to the doctor today. Maybe I’ll just post the picture of the goop pile and tell everyone we tried.”

“I can do this. One more try.”

And the next day…




This time she left it in the oven longer, and it seemed to be far more stable. The longer cooking time caused it to lose a lot of the gooey center of the cake, but you can’t argue with a cake that depans and stands up.

But then, it was time for the ultimate test.



“Tastes fine, like cake.”

“Is it like the Tunnel of Fudge cake?”

“Not really, but I think that’s fine. It wouldn’t be the same since that one is chocolate and this is lemon. I’m not sure I would want a tunnel of lemon goo anyway.”

The Verdict: Good

Overall, this was a good cake.  Look at it as sort of a “less fruit more cake” fruitcake, which I am fine with. While the center on the successful cake wasn’t gooey, it was still pretty moist inside with a good crumb and good lemon flavor. However, baking the cake for extra time gave it a pretty hard outer “crust”, so be prepared for that. If you plan on giving this cake the traditional application of your alcohol of choice, that shouldn’t be a problem and it should soften up. If you want to live on the edge and go for the goo, I would recommend cutting back on cooking time and letting your cake sit for longer than two hours before cutting it. Maybe even refrigerate it overnight. And be prepared to scoop it out with a spoon. Overall, the frosting mix worked, but I still wonder if a frosting mix that had the shortening already incorporated into it would have been better. I think to answer that question I will probably have to retest the Tunnel of Fudge cake with the new, non-shortening Pillsbury frosting mix to really find out. The never-ending quest of discovery! For science!

And thanks again to Carolyn, for following all my crazy, flu-babbly directions and making everything exactly as I would have!

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I love everything retro, vintage, mid-century, kitsch and all things atomic! A 21st century housewife just trying to fit in...to the 50's. I have a passion for vintage recipes and an enormous vintage cookbook collection that I keep testing, even though by now I should know better. Creator of Mid-Century Menu (www.midcenturymenu.com), No Pattern Required (www.nopatternrequired.com), and I Ate The 80's (www.iatethe80s.com).

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8 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Boston Susan November 29, 2017 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    Back when I was a pastry chef, we used a lot of High Ratio Shortening in our recipes, especially when we made frosting. HRS doesn’t have that greasy/oily feel to it. It also doesn’t have an aftertaste. It holds up well in all conditions, especially 110 degree restaurant kitchens.

    Maybe try HRS instead of the butter?

  2. Amanda November 29, 2017 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    I”ve been making this updated version of Tunnel of Fudge, and it is DELICIOUS. ( I recommend the whole cookbook — it’s contemporary but…bundts — so a nod to vintage all around.) If you leave the nibs out, it might be more similar to the original (but the nibs give it great texture.) The author mentions that the amount of sugar is part of the chemistry of the tunnel, and this recipe has a substantial amount of powdered sugar in the cake, in addition to granulated and brown sugar. Oh, and it has five eggs, similar to your recipe, which makes me thing the egg has something to do with the texture/tunnel as well.


  3. Beth November 29, 2017 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    Personally, I’d love the first version. I love a slightly underdone cake with a bit of goo in the middle. Re the tunnel of fudge cake: oh man, that was one fabulous recipe. I made it in the ’70s. Why, oh why, do good things have to be discontinued?

    • Carolyn December 6, 2017 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      I’ll admit to eating it as I tried to scrape it out of the pan. It was pretty good. I probably didn’t grease things right….. I am no Ruth. 🙂

  4. Kasey November 30, 2017 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Looks like fun! I am unashamed about liking fruitcake.

    For the frosting mix, you might try this copycat http://www.budget101.com/content.php/576-White-Frosting-Mix . The milk powder may be the key to making it more stable, but I might buzz it in the food processor to break up the graininess. Based on the quantities, I would guess this is a one-layer batch, like the small Jiffy boxes.

    Hope this helps!

  5. Emily November 30, 2017 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    What a good friend 🙂

  6. Karen December 1, 2017 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Bless you! I have searched for this recipe every year at the holidays! I remember finding the recipe in a bag of flour as a kid and begging my mom to let us bake it! We did and I thought it was the most delicious thing I’d ever wrapped my lips around! It never became a tradition and we never made it again – but I always remembered it. After my mother passed, I searched through her cookbooks for the recipe and couldn’t find it. And now here it is! I will get to make this with my boys this year! I can’t wait! Thank you soooooooo much. PS – I remember ours being a little gooey too, but that was part of the fun as a kid – I didn’t care if it looked like a proper cake or not!

  7. Marty December 2, 2017 at 2:36 am - Reply

    Thank you Carolyn for taking up the spatula! 🙂

    Ruth, hope you guys are all on the mend quickly. BTW, Amazon still has some of the Jiffy chocolate frosting mix (but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone!). 😉

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