“I’m not sure how it started, but my mother realized that this pistachio bundt cake was one of my favorites. As a mother can do, she decided that was going to be my birthday cake each year. She always made it on my birthday in April. That’s been the tradition 30-plus years now,” said Justin Hart, a radiation oncologist with WellStar Kennestone Hospital.
In spring of 1997 when the couple started dating, Anna Gray offered to make Justin a cake for his birthday. “But he started weaving the story of this special cake that his mom made him every year. It was his favorite and just couldn’t be replicated,” said Anna Gray, preschool director of First Presbyterian Church Weekday Preschool. The couple has three children, 10-year-old Merrill, 8-year-old Nora and 4-year-old William.
“I think Anna Gray was a little nervous about even trying to make it. Somehow I had convinced her it was a pretty complicated thing that only my mother could make,” he said.
Sure enough, Justin’s mother hand-delivered the pistachio bundt cake to him traveling from Washington D.C. where he grew up to Durham, N.C., where he attended Duke University Medical School.
“It certainly was delicious, but it tasted somewhat familiar. The next year, she mailed the cake to him. I still couldn’t put my finger on the ingredients. By our third year together, I was determined to make the cake myself,” said Anna Gray, a native of Nashville, Tenn. The couple moved to Marietta after Justin completed his medical training in Houston, Texas.
“His mom is a fabulous baker, but I saw it has a chance to learn from her and to impress Justin. I asked Justin to get the recipe, but he was reluctant to give away his mom’s secret. So I called her myself,” she said.
When Anna Gray spoke with Justin’s mother, she was tickled and agreed to share the recipe.
“A couple of days later, her letter arrived in the mail with a copy of the recipe taken from the original magazine where she had found it. I was shocked and couldn’t help but giggle. This famous and very complicated recipe was a ‘doctored up’ box cake, which was deceivingly easy to make,” Anna Gray said.
“She has been granted the family secret, which isn’t too complicated,” Justin said.
The couple has debated what makes the cake so yummy.
“I love how moist the cake stays and am sure the pudding and extra eggs are the keys. Justin likes to use his scientific prowess to convince people that baking the cake in a bundt pan makes all of the difference. Something about the ratio of surface area to volume,” Anna Gray said.
The story of the cake is famous with the family and Anna Gray continues the tradition each year for Justin’s birthday.
“His birthday also falls around St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s a nod to his Irish heritage,” she said.
Over the years, I have adapted the cake by adding orange food coloring at Halloween to make a pumpkin, and I’ve turned the green cake into a wreath at Christmas time. The pistachio bundt cake has become a beloved tradition in our family thanks to his mother and her willingness to share,” she said.
“It is a beautiful green cake. It certainly looks nice and is very tasty. It’s just delicious,” Justin said.
PISTACHIO BUNDT CAKE
1 box of yellow cake mix
1 package (4 serving size) JELL-O Pistachio Instant Pudding and Pie Filling
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
7 drops green food coloring
Blend all ingredients in large mixer bowl. Beat 4 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer. Pour into greased and floured lO-inch bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed and begins to pull away from sides of pan. Do not underbake. Cool in pan 15 minutes; remove and cool on rack. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, if desired.