Fruitcake Doesn’t Have To Be a Holiday Punchline

This Royal Oak bakery has been turning out the holiday specialty for decades – and it’s actually good
Photograph by EE Berger

Oh, fruitcake.

The dessert has been the butt of the joke for eons, conjuring images of dense, fruity doorstops. But at Hermann’s Bakery in Royal Oak, the seasonal specialty has had regulars coming back for decades.

Here, the moist, crumbly cake overflows with chunks of fruit and nuts, the product of a recipe passed down from generation to generation.

“My dad started here in ’22,” says owner Richard Hermann. “One of the things I always remember is during the second world war, he made fruitcake all year long. It was the only thing they could ship overseas and it arrived intact.”

Decades later, Hermann still makes fruitcake the way his father did: nixing the citron, adding in heaps of dates, apples, cherries, and pineapple.

The key to a good fruitcake is good fruit, he explains. “That’s what people are interested in, more so than the cake. The cake is just the carrier.”

Regular customers wait all year for the loaves, which are available for order just before Thanksgiving.

Last year, the family-owned bakery sold more than 200 pounds of fruitcake during the holiday season.

“It’s been steady all through the years,” Hermann says.

And for those who order a loaf (or two) every year, the fruitcake is consistently delicious. “I’ve never heard anybody complain,” Hermann says. “Not yet.”

Hermann’s Bakery, 317 S. Main St., Royal Oak; (248) 541-3218.

Still not convinced?

Put your own spin on the holiday classic.

Even with professional pastry chefs, fruitcake has a bad reputation. “I think fruitcake is gross,” says Jessica Chaney, pastry chef at Grey Ghost Detroit, with a laugh. But with a few tweaks to your own recipe, it could easily be palatable. We chatted with Chaney and Lisa Ludwinski of Sister Pie in Detroit on what they would do if they had to revamp the holiday classic.

Use real fruits
“I would soak them in alcohol with some sugar so it’s not too harsh, and then roast [them] after,” says Chaney. “It eliminates some of that density from dried fruit cause they’re so heavy and chewy.”

Spice it up
“I think I would almost want to make it be where a fruitcake meets a gingerbread, using that sort of spice profile and those darker flavors,” says Ludwinski. “Maybe we would incorporate a buckwheat flour, salt flour to make it a little bit more interesting,”

Go nuts
“I personally probably wouldn’t put in walnuts because they have a very strong, distinctive, and sometimes bitter flavor if you’re not used to working with them,” says Chaney. “I’d switch that out for nice chopped almonds or even cashews.”
“I would maybe throw some pistachios in there, and some almonds and sunflower seeds,” says Ludwinski.