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Don’t forsake fruitcake, even if you think you hate it

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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) ìFruitcake 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,î says Renee Backer, co-owner of Mrs. Backer's Pastry Shop. ìLike everything else, you get what you pay for.î

By Kathy Stephenson

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Dec 17 2013 08:08AM
Updated Dec 18, 2013 01:50PM

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.

5.5

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."

5.4

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."

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