They’ve heard the jokes. “There’s only one fruitcake in the world that gets passed from family to family.” Or “Buy 10 fruitcakes and use them as bowling pins.”
Yet Renee Backer, co-owner of Mrs. Backer’s Pastry Shop, and Steve Borg, of Schmidt’s Pastry Cottage, are able to look past the ridicule and rejection, as they know the truth: There are still people who really like fruitcake.
“Fruitcake has gotten a bad rap, because most people have only eaten ones made with lousy ingredients, that have been frozen, shipped and been sitting on shelves,” Backer said. “Like everything else, you get what you pay for.”
Borg, whose shops make 800 pounds of fruitcake each year, has similar sentiments.
“A lot of people have tried to adapt it and taken shortcuts,” he said. But when made the traditional European way — like soaking the fruit in brandy and rum — “it’s really moist.”
Both Utah bakers say when customers try their old-fashioned versions made with dried fruit and nuts, they often change their minds.
We put the theory to the test last week, asking — actually pleading with — 15 Salt Lake Tribune staffers to participate in a fruitcake taste test.
The results of this totally unscientific dual were nearly identical, with fruitcake lovers walking away satisfied and fruitcake haters confirming their dislike. But a few did change their minds.
Tasters judged each cake on eye appeal, taste and texture, rating them on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being bad and 10 being great.
Here are the overall scores — it’s basically a tie — and some of the judges’ comments.
Schmidt’s Pastry Cottage • Schmidt’s has been making its fruitcake since it opened in 1973, using a recipe that was handed down from European bakers. Raisins are soaked in brandy and rum and then folded into a batter with pecans, fruit and citron. After it’s baked, it gets a light glaze and is topped with fruit and pecans.
Eye appeal • This fruitcake was “dark and dense” and held together when cut. For one taster, the pecans and maraschino cherries “glistened” on top. But for another, “It looked like brown lumpy mush with unidentifiable black chunks.”
Taste and texture • “A bit like a nutritional bar I’d munch for energy on a hike,” said one taster. “Very chewy. Will still be chewing on Boxing Day,” said another. But others enjoyed it: “The taste is great, what I expect from fruitcake.”
Fruitcake lovers also said • “A nicely executed fruitcake, most attractive and flavorful.” And “fruit soaked in alcohol, baked in a sweet bread — what’s not to like about fruitcake?”
Fruitcake haters said • “If I’m going to eat a dessert without chocolate it has to be a lot tastier than this.” And “I have never had fruitcake before and based on this sample, I know I have not been missing out on anything.”
Mrs. Backer’s Pastry Shop • The Salt Lake City bakery has made the same German fruitcake recipe since opening 73 years ago. While it’s loaded with fruit, pecans and raisins — which are chopped and soaked in a syrup, not alcohol — citron is not part of the mix. Backer said Phoebe, her mother-in-law and the original owner, didn’t like the citrus fruit. The bakery offers a light and a dark fruitcake; the latter is made with whole-wheat flour and is the one sampled in The Tribune tasting.
Eye appeal • The fruitcake “looked more like a cake” and was “nice and bright” thanks to maraschino cherries. “Not heavy, as fruitcake often is.”
Taste and texture • This entry had a more “cakelike” texture “sort of like zucchini bread with chunks.” But several tasters also found it “too sweet” and a bit “crumbly” — likely due to the whole-wheat flour. (The light version, eaten separate from the test, was not crumbly.)
Fruitcake lovers also said • “It doesn’t taste like the icky fruitcake I remember.” “I’m surprised, I actually kind of like it.” And “I’m a fruitcake virgin and while I haven’t found love, I’d give it a second try.”
The haters said • “It was better than expected, but that’s not saying much. How this became a Christmas tradition is beyond me.” And “This does not inspire me to eat fruitcake in the future.”
Mrs. Backer’s Pastry Shop • Sells light and dark fruitcake, the latter made with whole-wheat flour. Both are available for $16 per pound, with most loaves averaging 1 ¼ pounds. Open Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit mrsbackers.com.
Schmidt’s Pastry Cottage • Sells a dark fruitcake with fruit that’s been soaked in rum and brandy. Sells for $16 per pound, with most loaves averaging 1 ¼ pounds. Three locations: 609 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City, 801-487-3500; 5664 S. Redwood Road, Taylorsville, 801-967-9760; and 1133 W. South Jordan Parkway, South Jordan, 801-280-7200. Also available inside The Store, 2050 E. 6200 South, 801-274-7150. Visit schmidtspastry.net
Gisela’s Deluxe Fruitcake
“I never could understand all of the jokes about fruitcake,” writes Rick Rodgers in his “Christmas 101” cookbook, “because when I was growing up, I only ate [Aunt] Gisela’s deluxe version, which wasn’t made with the weird colored cherries and artificial booze flavor of commercial brands.”
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup store-bought applesauce
¼ cup Cognac or brandy, plus another ¼ cup for brushing*
¼ cup dark rum, plus another ¼cup for brushing*
3 cups coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) coarsely chopped glacéed (candied) oranges
2 cups (10 ounces) dark raisins
2 cups (10 ounces) golden raisins
1 cup (8 ounces) coarsely chopped pitted prunes
1 cup (6 ounces) coarsely chopped candied pineapple
1 cup (14 ounces) dried cranberries
Position the racks in the center and bottom third of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Lightly butter and flour five 8 ½-by-3 ¾-by-2 ½-inch disposable aluminum-foil loaf pans. Line the bottom of each pan with wax paper.
Sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cloves and nutmeg through a wire strainer into a medium bowl.
In a very large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and beat until light in texture and color, about 2 minutes. One at a time, beat in eggs. Beat in applesauce, ¼ cup Cognac and ¼ cup rum. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in flour mixture to make a stiff batter.
In a medium bowl, mix pecans, glacéed oranges, raisins, golden raisins, prunes, pineapple and dried cranberries. (Mixing the fruits first distributes them more evenly throughout the batter.) Stir fruits into the batter until well distributed. Spread batter evenly into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Place pans on baking sheets (this makes them easier to get in and out of the oven).
Bake 45 minutes. Switch the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Bake just until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of cakes come out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes. Don’t overbake or the cakes will be dry.
Remove from oven and cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.
Invert cakes onto the racks and peel off wax paper. In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup brandy and ¼ cup rum. Brush the mixture all over the cakes. Set cakes right side up and cool completely.
Wrap each cake in plastic wrap and then aluminum, foil.
The fruitcake must age at least 24 hours before slicing. This allows the flavor to mellow and the fruit and applesauce to give off some moisture into the cake.
For longer aging, store in the refrigerator.
If you like a spirited cake, unwrap the cakes about once a week and brush them with a combination of brandy and rum, allowing 2 tablespoons per cake. Rewrap and continue aging for up to two months.
*Substitute apple juice for the Cognac and dark rum. You also can add ½ teaspoon each brandy or rum extract, or leave them out.
Servings • 5 loaves
Source: “Christmas 101” by Rick Rodgers