31 December 2007
27 December 2007
22 December 2007
17 December 2007
I realize a lot of people, already horrified by fruitcake, would be terrified at the idea of chocolate-covered fruitcake. Even I thought it might be a bit much. Well, gosh darn it--these are really delicious.
Fraters cost $17 for six slices. Look how pretty the box looks:
And they're individually wrapped in a most elegant way:
(Excuse the plastic wrap but I had just wolfed a slice down and didn't feel like opening another, because, of course, I would have felt compelled to eat it immediately).
First, you start with a good fruitcake. I've already reviewed this fruitcake before and really like it. The chocolate is a nice thick layer of dark chocolate, supplied by a local confectionery.
The flavor of this is very much like a dark fruit and nut chocolate. The whole presentation, really, is more like a box of chocolates than a fruitcake. This might be a good way to get your fruitcake-hater friends hooked. Or if you don't want a whole fruitcake, six slices of decadence like this could be just enough.
11 December 2007
Don't look to me to start baking them anytime soon. First, I have at least five more to review, with more added almost daily, lately. And second, having reviewed as many as I have, I know what things can go wrong. No thanks--all I'll be making regarding fruitcake is an order.
08 December 2007
Virginia's Holy Cross Abbey, whose fruitcake is rated number three on my list, sells this delicacy. A Frater is a slice of fruitcake covered with chocolate. Ooh, dark chocolate, no less. How grown-up. I ask you, how can this be bad? They describe them as "a gourmand's delight for lovers of fruitcake and chocolate." And since "lovers of fruitcake and chocolate" brings the audience down to about, what, 10 of us, I feel I should support them in this effort.
22 November 2007
I've specifically tried to keep my reviews generic for the simple reason that different people like different things in their fruitcake. As I've said from day one, my favorite fruitcake is the one from the Trappists at Gethsemani Farms. But I've gotten a lot of comments from people who are passionate about other types of fruitcake, such as the more Southern-style fruitcakes of Southern Supreme. Far be it from me to rain on anyone's fruitcake parade--I'm on your team, guys. So my intent here is to really describe what the fruitcake is like, so that you can decide if you want to give it a try. Of course if it's really crappy, I'll let you know, but a lot of them are pretty good, just maybe not my favorite.
That being said, I do have a review and rating list over on the side there. Since I started reviewing fruitcakes, I've found that you CAN lump them into general categories, and I've tried to do that with my labels, also posted over on the side. If I get ambitious I might break down further my reviews and ratings by type. In the mean time, let this post serve to explain how I really feel about the fruitcakes I've eaten.
I like monastery fruitcake. I have not tasted one monastery fruitcake that I didn't like. They consistently excel in the quality of their ingredients and their rich, dark, boozy taste. They also seem very competitively priced, particularly if you buy directly from them as opposed to through a reseller (like Williams-Sonoma or Chefshop.com). You'll notice on my ratings scale that all of the monastery fruitcakes have bubbled up to the top. If I received any of these as a gift I would be a very happy camper (that is, if I hadn't already eaten my share of them back in April).
As I look at the ratings list, I see that a lot of the Southern-style fruitcakes are in the middle of the list. If all monasteries were raptured up (hmmm . . . would that happen?), the Southern-style fruitcakes are a good bet. These tend to be more candy-like, sweeter, and non-alcoholic, with a lot of nuts. They have pretty good ingredients, with maybe a bit more corn syrup or margarine in the mix. I miss the booziness of them (somebody help me with another adjective other than boozy, please!), but if you don't like that, these are the type for you.
The fruitcakes to avoid like the plague (and, I fear, the ones that people are most familiar with) are the mass-produced fruitcakes: the bottom of the rating scale. These are the Twinkies of the fruitcake world, except even Twinkies have redemptive qualities (sponginess, bizarre creamy filling) that these fruitcakes, already a scorned dessert, do not. Do not buy these and caution others to stay away.
Then there are the one-offs, or maybe I should call them "gateway" cakes: Harry and David, and Old Cavendish. Harry and David is a mass-produced fruitcake that actually tastes good. And Old Cavendish uses dried rather than preserved fruits, which results in a fresher, more quick-bread type flavor, although make no mistake, it's still all fruitcake. Both of these have slightly non-traditional, more approachable flavors than some of the others. Use these to lead your fruitcake-hating acquaintances into the fold. Pretty soon they'll be chowing down monastery fruitcake with the best of them.
18 November 2007
Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey is in Lafayette, Oregon. I paid $33.17 to receive 2 one-pound fruitcakes--but that included about $10 in postage. This was back about a month, and now when I see their site, I don't even see the option to purchase the one pound fruitcake. Instead, they have a three pound loaf, which comes in a "handsome container," something I missed. They must change their offering seasonally--this being gladsome fruitcake season and all.
The one-pound fruitcakes are really adorable:
Maybe a little perspective is needed here. Here's the box next to the horrible Hickory Farms fruitcake tin:
They're really tiny but would be perfect for giving. I imagine this is an easier size for the abbey to handle during non-fruitcake season, as well.
So here's the cake itself:
You'll have to excuse the shrink wrap on there; I had already cut into the other one-pound cake and didn't want to have two going at once. Isn't that a cute little size?The ingredients panel on the box has to be one of the most intimidating and truthful lists ever. I felt like I was reading the small print on a contract, what with the parentheses and brackets- inside-of-parentheses. Every single ingredient, whether it be in the cake, the preserved fruits, or the enriched flour, is there for all to see. This is a full-disclosure list of ingredients. That being said, I didn't find anything too horrible besides the expected chemicals in the preserved fruit, margarine instead of butter, and artificial butter flavor to make up for it. The list also included a delightful little ingredient named "Sheri-rumco Flavor." I'm guessing this gives a . . . hmmmm . . . sherry- or rum-like flavor? In any case, I could find no evidence of this ingredient or the manufacturer of it anywhere, on all of the Internets. Go ahead, Google it. I'll wait.
Didn't find anything, did you? All right, all right, maybe you did, but not much, eh? Well, anyway, it's in this cake, along with brandy, which taken altogether give a pretty good, boozy flavor - not overly so, not underly so, just about right.
This isn't a cake for people who don't like chunks. The batter in this fruitcake serves as binder for good-sized chunks of pineapple, cherries, raisins, walnuts, and pecans. With honey and the aforementioned alcohols and alcohol flavors, one ends up with a really nice, balanced, good-tasting monastery fruitcake. I've been contentedly munching my way through a pound of it for the past couple weeks, and enjoying every slice.
I really like the small one-pound boxes. Although these may not be available year-round, for those of you who want to give just a small amount of fruitcake as a gift or hostess present(unappreciated you will be if you choose to foist a full-size fruitcake on the unappreciative masses), you may want to consider these cute little numbers.
UPDATE: Commenter JP (thanks) has also waxed poetic about this fruitcake, and pointed out that one-pounders are still available (and individually, as well) at chefshop.com. Chefshop also has a story up about the monastery.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Yep, the monks have sold out of their fruitcakes. So as JP indicated, the best place to get them is chefshop.com.
AND ANOTHER: I think we bought 'em all, folks. Looks like chefshop.com is out as well.Check the comments for any updates.
09 November 2007
They have a bit of a history--I guess the Wolferman English muffin is slightly larger than a regular one. They also make a few other carbs, like tea breads and coffee cakes.
I've never, ever heard of this before, but actually, sounds like it'd be a great thing. I think I'd be quite happy to receive a pile of breakfast carbs.
27 October 2007
Execrable. Inedible. Absolutely disgusting. I believe I have, once again, confirmed my theory that the mass-produced fruitcakes are horrible.
This is a very cute, $29, 2-lb fruitcake. Or rather, it comes in a very cute tin:
The fruitcake itself is also cute. It is garnished with WALNUTS, a little different than the usual, pecans (and it strikes me as a rather cheap alternative).
But the flavor. Ye gads. It’s interesting that the website lists cherries, pecans, pineapple, etc. as the ingredients in this cake. Sure, they’re there, but the first ingredient? Raisins. The cake is a lumpy, sweet, mish-mash of raisins. You can kind of taste some pineapple, as well as some hideously sweet, bright red candy-like cherries, but mostly it’s just sweet.
The texture is goopy. There is supposed to be some brandy and other booze in the mix, but I can’t taste it. The cherries made me shake, and I’m a fruitcake lover. There are partially hydrogenated oils in this cake, too – isn’t that trans fat? Aren’t people trying to get away from that? Why would I want it in my fruitcake?
No, unfortunately everything I feared about this fruitcake was correct. Avoid it. I think this one actually rates lower than the turnip cakes. The Hickory Farms fruitcake is going directly into the trash. It’s a waste of money.
Now I HAVE to review another fruitcake—I can’t go into the festive fruitcake season with this being the last memory of fruitcake on my mind.
11 October 2007
22 September 2007
One of these companies is Hickory Farms. As previously proven by Turnip 1 and Turnip 2, the most popular food gift companies have really horrible fruitcakes, leading, it is my theory, to this mass hatred of fruitcakes. And a justified reaction it is.
So in the interest of the consumer, and all that is good and right with fruitcakes, my next fruitcake will be (shudder) Hickory Farms. Yes, I admit, I'm prejudging the cake. Hey, I've eaten a lot of them lately, and the latest two were both lovely. I'm not looking forward to eating more turnips or high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives or cabbage or whatever the food technologists in the back rooms of Hickory Farms have come up with. They're going to have to bring it, and I doubt they will.
I'm not kidding when I say I eat the fruitcake so you don't have to. Most of the time I enjoy it. Let's hope I'm pleasantly surprised with this one.
I purchased the $39, 2.5 pound, all natural Old Cavendish fruitcake, which comes in a bright red tin. There is also a 16 ounce size, available in both “all natural” and “organic” versions.
They weren’t kidding about all natural:
Love those ingredients, and the cake definitely reflects the quality of them. The one ingredient that I found disconcerting, in both the ingredients list and the cake itself: prunes.
This cake has two different types of alcohol listed in the ingredients: orange liqueur and brandy. There is a lightly boozy flavor but not as heavy as the monastery fruitcakes. This cake also lacks a certain caramel-like depth of flavor that I’ve tasted and liked in other cakes. I’m not sure what causes that—maybe less sugar or lack of brown sugar.
Many people dislike what they claim to be the bitterness of preserved fruit in traditional fruitcakes. You won’t find that in this cake. The flavor is straightforward, fresh and natural, with (obviously) a pronounced dried-fruit flavor. Oh, who am I kidding. There are big chunks of prune in this cake. It tastes pruney. The nut flavor is there, as well, but is not as pronounced because of the nuts chosen: walnuts and cashews. Cashews, a different choice for fruitcake, add a certain richness to the texture but not a lot of flavor due to the general pruni—-um, fruitiness of the cake.
It’s pretty obvious by this point that I did not like the large chunks of prune in the cake. I have nothing against prunes, but I think they should have been cut smaller.
I’d rank this along with the Harry and David fruitcake as a good “fruitcake for beginners.” If you don’t particularly like the taste of preserved fruit (and don’t mind prunes), give this one a try. It’s a well-made, natural, good-tasting festive cake.
09 September 2007
So why, then? Because there’s a silent majority of fruitcake lovers out there.
It’s a clandestine group who keep themselves to themselves, sort of like AA, or the Masons. Trust me--I’ve come upon these secret fruitcake-aficionados. When they hear I have a fruitcake blog, or they see me with my latest fruitcake purchase, they look me deeply in the eyes, searching for irony. Is she joking? Is she another one of those fruitcake haters who’s going to use that fruitcake as the punch line to yet another hackneyed joke? But then they see the unironic sparkling happiness in my eyes and realize that they’ve found a fellow fruitcake lover. They continue their reserved amazement for a few moments but my babbling chatter about the different types of fruitcakes I’ve encountered warms them and soon they’re describing their favorite fruitcake from childhood, or sharing how they got hooked and why it’s a tradition in their family.
So, fellow fruitcake lovers, do not feel overburdened by the responsibility of representing for the fruitcake. Let the weight rest gently on your shoulders, for there is a large but silent group of fellow fruitcake lovers out there who support you.
(And many of them read this blog and post great comments. I’ve picked up a lot of good information from them, as well as a laundry list of other fruitcakes that should keep me in business for another couple years.)
08 September 2007
17 July 2007
About a year ago, I was pointed in the direction (by a friend who owns the Hop Leaf bar here in Chicago) of a Madison, Wisconsin chocolatier by the name Gail Ambrosius. I hesitate to say that she's "just as good" because that seems to be discounting her chocolates in some way. Her chocolates are exotic, wonderfully fresh, delicious little chunks of heaven. But get this--24 chocolates for the same price I paid for 16. That's 8 more pieces of lovely, people. I strongly recommend that you check her out. Her chocolates are available at two locations in Chicago as well as all over Madison, and of course, she does mail order. I don't know how much they mark her chocolates up in Chicago--but heck, Madison's only a four hour drive away . . .
Yup, nothing about fruitcake here, and I'm really not a big chocolate person, but she's just really great.
06 July 2007
The latest fruitcake is from Assumption Abbey, located in Ava, Missouri. This abbey website has won me over with one of the best photos ever, of monks injecting cakes with alcohol. (The rest of the site is very nice, as well—I encourage you to go to their main page for a peaceful mini-retreat). There’s an interesting back story on how the abbey came to the fruitcake business. You can read parts on their website, but there’s also an interesting article here.
The two-pound cake cost $28, shipping included, and arrives in a pretty basic, unassuming tin. Nothing fancy here--the fruitcake I received was simply wrapped in food service plastic wrap, no fancy shrink wrap.
This is a dark, boozy cake, as all abbey fruitcakes seem to be (bless the Roman Catholic Church, which is not alcohol-averse). Fruits in this cake include raisins, pineapples, cherries, currants, citron, as well as orange and lemon peels. Nuts include both walnuts and pecans.
As for the rest of the ingredients, they’re pretty basic. Butter, eggs, all good stuff. The worst ingredients are corn syrup--not even high fructose--and fake vanilla. However, as I continue to review fruitcakes, I’m starting to wonder about the preserved fruits used. They tend to be full of scary-sounding preservatives, like sodium benzoate, sulfur dioxide, and sorbic acid.
Really, now, in days of yore, when they were first making fruitcakes, how did they preserve their fruits? Certainly not with sodium benzoate—I’d hazard a guess that it was not available in days of yore. I’m inspired, now, to review a fruitcake that uses dried rather than preserved fruit. Although most dried fruits have sulfur in them, maybe dried-fruit fruitcakes will have a few less icky preservatives. A dried-fruit type of cake may also convince those people who are frightened of shiny green and red fruit to come to the dark side and become fruitcake-lovers. The texture of the cake should be different, too.
But I digress.
The alcohols in this cake are wine and rum. The rum (which is what the good monks are injecting in the photo) gives the cake that good, boozy flavor, a bit lighter than bourbon. Both the flavor and texture of this cake are similar to the other abbey fruitcakes.
To conclude, then: this is a delicious abbey fruitcake. It seems like you can’t go wrong with an abbey fruitcake. They consistently deliver a quality, well-made cake that tastes great.
The Assumption Abbey Bakery is celebrating their 20th anniversary in the fruitcake business, and that’s reason enough for me to promote this fruitcake to the top of the list of abbey fruitcakes for this holiday season. And why not? Although Gethsemani is still my favorite, heck, it’s my blog.
So let’s keep ‘em in business another 20, eh? Here’s hoping for great fruitcake until 2027 and onwards.
UPDATE: Looks like no one other than Williams-Sonoma sells Assumption Abbey fruitcake. For $11 more. Don't gild W-S's pockets and make your own lighter--shop direct!!
27 June 2007
Review to come soon. In the mean time, please, visit the other crazy cranks on the Web who have single-minded food blogs. Over to your right are links to other wonderfully monomaniacal blogs like this one.
Unveiling the new, shorter way to get to this blog--simply type http://www.mondofruitcake.com/. Enjoy!
12 May 2007
The one-pound, $10.95 fruitcake ($17.20 with shipping and handling) is similar to (and I say similar to, not the same as) the Claxton and Collin Street fruitcakes. Let's say it's of that family--the sweet, non-alcoholic Southern style.
The ingredients are pretty straightforward: margarine instead of butter, but no preservatives (besides those in the fruits). The box advertises the cake as the "more nuts than fruit fruitcake." Walnuts and pecans are definitely in there, as well as pineapple, dates, and golden raisins, giving it a very beige appearance, with no red or green cherries to break up the monotony. Similar to Claxton, it's a rectangular loaf cake with no appearance of a crust.
This was a really, really cute cake. Look at that photo! The cake arrives with the cutest garnish--a bright green holly berry and leaves made from preserved cherries and green pineapple pieces. It's quite novel compared to the other fruitcakes I've gotten. It certainly serves to brighten the beigeness of the cake.
If one focuses on the cake around the garnish, however, it's a bit unpleasant--it glistens like it's wet and doesn't have a cake-like appearance. You can even see this in the cake on their website. It's more like a candy, where the flour and egg serve merely to bind the fruits and nuts together.
The taste is sweet, with a heavier walnut than pecan flavor and a fruity smell. There is something nice about the evenness of the fruit in here, and I am partial to dates in fruitcakes, so that and the pineapple made for a nice flavor. However, I don't like the candy-like texture of this one--I want my cake to be cake.
I think this cake would hold appeal to those who are frightened of the large chunks of cherry and citron in other fruitcakes.
Frankly, sometimes the big chunks even freak ME out.
24 April 2007
19 January 2007
I received an unsolicited fruitcake this week. A friend had read the article about my blog and sent along a loaf of her mother's home-made family recipe.
A good commercially made (or perhaps non-profit made) fruitcake is what I have grown up with and it's what I like. But people, if the fruitcake I tried this week, as well as my boss' Christmas cake is any indication, NO commercially-made fruitcake is as good as homemade fruitcake.
This is the first fruitcake (blurry photo above) where I don't know all the ingredients off the bat, but I know that it doesn't contain booze, does have butter, and only contains a small amount of flour. You can absolutely taste the butter, it adds a great richness, and the outside is almost caramelized, giving it a lovely flavor. A secret ingredient (at least one that I can figure out from its obviousness): dates. What an excellent addition! It's different, but doesn't overpower the other fruit, just adds some distinct flavor.
Now, my main reason for creating this blog was to review the commercial fruitcakes out there, in order to give a semi-objective description of what they taste like. And that's what I'll continue to do, because man, do I have a list to get through. Who knew there were so many commercial fruitcakes out there for sale? Somebody out there must like them!! So please, although I have thoroughly enjoyed the home-made fruitcakes I've received, please don't hunt me down and hand me fruitcake. After all, it's January, and I need a hiatus!
Gosh, I love this self-assigned job--eating fruitcake. I am truly the luckiest girl ever.
08 January 2007
Welcome to everyone who's come here as a result of the article. There really are a lot of fruitcake-lovers out there!
After finishing off the fruitcake you see in the article's photo, I'm going to take a break for a few months. There are still a lot of fruitcakes out there to be reviewed, though, so have no fear, I'll be back again to eat and review more.