Hostess has the name. Tastykake has the heritage. Those two giants in the snack cake game have dominated the hearts and mouths of preservative-infused baked goods since the invention of "creme". But, as the dead Jedi says, there is another.
Forged in the heart of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Little Debbie is a Southern tradition, as sacred as the Moon Pie or RC Cola to the few people left in the Deep South that are actually from the Deep South. The brand, actually the product of McKee Foods — a name no one cares about — sprang to life in the 1960's. The name comes from O.D. and Ruth McKee's granddaughter, Debbie, whose picture adorns every package of suspiciously inexpensive snacks.
Little Debbie is known for its Nutty Bars, Cosmic Brownies and Oatmeal Creme Pies, but it's the Swiss Cake Roll — that hypnotic swirl of sweetness — that defines the brand.
The Swiss Cake Roll, or Swiss Roll, has nothing to do with the Swiss. In fact, in Switzerland they call the rolled, filled cakes that inspired Little Debbie's version Biskuitroulade (at least in Swiss German, which is the most fun).
According to Wikipedia, the flawless repository of all internet knowledge, the Swiss Roll likely originated in Hong Kong back when it was a British colony. And since British Occupation Cake Roll is a mouthful, they went with Swiss, because the Swiss people are famously delicious.
Also according to Wikipedia, the progenitor of the Swiss Cake Roll, Hostess' Ho-Ho, originated in a San Francisco bakery in 1920. It's pretty much a Swiss roll covered in a thin layer of chocolate.
Does that mean Little Debbie stole their Swiss Cake Rolls from Hostess? Yeah, pretty much, but here's the thing: they make them cheaper. So very cheap. A decade ago you could get a box of twelve rolls for under a dollar. The box I consumed for this review cost $1.79. Comparatively, a box of Ho-Hos costs ten million dollars, give or take.
What separates the Swiss Cake Roll from the Ding Dongs (yo man, Ding Dong) of the world is its distinctive shape. It is, as one might suspect, a sheet of snack cake slathered with gooey creme and rolled into a cylinder. Then the "chocolate" is applied, and I put that in quotes for reasons that will soon be apparent.
Slicing a Swiss Cake Roll in half (or simply tearing it, for those too lazy to wash off a knife for an article on a major website) reveals a spiraling shape that'll make your taste buds go insane. Beneath the waxy "chocolate" shell lies dense chocolate cake locked in a delirious dance with startling white filling.
Looking closer one notices that the cake touching the outer shell has dried considerably, it's moisture drawn out by the coating's desperate attempt at being real food.
Perhaps we shouldn't have looked so closely.
How do you eat a Swiss Cake Roll? Do you just cram the whole thing in your mouth like some sweet savage? Do you slice it into bite-sized pieces, arranging them on a plate like those spiral deli rolls they sell at Kroger? Do you freeze them first, cutting the richness with a vibrant chill?
If so, you are doing it wrong.
The balance must be preserved, though I admit I might have gone about that with heavy hand. The key here is getting rid of that waxy coating as quickly as possible. It is not chocolate, no matter what anyone tells you or science empirically proves. It's cocoa wax, and it will leave a film on the roof of your mouth that they'll be scraping off at the mortician's office.
Swiss Cake Rolls are a snack packaged for maximum enjoyment potential. The contrast of rich chocolate and sweet creme is balanced in such a way that one is not enough, and three is far too many. Two is number of enjoyment here. Eat a pair, and then ruminate on what you've just done to your body. You might be sad, but you won't be trapped in the infinite Swiss Cake Roll downward spiral of depression.
I'm speaking from experience here. I used to regularly attend a science fiction / fantasy convention in Chattanooga called Chattacon, and the con suite was stocked extensively with Little Debbies, free for the taking. Oh I would take. To make matters worse, I lived with the folks in charge of the con suite, so upon returning home the nightmare was just beginning.
For the money, there isn't a snack cake that comes close to Little Debbie. There are other fringe / local brands offering similar edible substance combinations at comparable prices, but none have managed to mask the incredibly cheap ingredients used in their composition quite as well as Little Debbie has.
The Little Debbie Swiss Cake roll is the salvation of the low-income gamer, the chocolate creme champion of the downtrodden. It's a snack meant to be eaten quickly by those too hungry to care about the dry cake or government-grade chocolate substitute shell.
It's the cheap and tawdry to Hostess and Tastykake's posh and stylish. While those two brands ride about in gold and silver encrusted shopping baskets, Little Debbie is in her trailer ironing the kids' clothes, cigarette hanging from her lips, hair tied up in a bandanna, the previous evening's bright blue eye shadow smudged but still present. She might not be going out to the hottest clubs every Friday and Saturday, but damn if she doesn't know how to dance.
Snacktaku is Kotaku's take on the wild and wonderful world of eating things, but not eating meals. Eating meals is for those with too much time on their hands. Past critiques can be found at the Snacktaku review archive.