A bundt pan is a specialty baking pan that's used to make ring-shaped cakes — basically, round cakes with a hole in the middle of them.
These pans can be large or small, and they're typically quite ornate, with flutes and ridges in the bottom of them. When you remove your cake from the bundt pan, the flutes and ridges wind up on the top of the cake, giving it a distinctive, decorative look.
You can purchase bundt pans in all kinds of different shapes, ranging from the traditional ridged pattern to fleur des lis, roses, spiral shapes and even pans that look like round cathedrals.
Traditionally, bundt pans are used in recipes for fairly heavy cakes, such as coffee cakes, fruit cakes, chocolate fudge cakes and rum cakes. Decorating them is easy: because the pan creates a decorative look for the top of the cake, you can simply drizzle icing on your creation.
If You Don't Own a Bundt Pan
Here's a little baking secret: bundt cakes can be made without bundt pans. Yep, it's true. You won't wind up with the decorative cake top (which means you'll need to do some decorating yourself if you want your cake to look pretty), but you will have a cake shaped like the traditional round ring.
To do this, you'll need a round cake pan or a springform pan, plus a clean, empty can (with its label removed), and some dried beans.
Take your cake pan and butter it thoroughly as directed by your bundt cake recipe. Then take your clean, empty can and butter the outside. Next, place your can in the center of your baking pan (use a measuring tape to be precise, or you can just guess at the center). Fill the can about halfway full with dried beans.
If you don't have an empty can, you can use the same technique with a small ceramic ramekin, again buttered on the outside and weighted down with dried beans.
Baking Your Bundt Cake
Once your pan is set up, it's time to pour in your batter. The batter should surround your bean-filled can or ramekin but not slip under it. Bake your cake according to the recipe instructions.
If your pan is smaller than a traditional bundt pan (and it probably will be), you may have to divide your batter between two pans. Adjust your oven time accordingly, as you'll probably need to shorten the cooking time. When an inserted toothpick comes out clean, your cake is done.
When removing your cake from the pan, first twist and remove your can or ramekin. Do this carefully -- if you applied enough shortening to the outside, it should slip right out with a couple of twists. Then, place a plate upside down on top of your cake pan and invert the pan to remove the cake. You've now made a bundt cake without a bundt pan.