22 May 2006
The cake against which all past and future fruitcakes will be judged. I’ll try to stay objective but I’m disclaiming right now that this is the one I’ve grown up with, the one I look forward to every holiday season, and the one that comes to mind when someone says "fruitcake." It’s also why I don’t have the anti-fruitcake bias—I’ve grown up on good fruitcake. I suppose out of full disclosure I should mention that my brother is a monk and has visited and stayed at this monastery. But he’s Benedictine, not Trappist, and our family had been eating this fruitcake many, many years before he became a monk, so that did not influence my opinion in any way.
The $28, 2.5 pound fruitcake isn’t as pretty as the Collin Street fruitcake; it’s darker and not quite as ornate. It’s got a really nice tin, though—those monks did a good job there. The ingredients are a delight to read, especially after the rather disappointing ingredients included in the Collin Street brand: just about everything on the list you could buy at the grocery store, including the very cute “oleomargarine”—my mother has old recipes calling for “oleo.” The worst things I could see in the ingredients are the ubiquitous food colorings in the fruit and the preservative sodium propionate at the end, but there are quite a few reassuring ingredients listed, like butter, “pure flavorings and spices,” and my favorite: Kentucky bourbon.
And now, the experience. The aroma is of fruit, bourbon, and caramel. The flavor is not overly sweet, and is a combination of vanilla, spices, bourbon, and fruit. As with Collin Street, the cake is dense and moist. There are some pretty large pieces of fruit and nuts (pecans and walnuts) in this cake, so depending on what you’re biting into, you might be tasting one or the other, or the cake itself. There is an overall taste of booze, either the bourbon that the cake is soaked in or the wine that I was surprised to find is part of the recipe. I wouldn’t call it overpowering, but it makes its presence known and adds to the depth of flavors. I’m pretty sure fruitcakes got started back in olden times when you went all out on special occasions and took all your high-end ingredients and combined them. This really tastes like that to me: a very rich experience.