28 July 2008

Review: Grandma’s Bake Shoppe Original Fruit & Nut Cake

. . . aka Krema Products, aka Beatrice Bakery, aka Big Baking Conglomerate. Thanks to my commenters for help figuring out who, exactly, Grandma is. I purchased this two-pound fruitcake from The Sisters Sweet Shoppe in Dublin, Ohio, but I suspect that the Sisters are a way to put a down-home, authentic feel to a mass-produced product. The product came shipped in a box from “The Sister’s Sweet Shoppe/Grandma’s/Krema/Crazy R[I think this is Crazy Richards],” so they don’t even know who they are. One of my commenters mentioned that Beatrice bakery, which is also on my list, sells a fruitcake that is identical to this product, down to the ingredients list. Thanks Anonymous, I can cross another one off my list. Anonymous actually wrote a great, informative post, so I’ll include it here:

"Grandma's was my introduction to better (than Claxton or Jane Parker) fruitcake, back during Christmas of '75. Three spirits! Just like Dickens' tale. The two-pounder came in a lovely gilt, embossed box, and the aroma greeted you the moment you lifted the lid. This cake has come from everywhere. In the beginning I received it as a corporate gift, and then I ordered it from Figi's. I think it has been marketed under more than one label. Two years ago I ordered a cake from Butterfield Farms, and I declare it was a Grandma's, just repackaged. (I emailed my suspicion, but got no response.) For a brief period in the '80's the Grandma's producer, at that time Beatrice Foods in Nebraska, offered a very nice Amaretto version, delivered in an exquisite black, end-opening tin. But shortly thereafter, somebody in management decided fruitcakes were passé', and began marketing the basic product under the name "fruit and nut bar." Later still, it was back to "fruit and nut cake." And in a very plain green cardstock box, with a cellophane window. Our local purveyor of fancy Christmas foods stocked them near the front door, where the sunlight dried them out, and it was then that I realized how much syrup must be used in the production process. For several years my cakes had crunchy bits of crystallized sugar in them. By the turn of the millennium, I discovered your all-time favorite monk-made delight from Kentucky, and have tried other monastery cakes since (at your recommendation). For nostalgia's sake, I haven't forsaken Grandma's, but compared with better fruitcake it tastes very candy-like to me today. Much like our local favorite Southern Supreme, except with the spirits. Stay hopeful as you try this one, but not too . . ."

I agree with you, A. Anyway, the cake cost $25.95, with free UPS shipping. It comes in a very pretty tin:

That’s probably the best thing I can say about this fruitcake. As mass-produced fruitcakes go, it ranks at the top of the pack, but there are a whole bunch of other fruitcakes I would recommend before this one.

The cake itself is extremely light-colored, one of the lightest colored cakes I’ve come across (maybe it has something to do with ordering it in July, but I don’t think so):

Raisins, cherries, and pineapple are the fruits, while walnuts, pecans, and almonds are the nuts. It also contains three liquors: brandy, rum, and bourbon. With all of the aforementioned ingredients, one would think this one has a chance of tasting good. Well, the ingredients previously mentioned are offset by corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, many preservatives, and our buddy, turmeric. The cake has an uncooked batter flavor to it—very sweet. In any case, it still doesn’t taste all that great. The texture of the cake itself was similar to the Gethsemani Farms cake, and compared to the previous Hermitage Big Sur fruitcake, it was much lighter. I liked the texture, but texture alone can not redeem a fruitcake. I think that the three liquors gives this cake a slight edge up on the mass-produced fruitcakes that don’t contain any alcohol, but it still just doesn’t taste good.

At least there are no turnips.

06 July 2008

Cute little Swiss fruitcakes

So I was recently in Switzerland and stumbled upon a couple of fruity baked things. One is called Läckerli Früchtebrot, and it's an older brother to these cookies that I had mentioned previously. It really was a loaf-shaped incarnation of the cookies, a bit moister but tasting the same. The loaf was very thinly sliced, and contained the same things as the cookies, including the Kirsch. It was quite delicious--I love Läckerli, so to have it in a bit moister fruitcake format was a wonderful thing.

While in Switzerland, I went with a friend to a small town called Sent in the Graubünden area. It's a beautiful area, with high mountains, steep valleys, cows and goats, and in the town of Sent, a local specialty called Bündner Birnbrot. This really wasn't a cake so much as a bread, as its name suggests (the brot part). It was a yeast bread, but it was chock full of dried fruit and fruitcake spices, as well as whole hazelnuts, which was really cool. The closest thing I could liken it to was either the batter in a stollen (minus any fillings and powdered sugar), or a closer resemblance was the Ami de Fromage bread at Red Hen here in Chicago. Man, Red Hen has to have the worst web site for such a successful operation. I guess their reputation precedes them and they don't really need a good website.

So, it's 84 degrees here, and that gets me thinking about only one thing: fruitcake. Time for the next one. Since I've just done a monastery one, let's move on to a mass-produced one. The next one will be Grandma's fruitcake, chosen because Grandma (aka the Krema group, the baking conglomerate that creates them) hails from Dublin, OH, close to Delaware, home of the Little Brown Jug. Check it out--the most interesting county fair ever. According to the Krema site, there are three different types of liquor in the fruitcake--so they've got that going for them. Here's hoping (against hope) that this cake doesn't disappoint.

(Also, check out these chicks from the Krema site--I mean, look at them. I'm speechless).